Car dealers concerned about consumer electric vehicle hesitancy

Photo (c) Boonchai Wedmakawand - Getty Images

Sales are rising but still make up a small part of the market

Facing government mandates, automakers have committed to an electric vehicle future, despite the fact that consumers have yet to fully embrace these vehicles. But industry executives remain hopeful that consumers will eventually come around.

The CEO of Pendragon, a major car dealer group, agrees that consumers remain hesitant about EVs but sees signs of increased EV adoption. On CNBC this week Bill Berman said he is a big fan of EVs but understands why some people aren’t.

“People’s hesitancy ... around electric is multifaceted,” Berman said. “First off, it’s unknown — no one’s ever driven an electric car so there’s a lot of uncertainty that goes along with that. There’s range anxiety which most consumers call out. Even though … most consumers drive less than 50 miles a day, knowing that you can’t easily refuel your vehicle creates hesitancy.”

Doris, a Nissan Leaf owner from Hastings, Florida, has been living with what she describes as limited range in her EV. 

Range is going down

“Purchased with 7,000 miles on it December of 2012,” Doris wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review. “Had about 70 miles range driving in Florida. Now has 80,000 miles, had the battery repaired under warranty in 2016. It has iffy 50 miles range. Really have to observe speed and estimated range.”

It’s worth noting that Doris’ review suggests she still likes EVs but would like to have something with more range.

Increased sales since 2011

While car dealers would undoubtedly like to see consumers buy more EVs, the numbers have moved sharply higher since 2011. The Department of Energy reports sales increased from around 17,000 in 2011 to 361,315 in 2018. But sales dipped slightly in 2019.

J.D. Power’s 2020 Mobility Confidence Index Study flashed a caution sign to the auto industry. It warned that manufacturers are plowing ahead producing cars that, so far, most car buyers have not asked for.

Despite improvements in technology and expanding charging infrastructure, the survey found that even consumers who have previously owned an electric vehicle aren’t always interested in buying another one. They cited the limited driving range, the high maintenance cost, and the purchase price as their main objections.

Berman said he believes improvements in charging stations hold a key to overcoming hesitancy among consumers. But he notes there are challenges in getting there because most homes aren't equipped for rapid charging.

“It’s kind of the proverbial ‘chicken and egg’ but as more electric vehicles are sold and more infrastructure is put in — whether it’s in North America, Europe, or the U.K. — I think adoption rates will rise,” he said.

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