Japan has been a real test market for electric vehicle ownership, especially for the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV. What have EV owners experienced in this market? While about one third are "green enthusiasts" who love the low energy costs and comfortable driving experience, another third say they're not interested in buying one again.

These numbers come from McKinsey & Co., which recently conducted a study on Japanese consumers who bought an electric car in Japan in the previous 24 months. The study found enthusiasm waned fairly quickly for a lot of them. For the 34 percent not satisfied with their current electric vehicle (see chart above), facing higher electric bills and locating places to charge their cars were the key stumbling blocks.

Higher electric bills and locating places to charge were the key stumbling blocks.

These skeptical EV owners were first "seduced" into the purchase by low energy costs (compared to gasoline), attractive subsidies and a good test drive. They tended to be less well informed than green enthusiasts who love EV technology. The McKinsey study suggests automakers will need to adopt retention and education programs to avoid negative market feedback from EV owners who've had less-than-satisfying experiences and could "poison the well" for potential buyers.

The price of the EV ownership experience is keeping these potential buyers away from ownership, the study found. Early adopters were comfortable with pricing, but prices will need to drop to the point where EV acquisition uptake stimulates charging infrastructure development; this is where automakers need to step in to build customer loyalty to broaden the market for EVs, McKinsey said.

The report doesn't mention the impact of the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown on the EV ownership experience. The low cost and clean energy benefits of EV ownership were thrown for a loop in the post-earthquake and tsunami environment. Perhaps electric utilities will need to work with automakers on getting skeptical car shoppers to gain confidence in the EV owner experience.

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