Electric vehicles have garnered quite a bit of enthusiasm from early adopters -- along with a healthy dose of misinformation and lack of knowledge amongst the general public.
Although the average driver travels less than 50 miles each day, half of people surveyed in IBM's recent report, The Shift to Electric Vehicles: Putting Consumers in the Driver's Seat, said that they would want a car that could go at least 200 miles on a single charge. Thirty-four percent want at least 300 miles of range.
The report found that while some consumers had misconceptions, such as the cost of maintaining an EV compared to an internal combustion engine car, there was also a problem of car makers not painting the right picture to interest people.
Cost is still a major driver, however, and without a battery breakthrough, electric cars could have trouble getting substantially cheaper, according to Travis Bradford, president and founder of the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development and co-author of the recent GTM Research report, Electric Vehicles 2011: Technology, Economics, and Market. One solution that the IBM survey noted was to move toward more innovative pricing models and better messaging about the advantages of electric cars and the average person's true driving habits.
“I was surprised how many people acknowledged they knew almost nothing,” said Kal Gyimesi, Automotive and Industrial Practice Leader for IBM Global Business Services, one of the report's authors. The survey found that 45 percent of more than 1,700 people said they knew little or nothing about electric vehicles.
That is not surprising to automakers, said Gyimesi, who are ramping up advertising and educational campaigns around electric vehicles. The respondents who said they knew a lot about EVs were more than twice as likely to consider purchasing one.
But car makers will have to do more than just get the word out. Nearly three-quarters of the auto executives surveyed said that government incentives are an important driver for mass adoption of electric vehicles, yet only 41 percent of consumers named government incentives as a primary driver.
Creative pricing models are one area where Big Auto could make electric vehicles more attractive to drivers outside of government incentives, according to Gyimesi.
Car makers are toying with the idea of battery leasing, although that will depend on the value of the battery in other markets after it has served its useful life in the car. It's still early days in that field. General Motors recently announced a partnership with ABB to test car batteries for grid services. American Electric Power and S&C are also running a Department of Energy-funded community energy storage pilot using EV batteries.
Besides creative leasing, Gyimesi also said that car makers could get creative in mobility packages. If a consumer needs to hit the ski slopes or go visit grandma in the neighboring state, she could have access to a gas or plug-in hybrid vehicle for the longer trip. This is one area where a connected car could have advantages. From color schemes to Pandora stations, the car that a driver takes for the long weekend trip could have the same personalization as his day-to-day all-electric vehicle. "That idea can help electric vehicles tremendously,” said Gyimesi.
Of course, the other option is that the average driver will just opt for the plug-in hybrid rather than the full battery electric vehicle, especially as a first foray into the world of EVs.
During The Networked EV conference, Bradford noted that plug-in hybrids will likely be the option of choice for the mass market, at least in the near term. Once people are comfortable with how little they use the gas engine, they could be more likely to switch to an all-electric model in the future.
For more insight on the electrification of personal transport, join GTM Research for its latest webinar, "Electric Vehicles 2011: Technology, Economics, and Market," on Tuesday, November 22 at 2:00 PM EST.