Disconnect Between Consumers' Stated Interest in Alternative Fuel Vehicles & Actual Purchases

Electric cars charging

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — There is a strong disconnect between what potential car buyers say they will do and what they actually do when it comes to choosing between a gasoline-powered vehicle or a non-gasoline powered, alternative fuel vehicle, according to a report released by the Fuels Institute. 

Consumers and Alternative Fuels 2017, the latest installment of the Fuels Institute's annual measure of American consumers' sentiment on vehicle purchases, found that significantly more consumers stated they were very likely or somewhat likely to purchase an alternative fuel vehicle than actually made such a vehicle purchase last year.

"There remains a strong disconnect between stated consumer interest and actual consumer purchases across all types of alternative fuel vehicles, including electric, hybrid, and diesel vehicles," said John Eichberger, executive director of the Fuels Institute. "Consumers' theoretical interest in non-gasoline powered vehicles hasn't yet been reflected in actual sales at dealer lots. But the sustained interest in alternative fuels could result in increased alternative vehicle sales in the coming years, depending on many variables, including the decisions of policymakers."

Factors influencing the gap between consumer interest and actual purchases of electric vehicles include low gas prices, lack of battery charging infrastructure, range anxiety and battery replacement costs.

"The cost of an electric vehicle remains a stumbling block to broad consumer adoption," Eichberger noted. "In our survey, 81 percent of consumers who said they would not consider an electric vehicle said the vehicles were too expensive. With regards to this factor, what the government does can have a significant influence on the pace of market adoption."

Other key findings from the report include:

  • When specifically asked if they would consider an all-electric vehicle for their next purchase, 51 percent of potential car buyers said they were very or somewhat likely to do so. This is up from the 48 percent who said the same in a February 2016 Fuels Institute survey. Despite this, electric vehicles represented only 0.45 percent of all light duty vehicles sold in 2016 (80,039 units).
  • Although electric vehicles have a long way to go to capture significant market share, increased consumer interest in electric vehicles, particularly among consumers aged 18-34, could reflect a growing trend that spurs sales in coming years. Younger drivers are significantly more interested in electric vehicles than older drivers.
  • There was a similarly strong disconnect between stated consumer interest in purchasing hybrid and diesel vehicles and actual sales of these vehicles.
  • Strong consumer interest in alternative fuel vehicles holds the promise of these vehicles capturing significant market share in the future, the Fuels Institute said. Factors such as government policies will play a critical role in how quickly and whether the significant gap between stated consumer preference for alternative fuel vehicles and actual sales of these vehicles will narrow.

The Fuels Institute is a nonprofit research-oriented think tank founded by NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, in 2013. It evaluates market issues related to vehicles and the fuels that power them, incorporating the perspective of diverse stakeholders to develop and publish peer-reviewed, comprehensive, fact-based research projects.