A Costly Green Machine

A new survey indicates broad interest, but not commitment, in purchasing an electric vehicle.
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A new survey indicates broad interest, but not commitment, in purchasing an electric vehicle.

The allure of "going green," it seems, isn't enough for consumers to significantly open their wallets.

A Reuters/University of Michigan national survey released at this week's electric vehicle conference in Detroit finds that while there is broad interest in owning an electric vehicle, many consumers aren't willing to pay the premium to purchase one. The survey was conducted between July and November of last year when consumers probably had a little extra change in their pockets.

Respondents were first told that the plug-in electric vehicle would save 75 percent in fuel costs compared to a traditional car. They were then asked to rate the likelihood they would purchase an electric vehicle if they had to pay $2,500, $5,000 or $10,000 more to own one. Not surprisingly, interest waned from 46 percent of respondents who would pay $2,500 (an encouraging figure by itself) to 14 percent who were willing to pay $10,000 more to own one.

'Surprisingly, the main reason respondents cited for wanting to own an electric vehicle wasn't reducing money spent on fuel or even reducing fuel emissions. Fifty-four percent reported that reducing dependence on foreign oil was the primary advantage. While this result puzzled the researchers, it may suggest that the hybrid electric car is still seen as a luxury vehicle intended for a wealthy — and politically conscious — niche.

Broadly, the survey indicates that, unless economic incentives are given to lessen the financial burden on consumers, plug-in hybrid vehicles aren't likely to become ubiquitous on U.S. roads anytime soon.

Economist Richard Curtin, director of the Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers, suggested that a combination of economic and social incentives might be most effective in introducing the vehicles for widespread consumption.

Perhaps a "Cash for Hybrids" government program looms ahead?

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