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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Study Finds Growing Interest in Plug-in Hybrids

A new study by global market research company Synovate shows that 49% of consumers - once the concept of a plug-in hybrid was explained to them - said they would consider purchasing one, roughly the same level of consideration as standard hybrid technology, according to a Green Car Congress (GCC) post.

The study, conducted among 1,240 buyers and those intending to buy new light duty cars and trucks, found that while awareness of hybrids is now very high among US consumers, consideration of a conventional hybrid vehicle has flattened at just under 50%.

Tim Englehart, Manager of Alternative Fuels Studies at Synovate Motoresearch had this to say:

Plugging the vehicle in at home means fewer trips to the gas station and lower operating costs. The unknown with this technology is the additional purchase cost. However, there is a considerable group of consumers who are willing to pay to get these unique benefits. It would also be an excellent way to transfer some of the country’s dependence on oil to the national resources we use to power the electric power grid. We believe it’s something to watch.
The study also found that while 37% of US consumers would consider purchasing a Flex Fuel vehicle that runs on E85, more than one-third of those same consumers lose interest when they learn that there is a reduction in fuel economy.

Consideration for diesels ran at roughly half the consideration of hybrids.

Our data give us strong reason to believe that if manufacturers can meet the emissions requirements of the new diesel legislation, some are going to surprise the market with the products they introduce and the buyers to whom those vehicles appeal, said Scott Miller, CEO of Synovate Motoresearch.

The information came from Synovate’s latest semi-annual survey of consumer attitudes toward advanced propulsion and alternative fuel vehicles.

There's another summary of the study here, which focuses on the still relatively low awareness of several alternative vehicle/fuel options (most notably, direct-injection diesel).

Well, this is good to see. I hope Toyota and others are paying attention to this.

As regular readers of Watthead know, I have great confidence in the ability of plug-in hybrids to contribute dramatically to a reduction in our petroleum dependence and our overall greenhouse gas emissions. Plug-ins offer:

  • excellent energy efficiency, relative to traditional internal combustion engines,

  • help diversify the fuels used for transportation (i.e., anything that can be turned into electricity can now fuel our transport fleet),

  • allows us to utilize domestically available energy sources for transportation,

  • reduces emissions of GHGs and criteria pollutants,

  • helps pave the way for full electric vehicles by establishing economies of scale and driving innovation in high-energy capacity batteries,

  • etc. etc. etc.

  • And, we more or less have the technology for plug-ins available today (unlike some other oft-proposed alternatives).

    If as many people are interested in buying plug-ins as are intersted in buying hybrids (and twice as many as are interested in buying diesels), it seems like there is a clear enough market out there to justify bringing at least a few plug-in hybrids to market. And several companies, most notably Toyota, but also Daimler-Chrysler, Honda and even Ford and GM, could probably bring plug-ins to market in just a couple of years. They could easily start by basing their first models on their already established hybrid models. The economies of scale and supply chains are already established for all of the electrical components shared between plug-ins and regular (grid-independent) hybrids, so the only hurdle is to establish supply chains for high-energy batteries suitable for plug-ins.

    Consumers want them, governments and fleet operators want them, ... I want them ... why aren't any of the big auto manufacturers offering one yet? Get on with it already!


    jcwinnie said...
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
    jcwinnie said...

    Well, Toyota is thinking of our convenience. We would find it inconvenient to plug in for an overnight charge at the equivalent of 77 cents a gallon. Rather, Toyota marketing says that we prefer the convenience of filling at a gas station and paying $3 gallon for fuel, whether it is for ICE miles or electric miles.

    Heiko said...

    I have this suspicion that the difference between actual buying behaviour and supposed preferences has a lot to do with how they "explained" the options.

    Ethanol is less energy dense than gasoline, but per unit of energy, because of its high octane and therefore higher possible compression ratios, it's actually more fuel efficient than gasoline (a gallon is a unit of volume, not of energy, a gallon of nat gas would have a truely terrible fuel economy as it contains about 1000 times less energy than a gallon of gasoline).

    Suppose that had featured in the "explanation", how much might interest have changed in E85 vehicles?

    Suppose further that it had been pointed out that a conversion kit for the Prius is available and is about $10,000 to make it plug-in capable, how much do you think would that 49% interest have declined?

    In $5-$7 per gallon Europe hardly any hybrids sell, and the market share of diesels is around 50%.

    Even in the US, where emissions laws and a bad image make life harder for diesels, they still clearly outsell hybrids, while there are no plug-in hybrids on the market.

    And I tell you they aren't there because a realistic market survey would show a vanishingly small niche for realistically priced plug-in hybrids with current battery technology.

    Of course, if you ask consumers, would you want a plug-in hybrid, if it allowed you to charge overnight for 70 cents per gallon rather than $3 per gallon, it's hard to see why anyone wanting a hybrid wouldn't also want a plug-in.

    Heiko said...

    I am not sure whether you get an automatic email notification for comments to older posts, so I'll comment here.

    My library finally got the Science article on FACE experiments. It's just three pages as happens.

    They looked at all large scale FACE experiments done over the last 20 years. That isn't many and only covers a limited range of conditions. There is none that covers both elevated ozone and elevated carbon dioxide. A lot more (for example the combination of elevated carbon dioxide and ozone) has been covered by open top chambers. These are as the name implies not greenhouses, but rather semi-enclosed plots. The authors point out that there is a substantial effect on yields due to the impact of the enclosure on local conditions. They surmise that FACE experiments might be more representative of real world conditions than open top chambers, and for the small number of experiments get a statistically significant difference between open chamber based predictions and FACE trial results. The yield improvements are 50% less than predicted. They are a little unclear as to how much of that is actually reasonably certain, and how much may be pure chance. The key sentence I remember is that 12 growth factors (or something like that) are independently lower than predicted, and that all of that being due to chance would have a probability of 0.003, or 0.3%. I am rather skeptical of that calculation myself, as the number of FACE sites evaluated is just 4. A special factor (say a low limiting micronutrient) might easily be responsible, and I don't quite see why large FACE sites (they excluded small ones, because those might suffer from boundary effects) would actually be more representative. Real world conditions of moisture, wind and indirect/direct sunlight vary widely.

    There is the potential here for this to amount to datamining, ie an arbitrary restriction of a very large dataset to a comparatively extremely small subset.

    Interestingly, they also point to studies showing greater yield improvements than incorporated by the IPCC modeling.

    However, in the end, while we know that carbon dioxide is beneficial, we also know that the net effect is complex and influenced by the individual species, available moisture, local temperatures, micronutrients, and also is amenable to improvement through plant breeding or changes in agricultural practises. We don't really understand what impacts the size of the CO2 fertilisation effect and for future predictions, we've got to make vast assumptions of what genetic engineering, or simple plant breeding and changes in agronomic practises, can do.

    I also think that the agronomic forecasts don't take adaptation sufficiently into account. Warmth isn't bad for plant growth as such. Some plants are very well adapted to temperatures above 25C. The oil palm say, which is the highest yielding major oil crop, can only survive with temperatures above 25C nearly all year round. A suitable adaptation for some rice growing regions might be to switch to oil palm and for rice growing to move North.

    Lack of moisture is always bad, though it's also the factor most amenable to CO2 fertilisation effects (because of lower required respiration to get the CO2, and therefore lower evaporative losses). However, I don't think the modelling indicates generally lower water availability worldwide from climate change, and even if it did truely mean more floods and more droughts (which the IPCC is not predicting, what they are predicting with high certainty amounts to what can be expected from moving an equivalent distance closer to the equator), there is scope for water projects to store water, both for flood protection and irrigation.