Electric Vehicles Fall Short With Drivers, Study Says

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Today's electric vehicle driving ranges, recharge times and high purchase prices are stumbling blocks for people who might otherwise buy an EV, a new study says.

While high-end Tesla Motors (TSLA) is selling all the plug-in Model S sedans it can make, expected to be more than 35,000 this year worldwide, General Motors (GM) and Nissan (NSANY) have had to discount sale prices and leases to move the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid and Nissan Leaf plug-in EV. In the U.S., GM sold only 3,606 Volts in Q1, while Nissan sold just 5,184, though that was a 46% jump for the Leaf from the year-earlier quarter.

Electric vehicle sales have largely failed to meet manufacturers' sales expectations because their capabilities and features fall short of customer expectations, research firm TechnoMetrica concludes, but it says the outlook for the EV market is improving.

Electric vehicles are "currently not high in the consideration set of consumers" but should benefit from "the rising interest in alternate fuel vehicles, and among those people who drive fewer than 500 miles per month," TechnoMetrica founder Raghavan Mayur said in the report, which surveyed 787 U.S. drivers.

He says consumers would prefer a driving range on a single charge of 271 miles, but EVs available today typically have a range of 100 to 200 miles. (Regulators give the Tesla Model S with an 85 kWh battery a range of 265 miles.) And the average battery recharge time considered acceptable by consumers is 2.74 hours, but today it typically takes three to 20 hours to recharge an EV, the study notes.

"Price is still an issue with a plurality of consumers (62%) expecting to pay a purchase price of less than $20,000, with a mean rate of $18,000," Mayur said.

After a federal tax credit, the Tesla Model S costs at least $63,570 to buy. Nissan advertises its Leaf as starting at $21,480 after the credit and GM advertises the Volt for as low as $26,685 after the tax credit. It also now sells the tiny Chevy Spark EV for $19,185 after the tax credit.

Among other plug-ins on the market, Ford (F) sells the C-Max Energi Plug-In Hybrid for $32,920 and the Fusion Energi SE for $34,700, while Toyota (TM) offers the Prius Plugin for $29,990.

The TechnoMetrica survey found only 6% of U.S. drivers own an alternate fuel vehicle, but found that 53% are potentially interested in purchasing one. Millennials — generally the population born between the early 1980s and early 2000s — have a relatively high level of interest in EVs, the study said.

The survey found gas-electric hybrids to be the most popular choice among people interested in possibly buying alternate-fuel vehicles for their next auto purchase, at 32% of respondents. Natural gas vehicles were of interest to 22% of drivers, followed by plug-in hybrids at 19% and diesels at 18%.

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