Electric vehicle misconceptions confirmed in survey

Consumer Reports study shows range is still the chief concern

By Gavin Conway on February 2, 2012 4:45 PM

It hasn’t been a particularly good month for electric vehicles. The Chevrolet Volt fire controversy rumbles on in spite of the American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration declaring that the Chevy is no more prone to fire hazard than any other vehicle.

And if the latest survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Centre is anything to go by, there are still some quite stunning misconceptions about EVs out there.

The American consumer organisation surveyed 1,702 adults in households with at least one vehicle. And as electric and plug-in hybrid cars are beginning to form a much more significant part of the motoring landscape, the organisation added some electric vehicle safety questions to its 2012 Car Brand Perception Survey (which does what it says on the tin).

The survey revealed that a worrying 87% of consumers have ‘a concern’ about electric vehicles and that for a huge 77% of them, range is the issue. 

This, in spite of convincing research that indicates that a vast majority of daily use would be well within the 100 mile range of the best pure-electrics (and obviously, not an issue at all for cars like the Chevrolet Volt... at least, not if you don’t take Fox News seriously).

And the author of the report points to the media coverage of the Chevy Volt fire controversy as contributing to the 35% of survey participants with concerns about post-crash fires in EVs. That flies directly in the face of the NHTSA stating that it “remains unaware of any real-world crashes that have resulted in a battery-related fire involving the Chevy Volt or any other electric vehicle".

Equally baffling is the even higher 42% who have concerns over fires occurring during charging, even though such incidents have been described as "extremely rare".

And in his submission to the U.S. hearing over the Volt fires, John German, Program Director at the International Council on Clean Transportation and an automotive engineer of some renown said, “Gasoline vehicles have a far higher risk than lithium ion electric vehicles. Electric vehicle batteries are much safer.”

Another significant number of survey respondents, 30%, feared electric shock. About this, the survey report author said, “Almost a third of respondents stated concerns for electric shock, which are unfounded. The charge stations and the connection ports are engineered to prevent shock.”

And 39% had worries over crash protection, even though the 2011 Nissan LEAF and 2011 Chevrolet Volt have earned the highest possible scores for safety in official tests in Europe and the U.S.

So, what to conclude? Well, the bad news is that a significant proportion of the public (American, in this case) harbour a whole host of worries and preconceptions about electric vehicles, most of which don’t stand up to reasoned argument.

As for as the longer term prospects for EVs, that’s also the good news.