Electric vehicles still stuck in neutral with consumers

Just 4 percent of more than 13,000 Deloitte survey respondents are satisfied with electric vehicle technology specifications, especially charging options and driving ranges.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

This week, seven of the auto manufacturers with a vested interest in the electric vehicle market got together to say that they will standardize around a combined charging approach that will let their electric vehicles share the same fast-charging stations in Europe and the United States.

Those companies include the usual suspects: Audi, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Porsche and Volkswagen. They plan to use HomePlug GreenPHY as the communications protocol (so keep an eye out for information about that technology specification, which is relevant for how charging stations talk to the broader smart grid). You'll notice some big names missing from this list, such as Honda, Nissan and Toyota, which is worth a whole post in itself but really isn't the point of this particular entry.

The fact that at least seven of the companies with electric vehicle aspirations are getting together to help standardize the charging infrastructure is significant, especially given the results of a survey released this month by Deloitte. The study (detailed in a report called "Unplugged: Electric vehicle realities versus consumer expectations") suggested that consumers are unwilling to compromise on the performance they have come to expect in gasoline-powered vehicles. That means they aren't willing to accept shorter traveling ranges, higher sticker prices or the inconvenience of having to wait for hours while their car charges.

The study covered the opinions of more than 13,000 consumers from 17 countries in Asia, Europe and North America. The most shocking piece of data, perhaps, is the finding that no more than 4 percent of consumers are satisfied with what electric vehicle manufacturers have made available. Here are some of the findings that are working against them:

  • Even though most people have a daily commute of less than 50 miles, the majority of the survey respondents want electric vehicles to have a range of at least 300 miles. In the United States, as an example, 63 percent of the respondents said they would be satisfied with a range of 300 miles. Craig Giffi, vice chairman and automotive practices leader for Deloitte notes: "The paradox here is that current technology targeted at the mass market can usually accomplish a range of 100 miles between charges, which is twice as far as the typical American drives each work day." Incidentally, people in France were also likely to have range anxiety.
  • Waiting more than two hours for a charge is unacceptable to almost 60 percent of Americans. In fact, almost one-quarter of the U.S. respondents wanted a 30-minute charge time. It wasn't just Americans who were interested in faster charging. In Japan, for example, 37 percent cited 30 minutes as the longest acceptable charge time. So, electric vehicle manufacturers have a very long road ahead of them in this regard.
  • They are not inclined to pay more. More than half of all survey respondents said that any kind of price premium for an electric vehicle was unacceptable. Indeed, the report indicates that 78 percent of respondents from Argentina and 74 percent of respondents from India expect electric vehicles to be the cheapest options on the market. The majority of respondents expect to pay no more than $30,000 for an electric vehicle, according to the report.
  • Major improvements in fuel efficiency would kill interest in electric vehicles. As go gasoline prices, so goes the interest in electric vehicles. Higher prices per gallon spur interest, while lower prices tend to distract. Efficiency is potentially more important. Approximately 57 percent of the respondents and China and 68 percent of the respondents in the United States said they would be less likely to think about an electric vehicle as fuel efficiency approaches 50 miles per gallon. In fact, interest "falls off the cliff," in the words of one of the Deloitte report's authors.

Right now, there is a big disconnect between electric vehicle consumer expectations and the realities of the technology. Which brings us back full circle to that charging technology cooperation announcement from earlier this week. The automakers are smart to get together on research and development whenever they can, as it relates to alternative transportation technologies. Or electric vehicle adoption will be permanently stuck in neutral.

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