Despite uncertainty regarding prices at the pump, Americans are resisting a move to more fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles largely because of confusion over the differences between these types of cars.
The findings from a recent survey conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation and funded by battery supplier Johnson Controls. suggest there is a clear gap between consumers’ attitudes toward fuel-efficient cars and their actual purchase intent.
“It’s clear that consumers are confused about their options for more fuel-efficient vehicles, despite their desire to save on fuel costs,” said Alex Molinaroli, president of Power Solutions for Johnson Controls. “These findings indicate U.S. drivers need to have a better understanding of the offerings available to them now as well as options that will become available in the U.S. market. This includes Start-Stop technology which has been marketed in Europe in recent years and will be offered to the U.S. market in 2012.”
Forty-five percent of those surveyed said there are too few options when it comes to hybrid vehicles, while 39 percent of those surveyed had no idea what the differences are between types of fuel-efficient vehicles such as Start-Stop vehicles and hybrids. The findings reinforce the need for greater education about the full spectrum of vehicle technology options, as well as cost considerations both at purchase and over the lifetime of the vehicle.
The four main vehicle technology categories included in the survey were:
• Internal Combustion: Gasoline-powered internal combustion engines are expected to continue to become increasingly more fuel-efficient.
• Start-Stop: With minimal change to the vehicle system and a modest price premium, Start-Stop technology allows the engine to be turned off during stops such as traffic lights (similar to a feature of full hybrid vehicles) and automatically restart again when the driver engages the clutch or steps on the gas, thereby reducing emissions and providing fuel saving of 5-12%. Widely used across Europe, vehicles with Start-Stop technology are slated to come to the U.S. market in 2012. Of the car owners surveyed, 28 percent would consider purchasing a Start-Stop vehicle when shopping for a new car.
• Hybrid Electric Vehicle: By using two different sources of traction power (such as a gasoline engine paired with a high voltage battery), the technology maximizes the overall vehicle-efficiency. There are different degrees of hybrid functionality ranging from mild to full to plug-in, each of with greater levels of fuel economy performance, ranging from 15-50 percent. Nearly 40 percent of the drivers surveyed would consider purchasing a hybrid vehicle when shopping for a new car.
• Electric Vehicle (EV): All electric driving requires an advanced lithium-ion battery with more energy and power. The potential fuel economy improvement of EVs is infinite. About 20 percent would consider purchasing an EV when shopping for a new car.
“We are ramping up our efforts to educate drivers about the spectrum of vehicle technologies available to consumers who want to improve fuel economy and decrease emissions in their vehicles,” said Molinaroli. “For example, we recently introduced a new on-line tool called My Demo Drive (http://mydemodrive.com/) that allows consumers to virtually test-drive and compare fuel usage, CO2 emissions and travel costs among a vehicle with a standard internal combustion engine, a Start-Stop vehicle, and a hybrid electric vehicle. With such tools, we are hoping to raise awareness about technology options and help drivers become better informed.”
In addition to lack of understanding between fuel-efficient options, perception of price continues to be an issue. The data shows 75 percent of car owners would consider a more fuel-efficient vehicle when shopping for a new car. However, only 20 percent of car owners are willing to consider actually purchasing a hybrid, Start-Stop, or electric vehicle at current gasoline prices hovering between $3.50 and $4.00 per gallon.
“Our findings show that consumers will really take action when gas hits somewhere between $4 and $5 a gallon,” Molinaroli said. “The bottom line is that these vehicles will take off when they make sense financially, likely the most quickly with Start-Stop and hybrid electric vehicles. Consumers do have options, they just are not aware or understand them. We’re focused to help them gain that understanding.”
The findings above are of a telephone survey conducted among a national probability sample of 1,006 adults comprising 506 men and 500 women 18 years of age and older, living in private households in the continental United States. Interviewing for this CARAVAN® Survey was completed during the period June 16-19, 2011 by Opinion Research Corporation. The margin of error for results of this survey is +/- 3.1% at the 95% confidence level.