Global consumer analyst JD Power and Associates has delivered a sobering warning to green car enthusiasts, just weeks before the first mainstream electric vehicles are expected to become available.
The firm said that the global market demand for hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) "may be overhyped" October 27, warning that it may be difficult to convince larger numbers of consumers to switch from conventionally powered passenger vehicles.
The "Drive Green 2020: More Hope than Reality" report suggested that global sales of hybrids and BEVs are expected to total 5.2 million units by 2020, or just 7.3 percent of total vehicles sold.
"While considerable interest exists among governments, media and environmentalists in promoting HEVs and BEVs, consumers will ultimately decide whether these vehicles are commercially successful or not," said JD Power and Associates' John Humphrey.
"Based on our research of consumer attitudes toward these technologies - and barring significant changes to public policy, including tax incentives and higher fuel economy standards - we don't anticipate a mass migration to green vehicles in the coming decade."
Most damningly, the company warned that there are a variety of concerns about hybrids and BEVs ranging from their design to dissatisfaction with performance, and said that buyers occupy a unique demographic niche - they are generally older, highly educated and high-income.
With US sales of the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt set to kick off in the coming months and European sales of the LEAF and Mitsubishi i-MiEV shortly afterwards, automakers will be watching buyers closely to see if JD Powers' predictions are correct.
Chevrolet, for its part, has already chosen to appeal to the "Americaness" of early Volt passengers in its new advertising campaign which aired across the US for the first time this week.
In it, US actor Tim Allen exhorts the extended range capabilities of the Volt, saying "we're wanderers, wayfarers, even nomads, so doesn't it just make sense that we build an electric car that goes far?"
Who'll be driving hybrids and EVs by 2020?
United States (1.7 million hybrids, 100,000 EVs)
Europe (977,000 hybrids, 742,000 EVs)
Japan (875,000 hybrids, 100,000 EVs)
China (Under 100,000 hybrids, 332,000 EVs)
Source: JD Power and Associates - http://www.jdpower.com