Survey Finds Consumers Eager for New Green Vehicles

In a recent survey conducted by Synovate, the market-research branch of marketing communications giant Aegis Group plc, consumers worldwide appear eager to embrace green automotive technologies. Overall 59% of survey participants are eager to make the transition to green vehicles.

The survey results include responses from 13,500 residents of urban areas from 18 markets. The markets included industrialized nations including the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Japan and China as well as emerging markets including India, Malaysia and Thailand.

The survey asked participants to respond to a hypothetical situation in which they were asked which they’d choose if money were not an object: an environmentally-unfriendly dream car, a green vehicle, or an environmentally-friendly dream car. Worldwide, the survey found that only 30% of respondents said they would choose the environmentally-unfriendly dream car. That number was slightly higher among U.S. respondents, at 35%. Forty-two percent of U.S. respondents claimed that they would choose a green car, and that green technology is one criterion for their idea of a dream car. Among American participants the surveyors found little difference in attitudes toward green vehicles between men and women.

Despite their apparent eagerness to embrace green vehicles under hypothetical circumstances, however, consumers have certain demands that need to be met by automakers in order to make the green transition a success. The survey indicates that those demands present some daunting hurdles for automakers to clear.

According to Andrew Grant, Synovate U.K.’s director of motor research, "Most drivers are happy to go green as long as they still get everything that their normal car gives them — performance, good looks and speed." He went on to say that, "the number of people who are prepared to make a sacrifice to go green is still very small indeed. Electric cars, for example, have a negative image and represent too much compromise. For most people the green agenda has to match their own agenda."

One hurdle for automakers is the price tag associated with green cars which tends to be higher than traditional vehicles. To counter this obstacle, consumers often receive tax breaks for buying environmentally-friendly vehicles. The prospect of lower fuel consumption also seems to offset the higher purchase price in the minds of many consumers.

Regardless of consumer attitudes, the move to green vehicles being mandated by governments around the world is narrowing the choices consumers have. A key part of the U.S. government’s bailout of GM, for example, was the stipulation that it shift more aggressively toward producing eco-friendly vehicles.

Andrew Grant also points toward a shift in social consciousness stating, "Kids are fed the green agenda at school, and buying a hybrid means parents can go green without much trade-off. It’s no more painful than turning off the TV or using eco-light bulbs."

Although hybrid vehicles are only seen as a transitory solution in the move toward truly green vehicles, for the time being it appears a good compromise between consumers, automakers and lawmakers.

In addition to the negative image many consumers have of electric vehicles are the costs and logistics involved. Building the infrastructure needed to support electric vehicles will be a gargantuan undertaking and battery production and disposal present their own environmental risks. Various automakers, notably Honda, are working toward developing hydrogen fuel cell technology but it, too, is cost prohibitive and will require massive investments in infrastructure to support it. BMW is also pursuing start-stop technology which would put vehicles into low energy consumption "sleep" mode when a vehicle remains stationary for a specified amount of time, but the technology is expensive.

Andrew Grant asserts that "It would cost about $5 billion to fit out 10% of the U.S. with new fuel outlets," needed to support electric vehicle technology. He also warns that, "consumers are also reluctant to risk money on technology that may not become main-stream — they need to be able to sell their cars on. Everyone is staring at an abyss."

Still, those who participated in the survey seem eager to be given the opportunity to go green. The most eager consumers in the survey are in Thailand where 77% of respondents expressed a heightened concern for the environment. Seventy-six percent of South Koreans surveyed shared these concerns, and Chinese and Brazilian participants ranked close behind at 75% and 72% respectively.

Among the populations surveyed, South Africans expressed the least amount of interest in green vehicles. Among respondents, 53% said they would choose their "dream" car over a green car or a green "dream" car.

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