How do you encourage consumers to switch to electric cars? Here are two not-so-obvious ways, according to an Accenture survey released on Wednesday: offer free parking and get more utilities to build charging networks. Sixty-five percent of respondents to the survey said that they would be more inclined to buy a plug-in car if free parking came along with it, and 79 percent said they would prefer to buy electricity for EVs from utilities.
The survey offers an interesting glimpse of what potential buyers are thinking about when it comes to purchasing and driving electric cars. It shows private and government marketing efforts are working to instill the idea that electric cars are better for the environment and perhaps even cheaper to own and operate in the long run. But the survey also confirms several key concerns by utilities that consumers could end up driving up electricity demand during hours when power use already is high, such as in the afternoon on a hot day or in the early evening when people return home and use their TVs and appliances.
The survey, which includes 7,000 respondents in 13 countries, says 60 percent would consider buying a plug-in electric car as their next vehicle. When asked if they would do that within the next three years, 23 percent said they will for sure while 45 percent said “probably.” China is the biggest electric car fan base: 96 percent said they will definitely or probably go electric in the next three years.
Not surprisingly, 67 percent of the survey participants said they don’t want limits on when they can juice up their electric cars. Fifty-five percent of them would only charge their cars when they need to, not just when they park. And since charging stations aren’t everywhere, people prefer hybrid cars that can run on both electricity and gas: 29 percent would choose all-electric while 71 percent would opt for plug-in hybrids.
Most people (70 percent) think filling up the battery of an all-electric car takes too long. So 65 percent of the respondents said they would rather charge at home. On the other hand, if they have to fill up while they are out, 62 percent of them would prefer to plug in their car with a cable rather than having the battery swapped out and replaced with a new one. Accenture said this preference could undercut plans by battery-swapping service providers and utilities to charge the spent batteries when electricity demand on the grid is lower, such as early morning or late at night.
In survey after survey, consumers have made it clear that the high cost of buying and operating an electric car is a big reason that prevents them from owning one. Accenture’s survey showed that 51 percent of people would buy electric if they know that the cost of owning the car over time is lower than cars that run on gas. That cost can be tricky to calculate. In the U.S., for example, electric rates vary widely, even from one town to the next in some instances, so the amount of fuel savings that a car owner can get also will be dramatically different.
Other deals that could entice consumers include free parking (65 percent are more inclined to buy a plug-in), toll discounts (44 percent), and priority lanes (43 percent).
While the emergence of electric cars creates an opportunity for entrepreneurs to build charging station networks, consumers apparently would prefer to turn to the electricity retailers that they are more familiar with: the utilities. In fact, 79 percent of survey participants said utilities are among their top three choices, followed by 71 percent that choose service stations. Other retailers that want to sell electricity on the side get 51 percent and government agencies get 48 percent. Utilities are already owning and operating charging stations. Last month, NRG Energy (a power company that owns utilities opened the first of many charging stations it’s planning for Texas.
Car buyers apparently do care about how the electricity is generated — at least that’s what they say in a survey. Forty-five percent said the electricity source will affect their decision on whether to buy an electric car, and most of those said they would more likely to by electricity for a plug-in if the electricity came from renewable sources.
Consumer behavior is hard to predict, and given electric cars are only starting to show up in the market, surveys that point to certain preferences might not hold true once more people switch to electric. President Obama has set a goal of putting 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015 and vowed to secure funding to achieve it. While there is a debate on whether that goal is easily achieved, market analysts still see electric cars making up only a fraction of the auto market in the next decade.