Millions of Eager EV Buyers

Traffic1_Oran_Viriyincy In a random, nationwide survey of 1,752 U.S. adults, 26% said they’re likely to consider buying a plug-in electric car the next time they’re buying a new vehicle, according to ConsumerReports.org. That’s tremendously impressive, considering that only one highway-capable electric vehicle (EV) is on the market today, the pricey Tesla Roadster.

Seven percent of respondents said they were “very likely” to consider buying a plug-in electric car. Chances are, they haven’t seen or driven one yet, but they’ve heard of them, thanks to the efforts of Plug In America and like-minded groups.

Think about it — There are approximately 218 million U.S. adults. If 26% of them bought an EV or plug-in hybrid (PHEV), that’s 57 million plug-in vehicles. Even if only the 7% who are “very likely” to buy one do so, that’s 15 million plug-in vehicles!

Let’s play with some more conservative numbers. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimatedthat there were 136 million passenger cars nationwide in 2007. If even 7% of those were plug-in vehicles, that’s 9.5 million EVs and PHEVs!

Compare those figures with the paltry numbers of plug-ins that the major automakers say they’ll roll out in the near future. GM plans to sell 10,000 Chevy Volt PHEVs in 2011 and up to 60,000/year after that, according to Business Week. Nissan says its production of the Leaf EV will reach 500,000 cars/year by 2012, egmCarTech.com reports. The other automakers haven’t committed to production targets for plug-in vehicles.

Those numbers are a drop in the bucket compared with the demand evidenced in the Consumer Reports survey. And demand will increase exponentially once new plug-in cars start to leave showrooms starting later this year.

Consumer Reports is perhaps best known for its annual car-rating guide, and when this independent non-profit organization talks about the auto market, people listen. The survey was done by Consumer Reports National Research Center.

Maybe automakers will listen to the Consumer Reports survey, but maybe we consumers need to speak a little louder too. We want plug-in cars by the millions, not the thousands! The “demand” side of the market for EVs is full, but the “supply” side of the road is looking relatively empty.

Make your voice heard. Use the contact info that Plug In America has gathered to send automakers a message, or send them the link to the Consumer Reports survey.

UPDATE March 25, 2010: Chuck Squatriglia points out on Wired’s Autopia blog that it would be more accurate to apply this data on consumer demand to the 10 million cars sold each year in the United States instead of to the 136 million cars on the road.

So, let’s do that. Here’s a PowerPoint bar chart illustrating the results, including not only the Nissan and GM production figures I mentioned above but also 30,000 iMiEVs from Mitsubishi and 20,000 Tesla Model S sedans in 2012:

Download Demand_Supply_2012

What we see is very conservative supplies of plug-in electric vehicles by most automakers (Nissan being the exception, accounting for 500,000 of the 610,000 plug-ins in 2012). Worldwide production commitments in 2012 are less than the proportion of consumers who say they’re “very likely” to consider a plug-in car in the United States alone. And that assumes that demand stands still over the next 2-3 years as more consumers get to kick the tires of actual plug-in cars starting in 2010, as oil supplies dwindle, as gas prices rise, as battery prices fall, and as regulations on greenhouse gas emissions tighten.

I’m still betting there’s more demand for plug-in electric vehicles than automakers give us credit for. What do you think?

— Sherry Boschert (@sherryboschert on Twitter)

(Photo by flickr user Oran Viriyincy under Creative Commons license.)

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