Americans Slowly Warm to the Electric Car, Show Willingness to Try New Things

A new study published by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has found that more and more Americans are warming to the idea of driving electric vehicles, citing environmental concerns as the main reason for making the change.

Over a quarter of the people surveyed described themselves as familiar with electric cars while 42% of respondents said they were likely to follow news reports about electric vehicles. Nearly a third of respondent described themselves as familiar or very familiar with hybrid vehicles.

Of those who said they would consider buying an electric car, nearly 80% said their greatest advantage was the fact they run without gasoline, while 67% cited the reduction in pollution.

However, when it came to reasons not to buy an electric car the survey showed that a definite gap remains between the public’s perception of the accessibility and applicability or electric vehicles and the technical reality.

Nearly 60% of respondents were worried that the limited mileage of an electric car would hamper their ability to use one, while over 70% were worried they would run out of charge in the middle of a journey.

However, in 2003 the US Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics found that nearly 90% of commuters travel 30 miles or less one way, with over half travelling 15 miles or less. In addition, the provisional results of the 2009 National Home Transportation Survey have found that the average daily trip of a car is 11 miles. All these figures are well within the range of a typical electric vehicle.

Furthermore, two-thirds of consumers raised concerns about not being able to recharge their vehicle, with over half saying that they would not consider purchasing an electric vehicle if it meant they had to install special charging equipment at home.

All electric cars can recharge from the standard 120v system available in any home or business. The only disadvantage the 120v system has is that it can take between 8 and 12 hours to fully recharge an electric vehicle. However, as the figures above show, the majority of electric vehicles will not need a full charge every night, and a great many may only need to be charged at the weekends.

It’s this basic misunderstanding about the usefulness of electric cars for everyday use which is one of the greatest obstacles to promoting electric vehicle use today, even before the infrastructure is in place for stretch commuting and other journeys of over 100 miles.

In January 2011 the CEA’s International Consumer Electronics Show will be held in Las Vegas. For the first time ever it will include a special TechZone dedicated to electric vehicles, with manufacturer Audi being among the first exhibitors to sign up.

This is the perfect time for electric vehicle companies to correct the public’s misconceptions and show how useful electric cars are today. Let’s hope they seize it.


Chris Milton

is a seasoned sustainability journalist focusing on business, finance and clean technology. His writing's been carried by a number of highly respected publishers, including The Guardian, The Washington Post and Scientific American. You can follow him on twitter as @britesprite, where he's one of Mashable's top green tweeters and Fast Company's CSR thought leaders. Alternatively you can follow him to the shops... but that would be boring.