A Europe-wide survey conducted by the consulting firm Deloitte points to widespread interest in electric vehicles (EVs), but also suggests that only a minority think that they may be in the first wave of customers for the technology themselves.

Deloitte asked 4,760 consumers whether they would be prepared to consider EVs as an option, and 31 per cent of respondents said they were not likely to consider such a vehicle, while at the other end of the scale, 16 per cent, were “potential first movers”. The majority, 53 per cent, were open-minded about the subject and said they “might be willing to consider” an EV. Deloitte believes that only one or two per cent, drawn from the latter two groups, will actually take the plunge and buy an electric car; these it classifies as the early adopters.

Deloitte also probed the participants about their attitudes to important factors in the decision to lease or buy an EV such as range and charging time, and found that customers' expectations were at odds with the capabilities of today's generation of cars. For example, 74 per cent would expect an EV to have a range of 480km, or about 300 miles, before they would consider switching, but the best of the electric cars coming on to the market, the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV are only capable of travelling about a third of that distance before they need charging. The big manufacturers say that the mileages that most motorists cover in a typical day fall well within the capability of current EVs, but range anxiety remains a problem. Peugeot, for example, offers a so-called mobility programme, Mu, which among other services, provides drivers of electric cars with access to other vehicles for long journeys. Some 67 per cent of Deloitte's respondents also said that they would expect battery charging to take no longer than two hours, whereas most current vehicles need to be plugged in overnight for a full charge - although fast chargers, which at present are too expensive for domestic use for most customers, would meet the requirement.

Pricing could be another obstacle to the adoption of EVs. Most (57%) of Deloitte's respondents who might be willing to consider an electric car thought that such vehicles should cost the same as, or less than, conventionally-powered options, with only 6% willing to consider a price premium of EUR3,000 or more. Current EV premiums, while difficult to calculate, are much higher; for example, Mitsubishi brought a small batch of its petrol-powered i model into the country a couple of years ago. These sold for about £9,000, which was felt to be too high compared with other urban runabouts. Now the electric version of the i, the i-MiEV is here with a list price of £23,990, even after a government subsidy of £5,000, and that's following a price cut of almost £10,000 from the original pre-subsidy price of £38,699. In the case of the Nissan Leaf, however, which costs about the same as the i-MiEV but which is a bigger car, the extent of any premium is difficult to assess because there is no directly equivalent petrol or diesel model. Among the “willing to consider” sub-group in the Deloitte survey, just 3% were prepared to entertain a purchase price of EUR30,000 (not much more than the post-subsidy UK list price of the Leaf and the i-MiEV) while 58% expected to pay less than EUR15,000.

One difficulty of assessing the likely patterns of adoption for EVs, of course, is that most potential customers have no direct experience of using such vehicles, which often impress with characteristics such as their strong initial acceleration and smooth running, factors that might appeal to those Deloitte has identified as potential first movers. According to the firm's profiling, members of this group are typically male, and young – between 18 and 34. They are knowledgeable about technology in general and EVs in particular, as well as being politically active and highly concerned about the environment. The “might be willing to consider” group are less clued up about EVs, but are still concerned about issues such as the environment and dependence on foreign oil.

David Raistrick, Deloitte's partner responsible for the firm's services to automotive industry, believes that while the obstacles to widespread adoption of EVs are formidable, the manufacturers will continue to invest in R&D, and that green vehicles such as hybrids and EVs still have the potential to take ten per cent of the market within a decade, provided that governments continue to support their adoption with measures such as tax breaks.

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