By Bryan Krulikowski, Senior Vice President
While automotive manufacturers continue to push forward with electrified plug-in vehicles in the United States, an important question begs to be answered: Who is going to buy them?
According to Morpace’s 2016 Powertrain Acceptance and Consumer EngagementTM (PACETM) study, more than one-third of current gasoline-powered vehicle owners plan to purchase an alternative fuel vehicle. While this shows high upside potential for EVs and Plug-In EVs, further analysis shows that consumers may not be completely comfortable making this leap from gasoline quite yet. In some sense, electrified vehicles are outside of most consumers’ comfort zone.
Keep It Simple, Stupid
Looking at data from the PACE study and leveraging our powertrain experience, we see that consumers prefer technologies that follow the GEMO principle—Good Enough, Move On—and prefer the least change to their lifestyles as possible. Technologies that offer both of these attributes include Hybrid EVs, turbocharged gasoline-powered vehicles, and the conventional internal-combustion engine. Automotive manufacturers have made significant strides in improving the fuel economy of gasoline-powered vehicles and, for a significant number of consumers, the fuel-savings realized by these technologies—and the lower incremental price charged for them over electrified powertrains—provides a “good enough” level of performance and efficiency. Further, neither of these technologies requires consumers to install re-charging equipment at their home, be at the mercy of infrastructure limitations when looking to re-charge away from home, or worry about other issues related to range anxiety. If you run low on gasoline, one can almost always find a refueling station nearby; for electrified vehicles, ease of finding re-charging stations is still the exception not the rule.
Not Motivated to Change
Further, the lack of a major market event is curtailing interest in electrified vehicles among mainstream vehicle buyers. Specifically, fuel prices in the U.S. are not driving consumers to consider electrified vehicles at an accelerated rate. In fact, the lower prices we have enjoyed in the U.S. have resulted in the opposite effect.
According to the PACE study, today’s national gasoline prices are below the price consumers have indicated is low enough for them to consider a less fuel-efficient, larger vehicle. This is one explanation for the market shift we are seeing away from sedans to SUV/CUVs and Trucks. In fact, gasoline prices would have to reach $5.20/gallon for the average consumer to consider a more fuel-efficient vehicle than what they have now—nearly $3.00/gallon more than today’s average.
But… There is Hope!
While the above commentary suggests a less-than-pretty future for electrified technologies, this certainly does not have to be the case. Perhaps the most important finding from the PACE study is that virtually all current owners of PHEVs or EVs will remain an electrified vehicle owner in the future. Once consumers move away from gasoline-powered vehicles, they are extremely unlikely to go back to them. However, a daunting challenge is ahead of automotive manufacturers as they need to not only offer electrified vehicles in the right package and at the right price, but they also need to rely on a dependable and comprehensive infrastructure to support these vehicles on a mass-market level.
It will certainly be exciting to see how electrification strategies play-out in the coming years.