AAA: Interest in electric cars rivals interest in pickups

April 18, 2017

For months, the auto industry has been urging the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider new, high emissions benchmarks for 2025 model-year vehicles. Automakers say that they don't want to roll back the regulations, they just want more time to implement them because today's low fuel prices are driving demand for larger, less efficient rides.

In other words, automakers are concerned that if the rules remain in place, companies will end up making a bunch of super-efficient cars that no one wants.

But is that true? A new study from AAA suggests it's not--and in fact, Americans' interest in emissions-free electrics could rival their interest in the time-honored pickup.

Survey findings

To gather its data, AAA conducted phone interviews with 1,004 U.S. adults in February. Participants were asked a number of questions about their next car purchase. Here are some of the more interesting takeaways:

  • Of those surveyed, 15 percent said that they were likely to purchase or lease an electric vehicle as their next car. That's nearly as high as the number considering pickup trucks: 16 percent. Among Millennials, the figure was higher, with 20 percent likely to buy an electric car in the near future. 
  • If those figures hold true, they suggest that some 30 million Americans are preparing to purchase or lease an electric car. 
  • Hybrids remain popular, too: almost one-third of those surveyed (32 percent) said that they were likely to purchase or lease a hybrid as their next car.  
  • Despite today's low fuel prices, fuel economy remains among the most important factors for car shoppers. Reliability remained the tip-top pick, chosen by 93 percent of respondents. However, the race for second place was tight, with cost (71 percent), fuel economy (70 percent), crash rating (70 percent), and performance (69 percent) vying for the spot.  
  • Less important factors for shoppers were safety technology (50 percent), car brand (48 percent), styling and design (46 percent), and the ability to connect to a smartphone (34 percent).
  • The biggest concern among those switching to electric cars remains range anxiety, with 69 percent of respondents saying that there aren't enough charging stations, and 68 percent worried about running out of juice before they reach their destinations.
  • Although there's been a surge in demand for crossovers and SUVs in recent years, 43 percent of those surveyed by AAA said that their next vehicle would be a car. SUVs were next at 26 percent, followed by pickups (16 percent), minivans (5 percent), and motorcycles (1 percent). (Those figures don't add up to 100 because some respondents were undecided.) 

If we learned anything from the last election cycle, it's that polls are curious things and don't always reflect people's attitudes. So, while these numbers may be encouraging to green car fans, don't break out the eco-friendly confetti just yet.

That said, perceptions about electrics are likely to change dramatically in the coming years, as range anxiety diminishes. That will be in part due to battery improvements that make range less of an issue, and due to growth of the charging infrastructure. As AAA's Greg Brannon explains, "Range anxiety stems from seeing gas stations, not charging stations, on every corner. While electric vehicles may not yet fit every lifestyle, the number of charging stations has quadrupled over the last five years and battery ranges support average commutes."

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