Will Consumers Get Charge From Electric Cars?


With the impending launches of the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf, electric vehicles are a hot topic in the auto category. But are consumers ready to embrace these battery-powered alternatives? According to new research by the Nielsen Co., the answer is both "yes" and "no."

Nielsen found that the majority of consumers in the U.S. would consider buying an electric car. But 65 percent of consumers said they wouldn't pay more for it (compared to a standard vehicle), and 51 percent said they wouldn’t pay more than $5,000 above the average price. (The research firm conducted the study in September among more than 2,300 consumers in the U.S. and U.K.)

So what does this mean for carmakers like Chevrolet and Nissan, which are rolling out electric vehicles this year? They're facing the challenge of convincing consumers to make the purchase, said Sallie Hirsch, svp of research for Nielsen's automotive unit.

"The biggest hurdle we're seeing is price. They come with a premium, just like the hybrid. And many consumers are not willing to pay," said Hirsch. (MSRP for the Nissan Leaf is $32,780 and $41,000 for the Chevy Volt.)

Part of the problem is getting the message out about the benefits of electric cars and effectively touting points such as fuel efficiency and environmental friendliness.

Tobe Berkovitz, an associate professor at Boston University who specializes in marketing issues, said that can be achieved through marketing. "Ads can communicate product benefits and show concrete reasons for purchasing an electric car. Ads can also use emotional content to reinforce consumers' desire to 'do the right thing," said Berkovitz.

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