Less than one in ten said they would transfer half or more of their business from the ferries to the tunnel, and 70 per cent saw no competitive advantage in using the tunnel. All but a handful said they were satisfied with the service offered by the ferries.
Unlike car passengers, lorry drivers will travel separately from their vehicles and be given a free meal in a special club car, but 62 per cent of hauliers thought their drivers would still prefer the ferries.
The research, carried out in January by Mori for the lorry makers Scania, involved interviews with senior executives of 82 British and 20 French freight companies which use cross-Channel services.
The attitude of many was summed up by one who said: 'We've managed perfectly well without the tunnel; I don't see it making a big difference except for novelty value.' Another said: 'It's a bit like Euro Disney. I can't imagine that it will be much better than the ferries.'
The French seem to be taking the tunnel more seriously, with three- quarters of respondents having given a fair amount of consideration to it, while two-thirds of the British had not thought of it at all.
The tunnel should have opened its Le Shuttle services for lorry freight traffic today, the first commercial traffic to use it, but last month Eurotunnel said that the opening would be delayed for a few weeks, probably until April. The separate Le Shuttle service for cars will start within weeks of the official opening by the Queen and President Francois Mitterrand on 6 May.
Sue Moody, spokeswoman for the Freight Transport Association which represents hauliers, said: 'A lot of our members report that they do not have enough information on which to base a decision.
'It is disappointing that with such a major project, people do not know more about it. Remember that they use the ferries already and they will have to be convinced that the tunnel is a better option.'
A spokeswoman for Eurotunnel said: 'This survey was carried out in January. We have now agreed terms with 75 per cent of our potential market.' She added that Eurotunnel hoped to have between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of the commercial vehicle market by 1996.
The Channel tunnel, sink or swim? Scania GB, Tongwell, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.