Electric cars face opposition not just from entrenched interests that benefit from the use of fossil fuels, but from car buyers as well.

Shoppers continue to express concerns about things like range anxiety and availability of charging stations, among other factors.

Many are simply unfamiliar with electric cars—and thus suspicious of something they do not understand.

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Even when a technology or product offers a vast improvement over what came before, it does not automatically follow that widespread adoption will take place.

Often, the general response from the public is quite the opposite, argues Calestous Juma—a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government—in his new book, Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies.

From coffee to mechanical refrigeration, there has been significant resistance to new things that eventually became everyday fixtures, Juma explained in an interview The Washington Post's Innovations blog.

2016 Nissan Leaf

2016 Nissan Leaf

The full article includes eight points explaining why technologies or products can meet strong resistance, but overall the issue seems to be not the object itself, but the familiarity of what it is perceived to be displacing.

In the case of coffee, Europeans were slow to adopt because they were used to drinking beer, wine, or tea.

In other words, it doesn't necessarily take industry lobbying or biased coverage to create stiff opposition to a new product—that opposition can come from the buyers themselves.

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Sometimes an existing product is an important part of an individual or cultural identity, as with Britons and their now-waning tea time.

That may include modern drivers and the internal-combustion cars that were ingrained in 20th-century American popular culture.

The fear of loss of a cultural identity or a way of life tied to a certain technology can be a powerful motivator against adopting new things, Juma said.

2016 Tesla Model S

2016 Tesla Model S

He also noted that people tend to be more likely to adopt technologies that increase their mobility, which may actually be working against today's electric cars to some extent.

Many consumers perceive electric cars as being more limited than gasoline cars, because of their typically shorter range and long charging times.

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It's the task of carmakers and electric-car advocates to educate the public about what the abilities of electric cars truly are.

And as they do so, they can at least take comfort in the fact that electric cars are far from the only innovation in human history to be challenged by skepticism.

[hat tip: Patrick Connor]


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