What Do Consumers Really Think Of Electric Cars? We Find Out

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2011 Chevrolet Volt drive test, March 2011

2011 Chevrolet Volt drive test, March 2011

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Depending on which websites you visit and which news channels you watch, electric cars are either portrayed as the poster children of green revolution, or an example of catastrophic government failure. 

But while it’s relatively easy to find examples of extreme pro- and anti-electric car sentiment from politicians, biased news agencies and advocates, are average consumers positive or negative towards plug-in cars?

Sadly, it appears to be the latter. At least, that’s what Consumer Reports discovered in its recent 2012 Car Brand Perception Survey.

Of the random 1,702 car-owning adults the Consumer Reports National Research Center contacted by telephone across the U.S., a massive 87 percent said they had some form of concern with plug-in cars. 

Most common among these was range anxiety, with 77 percent of those questioned saying that they believed electric cars could not meet their daily driving needs. 

Since a recent study concluded that 95 percent of all trips made in the U.S. could be made by electric cars, the survey highlights the disparity between perceived and actual capabilities of plug-in cars in the mind of the average consumer. 

Chevrolet Volt Versus Nissan Leaf

Chevrolet Volt Versus Nissan Leaf

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It gets worse. 

A shocking 42 percent of respondents expressed the concern that electric cars posed a real fire risk to their homes while charging, while 40 percent said they believed almost silent electric cars were a major threat to pedestrians. 

In fact, safety concerns dominated the survey, with many consumers expressing the concern that electric cars were less safe than gasoline cars. 

While 43 percent said they felt electric and plug-in hybrids were as safe as their gasoline counterparts and 20 percent said they were safer, a total of 28 percent said electric cars were less safe. 

As a consequence of the recent and highly-publicized fires which occurred in post crash-test Chevrolet Volts at National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) facilities, 39 percent of those questioned said that they had concerns about the safety of electric cars in a crash. Thirty-five percent said they were concerned about post-crash fires. 

2012 Ford Focus Electric

2012 Ford Focus Electric

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Along with other concerns including electrocution (30 percent) and the accident avoidance (29 percent), the Consumer Reports survey posts a bleak public opinion of electric cars.

But is it really correct? As we’ve said many times before, the outcome of any particular survey can be influenced by the way in which questions are asked. This is particularly true when survey participants are interviewed, which can introduce some subjectivity in the way their responses, thoughts, and comments are recorded

What do you think? Are plug-in and all-electric cars viewed so badly by the majority of consumers?

Let us know in the Comments below. 


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Comments (20)
  1. I do not think that is correct. In all the rags I read, including Scientific American, people think electric cares are safer than hybrids or ICE vehicles. Anything that carries gasoline, they think is unsafe. They must had only interviewed republicans and their employees from GM or the GOP presidential candidates.

  2. good thing you've played this game

  3. I'm mentioned that I'm considering getting a Volt to replace our prius and almost everyone asks about the fire. When I tell them the facts, they just laugh at how the media distorts stories. People I talk to think that the extended range Volt is a cool idea.

  4. Good idea considering the Volt, it is a great car. In 3200 miles of driving over 3 months I have only used 4 gallons of gas! You could think of that as 800 miles per gallon. I am sure that type milage makes conservative media companies and the oil companies that fund them nervous. The Volt's Extended Range EV drive train represents a disruptive technology which threatens the long term profits of oil companies. So it is no wonder that some bad press about the Volt was disseminated. I also installed rooftop solar on my home so my Volt is driving on clean energy.

  5. I think the public perception is probably pretty accurate, but perceptions can and do change. Electric Cars are new and things that are new tend to scare people. As more Electrics are sold society will start to accept them. But it will take time.

  6. Political angle:
    Conservative opinions are clouded by their policy aversion to public funding of electric cars and the focus of the left on the green aspect of electric cars. The overwhelmingly most positive view of EVs is to see them as the most economic and peace promoting type of car. They can be powered by any energy production method (wind, hydro, nuclear, coal) and they would release us from entangling ourselves in foreign oil disputes, which cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives.

    Also, range anxiety and worries about safety are misconceptions that will be reduced with time and getting better acquainted with the technology.

  7. Paul McElroy, it was my intention to give your comments a thumbs up, but my clumsiness initiated the opposite, and it seems as though I'm not able to alter or retract it. So, now I say, two thumbs up for your comments!
    - Gary

  8. Thanks Gary, thumbs up acknowledged!

  9. approved! ^^

  10. I think EVs are the target of some pretty sophisticated anti plug-in FUD campaigns and they seem to be working with those who don't think for themselves and do believe what they see on (FOX) television.

  11. Amazing. An electric car less safe than a car powered by a flammable and potentially explosive fuel source? The public can be incredibly swayed by dumb ideas.

  12. Cars don't explode. That's FUD promoted by movies and video games :-).

  13. Cars don't explode the way they are shown in TV and movies, but they do certainly catch on fire. There are about 250,000 gas car fires every years in the US. It's so common it's not newsworthy.

    250,000 Mini Coopers were recently recalled because they have a defect that can cause them to burst into flamed while parked. Owners are advised no to park them in their garage until they've had the problem fixed.

    But one Volt has a fire a week after a severe crash and it makes headlines around the world. No wonder people are confused about safety and vehicles.

  14. This is shocking, but it shows how successful the auto OEM's have been to put fear into their buyers about EV's. Bob Lutz, the "father of the Volt"..ha ha, coined the term range anxiety and the media has picked it up. Do the auto OEM's want EV's to be successful? No they don't. EV's are a disruptive technology and if successful would put most OEM's out of business. EV's can last 10-20 years and be virtually maintenance free. OEM's are moving to hybrids because they have gas engines in their DNA. Gas engines wear out and have problems as they get older & people trade them every 3-4 yrs. How often do you service/replace your furnace...it is just like an EV except no batteries. With facts, safety in EV's should be great, a non issue.

  15. I think it's great that even in a survey designed by innovation-resistant Consumer Reports finds that 23% of Americans now believe that an electric car could meet their daily driving needs, and a whopping 72% think electric cars are more safe than gas cars even after the mass media blitz of anti-Volt FUD.

  16. The media has trained the public to believe much of these things.

  17. I own a leaf and I feel it's the best car I've ever owned. If I need to take a long trip I'll use my prius.

  18. Who cares what the Faux News watchers think. If Chevy, Nissan, and other car companies only sold EVs to people that didn't watch pro-oil propaganda, then they would be selling EVs at full production for decades.

  19. When it comes to electric, let's first talk about halfbreed or all electric. I wouldn't give you a thin dime for all the halfbreed electric cars (commonly known as hybrid). Wishy-washy technology green garbage. Stay miles away from the Chevy Jolt, I mean Volt. Government Motors junk that has a place in a museum of failed ideas and dreams. You would be better to get a high mileage gas car than push all those batteries around. And resale value you can just forget. If the average American car is 10.8 years old, new technology for all electric will beat them out and then you'll see the real value. Now you probably think I'm sour on electric cars. All electric cars are the ticket once the technology catches up to what we need in a ride.

  20. Don, no need to knock GM or the Volt. The Volt is a great car, every bit as good as the LEAF, which I sell for a Los Angeles area Nissan dealer. When one of my customers tells me the range is an issue, and I ascertain that his/her daily drive cycle isn't appropriate for the LEAF, then I tell them to go to the local Chevy dealer and buy a Volt. It's a great technology and our society needs it.

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