Synovate Survey Reveals Whether Consumers Will Stay Away From Electric Powertrain Vehicles Because They Don't Understand How They Work

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Synovate was acquired by Ipsos in October 2011. The research discussed in this press release was conducted prior to the acquisition, using Synovate’s research policies and methodologies.

Detroit, MI — New research from global market research firm Synovate suggests that consumer knowledge about hybrid power trains is so low that it could prove a significant barrier to sales. Even though electric powertrains, especially Hybrids, have been available for 10 years, new vehicle buyers remain woefully ignorant about even the basics.

Few among those surveyed know that Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) contain electric batteries, and only two-thirds know that HEVs use both gasoline and batteries. Many think that HEVs need to be plugged in. Only one-third of people surveyed know that HEVs can run on the electric motor only. Naturally, then, when the industry asserts that emissions are lower with hybrid vehicles, the claim is difficult for many people to understand.

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When it comes to Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) the situation is even worse. While many know that PHEVs have a plug and need to be plugged in, most survey respondents did not think that PHEVs used gasoline, either as a source or in conjunction with an electric motor. Equally concerning is the fact that less than half of all new vehicle buyers know that PHEVs can run in all electric mode.

Knowledge of how Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) work is somewhat higher, but there is still widespread confusion about charge times, operation and emissions.

As Stephen Popiel, senior vice president of Synovate Motoresearch, says, "This low level of understanding about the way in which electric powertrain vehicles work will have profound consequences for vehicle sales. In the short term, dealers will have to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining the workings of PHEVs and BEVs to interested buyers. We have to wonder if consumers will become disillusioned when they understand the actual requirements of electric vehicles. Will the person who goes to their Chevy dealer to buy a Volt, or their Nissan dealer to buy a Leaf, still buy the vehicle once they discover the need for plugs and 220 volt outlets? And, if they become discouraged with the electric option, will they stay and buy a different Chevy or Nissan vehicle? Or simply leave in confusion?"

The bigger question, according to Popiel, is, "Whose job is it to educate consumers about these powertrains?" First mover advantage can bring glory but also the need to educate consumers. Is it in the best interest of Nissan to educate the market about electric vehicles?

The answer, according to Popiel is both yes and no. "Yes, they must to help build their sales. But also no, as they will simply gives other OEMs a long set of coat-tails to ride on."

Clearly, there is a role for government to play, beyond just legislating quotas. "There needs to be a significant consumer education process to explain why we must move from a petroleum-based powertrain to an electric based powertrain," said Popiel. "The awareness campaign would have to address questions of environmental protection and national security, i.e. dependence on foreign oil leaves our society vulnerable to outside disruptions."

And, of course, consumers need to understand what the new powertrain vehicles will mean to their driving behaviors and vehicle maintenance habits. Long-term success of the electrification of the fleet will only come about with a better-educated consumer. According to Popiel, "The C and D grades consumers earned in our research simply aren't good enough to support the profound societal shift the industry will need to deliver federally-mandated quotas."

About the Synovate 'Alternative Fuels' survey

This automotive survey was conducted between October 22 and November 2, 2010 in the United States with 1898 new vehicle buyers and intenders. Respondents for this survey were selected via a systematic random sample from among those who have agreed to participate in Panel surveys. Data were weighted by vehicle ownership to reflect the new vehicle market. The respondents were asked the following questions:

Q6. Below are some statements that may or may not apply to different vehicles technologies. Please select all the attributes that you feel describe each of these technologies

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For more information on this news release, please contact:

Elen Alexov
Director, Marketing Services
Ipsos North America
(778) 373-5136

About Ipsos

Ipsos is a leading global survey-based market research company, owned and managed by research professionals that helps interpret, simulate, and anticipate the needs and responses of consumers, customers, and citizens around the world. Member companies assess market potential and interpret market trends to develop and test emergent or existing products or services, and build brands. They also test advertising and study audience responses to various media, and measure public opinion around the globe.

They help clients create long-term relationships with their customers, stakeholders or other constituencies. Ipsos member companies offer expertise in advertising, customer loyalty, marketing, media, and public affairs research, as well as forecasting, modeling, and consulting and offers a full line of custom, syndicated, omnibus, panel, and online research products and services, guided by industry experts and bolstered by advanced analytics and methodologies. The company was founded in 1975 and has been publicly traded since 1999. In 2010, Ipsos generated global revenues of €1.140 billion ($1.6 billion U.S.).

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Synovate Survey Reveals Whether Consumers Will Stay Away From Electric Powertrain Vehicles Because They Don't Understand How They Work

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Elen Alexov
Director, Marketing Services,
North America