Nissan Leaf electric carIs there an electric car in your future? A study just released by IBM's Institute for Business Value probed U.S. consumers' opinions about electric cars, timely since two models, the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt, just hit the road in this country. The results show a hefty interest among those who know about the vehicles, but a disappointing overall familiarity with electric cars.

Among those surveyed, one in five said they would be willing to consider buying an electric. However, 42% said they knew very little about electrics.The industry faces two roadblocks, but Kal Gyimesi, the Automotive Lead for the IBM Electric Car Survey, told WalletPop that the industry is making headway in addressing them both.

The first hurdle is price. In the survey, 40% of respondents said they would be willing to pay a 20% premium for an electric, while 51% would not be willing to pay any premium. The new Leaf and Volt both, however, sticker price way above that 20% comparable price point; the Leaf at $33,720, the Volt at $41,000.

However, a federal tax savings of up to $7,500 is available for both models.

Then there are fuel savings. According to Energy.gov, the cost of electricity to drive the Leaf 10,000 miles a year should be between $200 and $340. A comparable Nissan Sentra, at around 30 miles per gallon, would burn through $1,000 worth of gas at $3 a gallon.

IBM surveyed car company executives on some of the same issues. While 51% of consumers rated significantly higher oil prices as important to their buying decision, executives rank this as 76%. Either way, even higher gas costs could help further balance the cost issue.

The industry should also soon benefit from economies of scale as production ramps up. According to Gyimesi, in two years we could see 10 more major car companies launch pure electric cars in this country, and this competition could serve to drive down costs.

This suggests it might be a good idea to hold off on buying an electric car until more competition arrives.

The second challenge is the support infrastructure, the ability to quickly charge cars at home and recharge while on the road.

There is a significant cost to installing a recharging portal in one's home that is adequate to quick-charge a car; Nissan estimates this could be as much as $2,000.

The Leaf's cruising distance is anywhere from 47 miles to 138 miles between charges, while the Volt has a small gasoline engine that will kick on and recharge the battery on the fly to give it a cruising distance of up to 375 miles. Either way, looking for juice away from home can be problematic for early adopters.

According to Gyimesi, however, the industry is busily working on the problem. The survey found that cars spend most of their time in one of three spots; at home in the garage or driveway, at work, and at retail establishments. This provides a road map for how these recharging stations might be placed.

In addition, the government, through its Vehicles Technologies program, is committed to building thousands of recharging stations. Check the U.S.
Department of Energy site to find existing recharging stations near you. California residents will find many more that those in most other states.

Interestingly, Gyimesi said that one of the creative tactics that we might see come about is promotional recharging stations. Imagine a shopping mall that really wants your business, so much so that it offers free recharging hookups in its parking lot.

Gyimesi told WalletPop that he is encouraged by the survey and the future of the electric car. If only 58% of those polled knew much about electrics, but 20% were already willing to consider buying one, then educating the public about them should result in an even healthier potential customer base.

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