Consumer Interest in Electric Vehicles: A Prediction for 2013

Earlier this week, Pike Research released a new survey of consumer attitudes about plug-in electric vehicles (PEV’s).  Survey respondents who stated that they were “extremely” or “very” interested in purchasing a PEV fell to 40%, down from 44% in 2011 and 48% in 2008.  Of the consumers who said they would not be interested in purchasing a PEV, the most common reason, cited by two thirds of the respondents, was the high price of PEV’s.

While on its face the report would appear to indicate a negative trend, the results should neither surprise nor distress.   Although carbon reduction goals play an important role in the early adopter PEV market, the principal driver for PEV’s in the mass consumer market is the price of gasoline.  In 2008, gasoline prices were rising rapidly with little indication of where they would stop and PEV’s were at the center of public attention.  As we enter 2012, gasoline prices have held pretty much flat for the past four years and are largely where they were in 2008.  That the public’s interest in PEV’s appears to be waning should be no surprise.

Yet notwithstanding the stability of petroleum prices over the last four years, it is important to remember that there is probably no better long term bet than that the price of oil will rise over time.  Worldwide energy demand continues to rise; oil reserves are increasingly remote and harder to access; supply routes remain dangerously vulnerable; and no one has yet figured out how to repeal the laws of economics.  In the meantime, innovative companies keep improving the energy density of battery cells and the prices of those cells continue to fall.

It is a little early to be making predictions for 2013, but here is one:   Within 12 months the folly of tying the fate of light vehicle transportation to a single, vulnerable commodity will again become apparent to the American public.  When that happens, consumer interest in PEV’s will move sharply in the other direction.   Stay tuned for Pike Research’s 2013 consumer survey.

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