60% Of Americans Unaware Electric Cars Exist


It’s hard for people who read Gas2 to believe, but a recent survey of 2,500 people by Altman Vilandrie & Co. finds that 60% of Americans are totally unaware that electric cars with plugs actually exist. 80% have never driven or ridden in one. Whose fault is that? Last week, we called out the auto companies for spending next to nothing on advertising for their electric and plug-in products.  The car makers have spent little if anything on charging infrastructure. Their dealers hide the cars out back and try to switch people who ask about them to a conventional car instead.

electric car

There appears to be a conspiracy of silence among manufacturers when it comes to telling their customers about electric cars, especially in states other than California where zero emissions rules are lax or nonexistent. Chrysler is so petrified of the plug-in label that it appears nowhere on the outside or inside of its brand new Pacifica Hybrid minivan. As far as any Chrysler customer knows, that vehicle is no different than an ordinary Toyota Prius. Chrysler obviously thinks people are afraid of cars with plugs and they may be right.

The survey queried 2,500 people. 85% reported they believed there were no charging stations available to them. 74% had no idea how long it takes to charge an electric vehicle and 83% believed an electric car was too expensive for their transportation budget. Yet when people took a test ride in one, 60% reported they enjoyed the experience while only 8% said they didn’t like riding in an electric car.


“While the EV adoption rate is low, there are signs of strong latent demand in the marketplace,” says Altman Vilandrie & Co. Director Moe Kelley, who co-directed the survey. “The auto industry still needs to make more low-priced models available to consumers, as well as finding a way for more drivers to try out an EV. If those things happen, we should see the EV adoption rate accelerate.”

After analyzing the data, Altman Vilandrie & Co. discovered that lower prices would go a long way toward invigorating the electric car. Specifically, it found that cars priced around $35,000 would have an adoption rate 5 times higher than the current models from Tesla Motors. The new Chevy Bolt and upcoming Tesla Model 3 will have starting prices near that figure. The company estimates that the release of models costing less than $35,000 by all other automakers would boost EV adoption by nearly 24 times compared to the current market.

“Price matters, and our analysis shows that more affordable models would go a long way to changing the perception that EVs are luxury items for the urban elite,” says company director Soumen Ganguly, who also co-directed the survey. “Both electric and self-driving vehicles are the future of personal transportation, but car makers need to make sure consumers are excited about going electric now – and that goes beyond the obvious environmental benefits.”

Other findings of the survey analysis include the following:

  • range anxiety continues to exist for all drivers – from those who are in the car for more than three hours a day (87%), to drivers on the road for less than an hour a day (72%).
  • younger and more affluent consumers were more likely to buy an EV than the rest of the motoring public: 17% of consumers earning $100,000 or more and 18% of 25-34 year-olds plan on making an EV their next car.
  • Older drivers (65+) are more likely to turn to Ford or Volkswagen for an EV, while Tesla and Mercedes are most appealing to young drivers (18-24). Overall, Tesla and Volkswagen have the largest potential share of the EV market.

The car companies say they would spend more money advertising their cars with plugs if more people were interested in buying one but more people would be interested if they knew more about them. Isn’t that what advertising is for?

Source and photo credit: Next-Gen Transportation

About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.
  • HG Wells

    “Older drivers (65+) are more likely to turn to Ford or Volkswagen for an EV, while Tesla and Mercedes are most appealing to young drivers (18-24). Overall, Tesla and Volkswagen have the largest potential share of the EV market.”

    Strange, when I was in line at the Tesla store at 430 in the morning almost 2/3 of the people waiting in line were over 50. Perhaps it was just they wanted to get their model three before they kick the bucket.

    Looking forward to getting my model three at the end of 2017 or early 2018 before I kick the bucket.

    • Marc P

      “Tesla and Mercedes are most appealing to young drivers (18-24)”

      The key word here is “appealing”. Doesn’t mean they plan to buy one or can actually afford one!

      You have to remember that, appart from being fast and cool, the Model S and the Model 3 are still, basically, four door sedans. The question to ask is who, generally, buys four door sedans…?

  • Paul Govan

    Superb title and article – but the media(and not just the mainstream corporate) must be singled out as the main culprit.
    They’re still primarily dedicated to selling the status quo and promoting business as usual – which also involves blanking out, under-reporting, marginalizing and maligning anything that could seriously promise/threaten disruptive change.
    The very fact that the word “disruptive” not “transformative” is used by most commentators speaks volumes.
    Paul G
    Editor: Electric Vehicles UK

    • Steve Hanley

      Thanks for your comment, Paul. At Gas2, we do everything we can to spread the word — and expose the Cone of Silence that seems to hang over the whole electric car life style.

    • Jamez

      Not disagreeing at all.

      I was eager to go to your website to see and read more from you

      …and then not so eager…

      I’m afraid to say I won’t be visiting that again until you’re able to get that under control – regardless of content. I honestly would like to see and read what you have to say and share.

  • Syl

    60% unawareness level seems high. Nonetheless, Tesla (and others) should start some kind of mainstream add/promotion program once model 3 shipments start.

    • dave_the_braver

      Tesla will not likely advertise as they already have many reservations and the first year of production is spoken for!

  • William Tzouris

    I though this article was something out of “The Onion”

  • nordlyst

    Perhaps weirdly, I find these news encouraging! If only 40% of Americans even know EVs exist it means much fewer than that again have any real knowledge of them, and that again means that the potential to improve is enormous.

    The assumption that Chrysler thinks buyers are afraid of plugs however seems pretty naive. I’m confident it’s Chrysler who is afraid of it, and like every other incumbent they are trying to stall and delay EVs for as long as they can. One part of that strategy is to make a few plugin cars, sell even fewer of them, and then use this to “prove” to regulators people just don’t want them.

    But even though incumbents can delay the change a bit, they are fast approaching a point where the balancing act gets more difficult. They know EVs are likely to become commercially important before 2025, so they must position themselves for that and try to build a greener image with the car buyers of the future.

    Young people hang with more people and drive around in more cars in a week than many adults do in a year. The small but growing share of EVs mean most young people will have been in EVs soon, and many will fall in love.

    And in most of the world, possibly even in Trump’s America, emissions standards will continue to tighten.

    I believe EVs are already very near cost parity with ICE if made in similar volume. Soon they will have the cost advantage, even when we see no further than the sticker price.

    All the fundamentals strongly point towards EVs replacing ICE. I don’t think there will be many doubters left in the industry by 2020. Even Chrysler will be busy promoting their all-electric cars by then!

    • Steve Hanley

      Well, you are a “the glass is half full” kind of person, aren’t you? ‘ – )

      Not sure even I am as cynical about Chrysler’s intentions regarding the Pacifica Hybrid as you are, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t right.

    • dave_the_braver

      I think Chrysler is trying to play both sides of the fence. Trying to look green, but claiming those darned EVs are just too expensive and weird to attract customers … besides trucks make lotsa profit.

  • gizmowiz

    That about sums up the percent of the population that are idiots.

  • Epicurus

    I’m surprised 40% of the people know plug-ins exist. How many people would know iPhones exist if they had never been advertised?