John Axsen and Ken Kurani at the University of California’s Institute of Transportation Studies completed what may become a landmark in getting good handles on the personal vehicles available for purchase in the coming years in the form of plugin hybrid electric vehicles. (A pdf download)

What the study learned is the state of consumer knowledge and from there introduce the coming concepts needed to understand the most obvious changes and then survey the participants as they make informed choices about what they may do in the future. This research layout offers some very encouraging information and sets the stage for potential manipulation of the market. This is due to the intended audience – “Overall, policy, technology, and energy providers may use this information to understand whether their plans, designs, and goals align with these present understandings, or whether it would be collectively beneficial to foster new understandings of PHEVs among U.S. car-buyers.” The key being “foster new understandings” that tends to offer opportunities to shift perceptions to a special interest point of view. On the other hand, the capacity of people to grasp and effectively make good choices with no more than the research materials suggest that this won’t be as hard as many suggest.

The research respondents had to own a newish gasoline vehicle bought since 2002 driven at least 3 times per week. The person has to be a significant participant in the buying decision. These criteria imply the study population is households buying new vehicles. The pre study effort garnered 2,664 respondents of which 2,373 finished with completed diary data. The study took place during December 2007, both during the Christmas rush and before oil rose to over $100 per barrel with gasoline near $3.00.

The results offered in the first instance that consumers are not so aware of the acronyms and their meanings as we are who watch it closely. The research showed that hybrids on to EVs and the assorted acronyms in between serve little understanding today. The current art of explaining what is going on such as a current electric assist gasoline drive as in the Toyota Prius isn’t a Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV), as some consumers think now. Moreover people don’t have a firm idea what the benefits to owning electric drive trains will be compared to gasoline drives, even with electric hybrid assist. The study authors label this circumstance, as a “blank slate” which while that can be a huge opportunity can also be a disaster of our own making.

The next field of results dealt with access to a recharging source. Here the authors set the bar to the low end with conventional 110-volt service, of the usual wall outlet kind, within 25 feet of the parked vehicle. To no particular surprise to me, more than half have such access now, which is a sizable uprating from previous studies. Where the recharging falls off is at work for recharging and other parking during business hours. Yet the recharge potential is best filled between 12am and 6am – the lowest demand period for the electric grid.

Next might be a surprise. The study assesses people’s views through four forms of power, just depleting the battery charge, a recharging with a generation system of some sort on board, a blend of the two and lastly all electric power. The study looks further to gauge people’s views of the distance a vehicle can go in a discharge to distance mode and the speed of a plugin recharge. The surprise might be that net fuel economy is the most important attribute and recharge speed the least important. Lastly, there seems to be little interest in simple all electric operation.

In a conclusion, although not stated as such, the authors offer that about a third of the group has an interest in a plugin vehicle and already has the minimum 110-volt service good to go, now.

The last major point they authors cover is the effect that widespread purchases of plugin vehicles would have. It would cut gasoline demand in half, it could have a detrimental effect on electric grids if recharges are not done off peak, and that people once owning these vehicles will soon learn how to maximize the usefulness and minimize their costs.

What remain unknown are the particular attributes of a vehicle. Options, colors, interior appointments and the usual list of features are still very much up in the air. If anything the journey into an electric drive world promises to be interesting and maybe full of choices, some of which are unforeseen today.

UC Research Buyer Choices Results

What is clear when you peruse the whole research report is that people are much smarter about what they value than the extreme leader such as Amory Lovens, or manufacturers like GM and Toyota, and the new vendors in the form of utility companies. Actually it doesn’t take that much, or that long for people to catch on. When informed of the interrelationships and the net effects of those relationships guiding principles come to the forefront. It’s about miles per gallon equivalents with recharge and particular technologies being simply not that important. One might think plugging for how long to be a nearly non issue.

It’s an impressive research work. It could have been written to be friendlier to observers instead of written for peer review. Maybe a user-friendly version will come out someday. The study is as all encompassing as practical before the results would be so unwieldy as to be unintelligible. It well worth a look and especially a look at the research materials, the diary and Plugin Vehicle Guide starting on page 45 of the pdf or 37 of the text.

Here you can see the diary used by the participants and the guide information used to help people go through buying process. With this in mind much more of the research report will make sense.

Keep in mind that the authors gave no real world thought to the technology for the buying exercises. But what comes out clear, especially since the study was done at $3 gasoline, is that the grouping of 125 mpg with charge depletions 40 miles and charge sustained at +30 mpg took nearly a 40% market share. A close inspection of the graph will give many personal vehicle producers pause for reflection. It looks like a lot of buyers will be looking for the best “charge sustained” mpg possible with battery depletion range in second place.

It’s easy to go through the guide in the appendix and transfer your values to the graph. Lets hope the manufacturers figure us out and sell us vehicles we want to buy – and soon.


4 Comments so far

  1. Best wrinkled face on October 3, 2009 5:18 AM

    You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog.

  2. diy electric vehicle conversion on February 26, 2010 7:52 PM

    diy electric vehicle conversion…

  3. Cafe World Guide on February 27, 2010 11:31 PM

    Keep working ,great job!

  4. Seasons on October 30, 2010 12:34 AM

    Maybe you should make changes to the blog subject Research For Teaching How To Buy Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicles | New Energy and Fuel to something more specific for your content you create. I loved the blog post however.

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