Poll: 57% of American Would Never Buy An EV

An interesting statistic we dug up: a USA Today/Gallup poll shows that 57% say they wouldn’t buy an electric car no matter what the price of gas.


As someone with an intense interest in social science (I have a BA in psychology and am pursuing a MS in Marriage and Family Therapy) you can bet that I’ll take a sociological tack on this phenomenon.

Humans are adaptable little creatures. We have mechanisms in our psyche which allow us to adapt to changing circumstances while (hopefully) learning and growing in the process. When we see that one method isn’t working, or we find a better way of doing things, we generally recognize the value of change and make the necessary adjustments. We are self-corrective organisms.

Armed with that information, the thought that a consumer would rather put up with $20 a gallon gas then be caught dead with an electric car seems counterintuitive, until you realize just how powerfully we are all socialized into behaving certain ways and thinking certain things, long after those methods and habits cease to be adaptive.

Everyone is socialized, some people more than others. There is a consensus on which brands are “cool” and which are “lame.” Some styles are “trendy” and others “outdated,” and so on. Often times, no amount of facts, demonstration or logic will convince someone with a staunch ideological position to consider alternatives under any circumstances—especially if their beliefs have been reinforced by others in their social circles.

In the current climate of public opinion, if gasoline is Coca-Cola, EVs might as well be RC Cola (sorry, RC, you’re certainly not “coming on strong,” and neither are the Mets). They’re imposters. They’re wannabes. Hence the American public’s knee-jerk opposition to electric cars. I can just hear the conversations:  “You couldn’t pay me to drive one of those fruity cars.”

Other factors are in play, of course. The wording of the survey, for example, can have a powerful effect on how people respond. In this survey an electric-only car was defined as “an electric car that you could only drive for a limited number of miles at one time.”

Can you pick out the loaded word in that sentence? It’s the word limited. That’s an instant turn-off for consumers. If the definition were changed to “a car which runs purely on electric energy derived from a battery pack, with no gasoline engine,” perhaps the numbers might reflect more favorably on electric cars.

Still, it’s encouraging that already almost half of the public is willing to consider driving electric if the price of gas remains high or goes up further, two scenarios that I believe are likely. Consumers are still wary about the technology, which is understandable. And the price of electric vehicles remains higher than their gasoline counterparts.

The price is going down, though. Mitsubishi is bringing a model called the “i” to the U.S. this November; no word yet on the inevitable Apple lawsuit. Joking aside, the “i” will retail for $27,990, which could make it the cheapest electric car on the market.

Ultimately, the future of electric is looking rosier. JD Power and Associates expects sales of pure-electric vehicles to rise from 10,727 (its projection for 2011) to 95,939 four short years later in 2015. That’s nearly a ninefold increase.

More importantly, however, is how that increase could change the way EVs are perceived in this country. In ten years, and with a little luck, don’t be so surprised if we start seeing the words “electric” and “cool” in the same sentence.

Source: USA Today