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Consumers On Electric Cars: “Wait and See”

When it comes to the first mainstream electric cars on the market, expect consumers to take a cautious “wait and see,” approach, according to a survey out this morning from Pike Research. In other words, that effect that happens when consumers wait for the second-generation of the iPod of iPhone to come out before buying one, look for that in spades for the first generation of plug-in cars.

So, instead of the oft-discussed “range anxiety” keeping consumers at arm’s length from EVs, consumers have a healthy skepticism that the technology isn’t viable yet. “It could easily take several years for mainstream car shoppers to get comfortable with the idea of electric vehicles,” said John Gartner, analyst with Pike Research in a release.

Most auto makers seem to have expected as  much, and are also taking a cautious approach. BMW has been conducting pilot programs with its E MINI (electric MINIs) cars for months before it decides on a commercial path. Startup Tesla tackled the high-end early adopter market first with the sports car the Roadster before developing a more mainstream electric sedan the Model S. Even Nissan, who’s the first mover with its plug-in LEAF, will only be selling a limited number of cars in the near term.

At the same time, Pike’s survey was bullish on electric vehicles being embraced eventually by the mainstream market. Forty four percent of respondents said they were interested or “very interested” in buying a plug-in car, and the levels of interest in plug-ins didn’t vary by age, gender, income, and level of education, “suggesting that these vehicles should have solid mass-market appeal in the long term,” found Pike.

One of the most important factors for how fast plug-in cars will be embraced by consumers is price. Pike found that the optimal price point for plug-ins will be 18.75 percent above the base price of an equivalent gas car, which is lower than many automakers’ intended prices. J.D. Power and Associates and GfK Automotive found that when consumers learned that they will have to spend, on average, an extra $5,000 for hybrid cars, the number of consumers who say they are interested in plug-ins falls by 50 percent.

How long it will take for plug-ins to make a dent in the sizable new car sale market is anyone’s guess. According to J.D. Power and Associates, expect to see 5.2 million hybrid and all-electric cars sold in 2020 worldwide, accounting for 7.3 percent of the total passenger car sales that year. For 2010, the hybrid/electric car sales should reach 954,000 vehicles, or 2.2 percent of the total pool.

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