Study Finds Car Buyers More Interested In Gas Savings Than Green

April 30, 2011

While it may be a blow to those seeking to flood the highways with hybrid and electric vehicles, the view from the street is that fuel-cost savings is more of an inducement to buy than how green a car is. At least, that’s the conclusion drawn by the inaugural U.S. Green Automotive Study by J.D. Power and Associates.

Actually, the findings aren’t all that surprising. Despite the fact that most Americans want to drive cars that are friendlier to the environment, we want and need wheels that we can afford to drive – and that means cars that get better fuel economy. If they happen to do the trick emissions-wise, but don’t cost an arm and a leg more, then, we might be interested.  

The study looked at some 4,000-plus consumers in the market for a new vehicle within the next one to five years. What they found is that fuel-cost savings trump any environmental concerns when it comes time to plunk down cash for a new vehicle. Right now, the higher cost of hybrids and electric cars stands as a barrier to many of these new-car intenders.

During the study, respondents were asked to consider four primary alternative powertrain technologies: hybrid electric vehicles, clean diesel engines, plug-in electric hybrid vehicles and battery electric vehicles.

Diving into the attitudes regarding the four alternative green technologies, respondents cited saving money on fuel as the primary reason they’d buy a green vehicle, but the cost of the vehicles is too high for many of them. Seventy-five percent of consumers who said they’d consider a hybrid electric vehicle cited lower costs for fuel as the main reason, compared with 50 percent who said “better for the environment” was a main benefit for these types of green vehicles.

As for those consumers not considering battery electric vehicles, in addition to the significant price premiums standing in the way, there are also concerns about driving range (“range anxiety”) and availability of charging stations.

Clean diesel engines, on the other hand, still suffer from outdated negative impressions of diesel-powered cars as “dirty or smelly.” Fuel price and availability of diesel is also a concern.

So, it’s an uphill battle for automakers, the federal and state governments and others to convince U.S. consumers to go mainstream with green vehicles. J.D. Power and Associates estimates there will be 159 hybrid and electric vehicles available for purchase in the U.S. by 2016, up from just 31 in 2009. New arrivals coming soon include the 2012 Audi Q5 Hybrid, 2012 Ford Focus Electric, Infiniti M35h Hybrid, and more.

A quick look at hybrid and electric sales figures reveals that the best-selling hybrid, bar none, continues to be the Toyota Prius, accounting for 42,779 sales January through March 2011. Total hybrid sales calendar year-to-date (through March) total 76,808 – a drop in the bucket compared to the total vehicle sales of 3,048,632 during the period. The 2011 Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf, both plug-in electric cars (the Volt's backed up by a gas-powered engine), sold 1,210 and 452 units, respectively, January through March.

Bottom line: According to J.D. Power and Associates, the share of hybrid and electric vehicles in the U.S. is likely to remain below 10 percent through 2016.

Check out TheCarConnection for reviews of the 2011 Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf and other hybrid and electric cars, as well as clean diesel-powered vehicles such as the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E350 BlueTEC.

[J.D. Power and Associates, HybridCars]


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