PHOTO CAPTION: 43 percent of Americans still think you have to plug-in Toyota's Prius hybrid-electric car.

Only One-in-Five Americans 'Very Familiar' with Alt-Fuel Vehicles, Study Finds

Maritz Research survey of 1,207 American drivers finds growing awareness, but still sizable knowledge gap in alternative fuel vehicle options.

Published: 09-Jan-2011

St. Louis, MO -- Research released today by Maritz Research demonstrates that while consumer awareness about alternative fuel vehicles continues to grow, only about one in five consumers state they are “very familiar” with any alternative-fuel technologies. The research also indicates that consumers have relatively low product knowledge of electric-only and electric-hybrid vehicles and see electric technology vehicles as useful for those who do limited driving.

According to the Maritz Automotive Research Group, which conducted the research based on a telephone survey of 1,207 licensed American drivers 18 years of age or older, top of mind consumer awareness about the electric–only vehicle category outpaces gasoline-electric hybrids. When asked to name an alternative fuel technology other than gasoline powered automobiles, more than half (56 percent) said electric vehicles while nearly a third identified gasoline-electric hybrids. Only 16 percent cited ethanol, 15 percent said hydrogen fuel and seven percent said clean diesel.

While awareness is high and knowledge has increased since a Maritz Research 2006 poll, few consumers today purport to be very familiar with either electric-only, flex fuel or gasoline-hybrid vehicles. In the last five years, the percentage of consumers very familiar with:

- Electric-only vehicles doubled from 8 to 16 percent;

- Flex-fuel vehicles rose from 12 to 17 percent; and

- Gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles rose from 15 to 22 percent.

“Our research indicates that over time consumers see the adoption of electric-power and other alternative power-train vehicles as an imminent reality. Yet today, low consumer familiarity and understanding of alternative fuel vehicles - including both electric only and gasoline-electric hybrids - has a cooling effect on their purchase intent,” said Dave Fish, Ph.D, vice president, Maritz Research.

“This research is instructive for auto manufacturers, dealers and other stakeholders as to current consumer perceptions that should either be corrected or reinforced. It shows that consumers require more education about the product options and characteristics associated with individual brands and technologies. While OEMs have been focusing on familiarity, increasing consumer knowledge will enable higher sales conversions to new drive-train technologies,” Fish said.

Overall survey respondents voiced positive opinions of alternative vehicles and their benefits. Almost three quarters (74 percent) said they felt that alternative fuel vehicles were good because they reduced dependence on foreign oil; 68 percent said they would consider obtaining an alternative fuel vehicle because it was better for the environment; and 59 percent said an alternative vehicle is appealing because it costs less to operate than a gas vehicle.

For electric-only vehicles, just 25 percent of respondents labeled them a fad and said they would not consider purchasing this alternative fuel technology. 59 percent said they don’t know enough about electric vehicles to consider one as their next purchase. 55 percent said that an electric car is a “good choice for a second car within my household, but not a good choice for my primary vehicle.”

The Maritz Research study indicates that a low understanding about product and category characteristics may contribute to the low level of familiarity of alternative fuel vehicles.

While nearly four in ten (39 percent) consumers are familiar with the Chevrolet Volt, among those respondents who stated they were familiar with the model, fewer than half correctly understood some of its significant characteristics. For example, only 32 percent of those familiar with the Volt agreed with the correct statement that, “The Chevrolet Volt has a range extending gas generator that produces enough energy to propel it for up to 300 additional miles.”

Familiarity about the Nissan Leaf stood at 17 percent, and product knowledge for some of its characteristics was also low among those familiar with the car. Only 30 percent of those familiar with the Leaf agreed with the correct statement that “the battery pack that runs the Nissan Leaf should last around 100,000 miles.” 31 percent said they understood that at a quick-charge station using 480 volts, a charge for a Leaf takes about 30 minutes.

Having been on the market for over a decade, the Toyota Prius garnered a 75 familiarity rating. However, even some of the Prius’ product characteristics were not universally understood. For example, only 57 percent of those familiar with a Prius understood that it does not need to be plugged in. According to Fish, “The data indicates that consumers are still confused about these new technologies. This confusion will continue to be a barrier to widespread adoption of alternative fuel vehicles.”

About the Study Maritz Research conducted the study with 1,207 licensed drivers representative of Americans 18 years of age or older. The study’s results were weighted based on licensed driver data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The study occurred between October 22 and November 8, 2010.

About Maritz Research As one of the world’s largest marketing research firms, Maritz Research, a unit of Maritz, helps many of today’s most successful companies improve performance through a deep understanding of their customers, employees and channel partners. Founded in 1973, it offers a range of strategic and tactical solutions concentrating primarily in the automotive, financial services, hospitality, technology, telecommunications, and retail industries. The company has achieved ISO 20252 registration, the international symbol of quality. It is a member of CASRO, ESOMAR, MRA, and is the official sponsor of the American Marketing Association.

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