New Polls Show Strong Consumer Interest in Electric Cars

Last Updated Jul 16, 2009 11:28 AM EDT

Is the world ready for electric vehicles (EVs)? Yes, says a survey by Better Place, Shai Agassi's aggressive EV-charging station company. Of course, Better Place has a vested interest in an affirmative response to that question, but EV interest does seem to be on the rise.

According to a poll conducted by market research firm Ipsos for Palo Alto, California-based Better Place, 30 percent of American consumers say they expect to consider an EV for their next car.

That percentage is actually higher in other countries. In addition to the U.S., Better Place surveyed consumers in Israel, Denmark, Australia and Canada (the greater Toronto area)--all countries where it plans to install charging stations. In Israel, where the company is farthest along in its wiring plans, 57 percent of respondents (1,500 to 2,500 were surveyed in each country) said they're interested in buying an EV. Other results were similarly high: Denmark (40 percent), Australia (39 percent) and Canada (35 percent).

The poll showed that 53 percent of global respondents expect their next vehicle to be an EV, even though their options right now are pretty limited. The Tesla Roadster is the only one on the market in the U.S. (500 have been delivered), though some Chinese- and Indian-made EVs have limited runs elsewhere.

Ellen Konar, Better Place's director of research, has a background in studying consumer behavior for Intel, Google and IBM. She said that people with an interest in electric cars are also likely to be concerned about other social issues, including human rights, health, cost of living, air pollution and peak oil.

It seems likely that enthusiasm would wane when poll respondents are told about the limited range of battery cars, but Konar said the poll included the information that the hypothetical EV could travel only 100 miles between charges.

"The survey reflects the future of transportation, which is electric," said Shai Agassi, Better Place's CEO. "There's a perfect storm of dynamics driving toward mainstream adoption of EVs." Better Place has so far installed roughly 1,000 charging stations in the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, and plans to have 100 in place in Denmark before the start of the COP15 climate talks in December, said spokeswoman Julie Mullins.

The Better Place model includes not only battery swapping for long-distance travel, but also battery leasing. Customers would own the car, but pay a per-mile charge to lease the Better Place battery This approach gets a boost from a new University of California at Berkeley poll that indicates EV sales could jump to 86 percent of light-vehicle sales in the U.S. by 2030 "if consumers don't have to buy batteries themselves."

The study's author, Thomas Becker, said it could cost $320 billion to build and install charging stations over the next 20 years.

Better Place photo