As any businessman will tell you, understanding your market is the key to selling your product. 

So as automakers worldwide ramp up electric car production ahead of a mass launch of plug-in vehicles they are seeking the answer to one very important question: What sort of person buys electric cars?

Thanks to a survey commissioned by General Electric It turns out then that greens, gloaters and geeks are drawn to the electric car. Those wishing to save money are put off by high purchase prices. But is the data realistic of real life?

As with any form of statistics it is very hard to get a definitive answer. Survey groups tend to be small and questionnaires can be full of loaded questions which, intentionally or not, skew the outcome. 

While everyone surveyed agreed that they were at least mildly worried about the environmental impact of cars, the U.S.’ dependence on foreign oil and the effects of global warming, only 65% of those surveyed (500 electric or hybrid drivers and 500 gasoline car drivers) expressed a serious concern over the impact of cars on the planet. 

2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Nissan Leaf

Of those surveyed, 44% expressed an interest in the associated smartphone applications and gadget-friendly nature of electric cars. 

Backing up a survey from earlier this year, the researchers also discovered that nearly half of those questioned believed that the car they choose to drive is a direct expression of their personality. 

Even more expressed the age-old-adage that “you are what you drive”, indicating at least in part the desire to drive and to be seen driving an eco-friendly car. Such fashionable, egocentric purchase decisions are hardly new to green cars, as research into owners of the Toyota Prius has already shown

For the final group, the so-called frugal drivers, the report concluded that car drivers concerned with buying an economically sound car were the least likely to want to buy an electric car due to the high initial outlay, remaining skeptical of new technology and failing to see the long-term financial benefit to owning an electric car

2011 Chevrolet Volt test drive, Michigan, October 2010

2011 Chevrolet Volt test drive, Michigan, October 2010

Ultimately though, the purchase decisions of the general public are far more complex than any one survey can hope to encapsulate. Naturally, such surveys make interesting reading but they all retain a certain lack of scientific credibility and have little impact on the real-world market for electric cars. 

As we’ve said before, the ultimate user survey into car purchase statistics are the ones compiled by the industry itself from real-world car sales figures. 

Until then, the demographics mean very little.