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Electric Cars Have Buzz In China; U.S., Not So Much


Accenture 2011 survey, 'Plug-in Electric Vehicles: Changing Perceptions, Hedging Bets'

Accenture 2011 survey, 'Plug-in Electric Vehicles: Changing Perceptions, Hedging Bets'

 

While electric cars are getting reams of press coverage around the world, actual acceptance in some critical markets might be a longer-haul effort. According to a recent study by consulting company Accenture, only 46 percent of respondents from the United States favor plug-in electric vehicles replacing conventional vehicles over time.

Globally, some 58 percent of the survey respondents favor plug-in electric vehicles as a long-term substitute for internal-combustion vehicles, but the response by country surveyed yields some surprising results. In Germany, long a proponent of all things “green”,  only 53 percent of the population see electric vehicles as a viable, long-term replacement for conventional cars.  In Italy, on the other hand, 76 percent of the population surveyed favored electric vehicles as an eventual substitute for conventional vehicles. In China, the number was a staggering 86 percent in favor of plug-in electrics.

One reason cited for concern over adoption of plug-in electric vehicles was charging infrastructure.  Since charging points are not yet commonplace, some 65% of global respondents stated that they’d prefer to charge their vehicles at home. In the United States, 77 percent of respondents preferred home charging to other alternatives, while in China only 35% of respondents would prefer charging at home.

Accenture’s study looked at the origin of the electricity as a point of concern. If the power is supplied by oil- or coal-burning powerplants, there is a carbon cost associated with producing this power. Globally, 45 percent of respondents expressed a desire to know where the electricity to charge their electric car comes from. In the United States, 43 percent were concerned about the origin of their electric power, while in China some 62 percent wanted to know where their power came from.

A final question asked by Accenture shows the problems associated with surveying consumers on emerging technology. Accenture asked respondents if they’d want to swap an electric car battery when it ran low instead of charging it. Today, and for the foreseeable future, such swaps are simply not possible. The battery assembly in a Chevy Volt or a Nissan Leaf is substantial in both size and weight, and accessing the battery assemblies isn’t an easy task. The day may come when electric cars run on a removable battery source, but that day is certainly not on the horizon. Regardless, 62 percent of Americans surveyed would prefer to charge a battery over exchanging it, while only 35 percent of the Chinese respondents favored charging over an exchange.

The key findings of the study point to a change in the way that consumers will look at transportation in the future.  Specifically, Accenture found that:

  • Consumer preference for where and when their electric cars are charged will challenge utilities and may require infrastructure upgrades.
  • Purchase price is only one deciding factor in buying an electric vehicle. Recharging convenience, range anxiety and even the source of the energy for recharging are all of concern to potential buyers.
  • At this point in time, consumers favor plug-in hybrids over full electric vehicles
  • Utilities may face competition for charging services from new providers.

If anything, the Accenture study highlights the cultural differences that must be countered before electric vehicles become mainstream. As with most consumer products, one size definitely does not fit all, and a vehicle that optimized for the Chinese market may prove to be a tough sell in the United States.

[Accenture]

 
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