Skip to Content

Potential Market for Plug-in Hybrids

Consumers want them–once they know what they are.

A new study shows that when consumers understand what plug-in hybrids are, they want them. The vehicles, which have large onboard batteries, can be recharged overnight by plugging them in, storing enough electricity to power daily commutes. For longer distances, a gasoline engine kicks in, assisting the electric motor and recharging the battery. The major automakers do not yet offer plug-in hybrids, but several are developing them. For those consumers who can’t wait, a handful of companies offer conversion kits for conventional hybrids.

Of the more than 3,000 consumers asked if they would consider buying a “grid-connected hybrid,” the term used for plug-in hybrids in the survey, only 24 percent said that they would, according to the survey by Synovate Motoresearch. But when they were told what such a car could do, that figure nearly tripled, to 64 percent. That’s well above the percentage of people who would consider buying an ordinary hybrid, like the Toyota Prius, which doesn’t have extended battery-powered range. Scott Miller, the CEO of Synovate Motoresearch, presented the survey’s results this week at the Advanced Automotive Battery Conference in Long Beach, CA.

The results suggest that consumers like the idea of the plug-in hybrid–but that so far, car companies are doing a lousy job of getting the word out. That’s not the case with flex-fuel vehicles, though. These cars, which can burn either gasoline or a mixture of 85 percent ethanol, scored high on the desirability charts–that is, until consumers were told more about them. Flex-fuel vehicles have been the subject of heavy promotion by automakers. But the marketing campaigns have fallen short of providing all the details: consumers thought that flex-fuel improved fuel economy, Miller said. Actually, the opposite is true. Ethanol contains much less energy than gasoline does, so miles per gallon will be significantly lower, as will range on a tank of gas. When consumers were told this, the percentage of people who would consider buying the cars dropped from 52 to 33 percent.

It remains to be seen if the desirability of plug-ins is enough to overcome their steep price tag. They could cost thousands of dollars more than a conventional hybrid, which already comes at a premium. Still, consumers are willing to shell out thousands of dollars more for SUVs than for minivans because of their perceived advantages. So if the word gets out and the cars get built, plug-ins might just be the next big thing.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Russian servicemen take part in a military drills
Russian servicemen take part in a military drills

How a Russian cyberwar in Ukraine could ripple out globally

Soldiers and tanks may care about national borders. Cyber doesn't.

Death and Jeff Bezos
Death and Jeff Bezos

Meet Altos Labs, Silicon Valley’s latest wild bet on living forever

Funders of a deep-pocketed new "rejuvenation" startup are said to include Jeff Bezos and Yuri Milner.

conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned
conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned

A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click

Deepfake researchers have long feared the day this would arrive.

ai learning to multitask concept
ai learning to multitask concept

Meta’s new learning algorithm can teach AI to multi-task

The single technique for teaching neural networks multiple skills is a step towards general-purpose AI.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.