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Automakers go electric, but some drivers hesitate

Electric vehicles, such as the award-winning Chevy Volt and much-hyped Nissan Leaf and Tesla Roadster, are getting a lot of attention from the car industry these days.But it’s not clear American consumers are as ready to jump on the bandwagon.A new poll finds that only one-fifth of drivers surveyed are likely to consider buying an electric car, and price is an issue. About half wouldn’t be wil

Electric vehicles, such as the award-winning Chevy Volt and much-hyped Nissan Leaf and Tesla Roadster, are getting a lot of attention from the car industry these days.

But it’s not clear American consumers are as ready to jump on the bandwagon.

A new poll finds that only one-fifth of drivers surveyed are likely to consider buying an electric car, and price is an issue. About half wouldn’t be willing to pay more for an electric vehicle than for a gas, diesel or hybrid model.

The survey of 1,716 American drivers was conducted by Opinion Research Corp. for the IBM Institute for Business Value.  

It’s not just that drivers don’t want to pay more for the cars; they also don’t want to pay more for the associated infrastructure.

Only 8 percent of drivers surveyed said they would consider spending between $1,000 and $1,999 to upgrade their electrical work for fast recharging at home. That’s about what it would cost, according to industry estimates cited in the report.

Americans appear to want electric cars to be as convenient as gas-powered vehicles in other ways as well. The survey found that the biggest motivators for switching to an electric vehicle include lower prices, extended range of travel, convenient usage and a charging infrastructure.

The Chevy Volt, which on Monday was named 2011 North American Car of the Year, is an electric and gas combination, so a gas generator kicks in once the battery has been depleted.

That may give that car an edge with nervous consumers over all-electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf, which only runs on its electric battery and has a range of 70 to 80 miles.

Other carmakers are rushing to offer electric vehicles too. Ford said last week that it hopes to have its electric Ford Focus in showrooms by the end of the year.

And Toyota, which last year partnered with electric sports car startup Tesla, hopes to have an electric version of its RAV4 in showrooms by 2012.