Harris Interactive: Obstacles Still Remain for Alternative-Fuel Acceptance
NEW YORK — When it comes to improving fuel economy, consumers are more likely to be interested in technologies that help the gas-powered engines become more fuel-efficient — which typically costs less initially — than they are in alternative-fuel engines, which are typically more expensive, according to Harris Interactive.
In its 2010 AutoTECHCAST study, Harris also found that, in general, there are still are several issues that consumers have when it comes to alternative fuels, and that increasing the commercial appeal of alternative fuels hinges on education and infrastructure improvements.
Looking at some of the findings regarding technological solutions for gas-powered engines in more detail, the study indicates the proportion of Americans who claimed they are "extremely or very likely" to buy a start-stop system was at 21 percent, while 19 percent said the same about an ECO drive assistant.
Each of these technological solutions can lift vehicles' fuel efficiencies by 10 percent, according to estimates.
And consumers are becoming more and more inclined to consider this technology that improves traditional gas-powered engines. For example, the 19 percent consideration level for ECO drive assistant is up from 11 percent a year ago.
Meanwhile, Americans don't seem to be as interested in alternative-fuel engines.
In fact, just 16 percent said they were "extremely or very likely" to go for a flexible fuel engine and 14 percent had that sentiment for clean-diesel engines, though the latter has seen consistency in recent years when it comes to consumer consideration and could very well improve in the future.
"Consideration for clean-diesel engines has been consistent over the past several years of the study, while that of flexible fuel engines has decreased," stated David Duganne, senior research director of Harris Interactive Automotive and Transportation Research.
"With the current push of clean diesel by European automakers, we anticipate this will start to increase while consideration for flexible fuel will continue to decrease, especially as other alternative fueled engines continue to come to market," Duganne added.
Further down the spectrum of consumer interest are the fuel-efficient engines that are "newer, more costly, and/or fully developed," like fuel-cell engines, hybrid-electric engines and plug-in engines.
For each of those three engine types, only 4 percent of consumers said they were extremely or very likely to put them on their consideration list.
Meanwhile, just 2 percent of shoppers expressed the same interest in pure electric engines.
What Harris called a "comparative bright spot" were compressed natural gas engines, which generated a bit more interest (10 percent).
Obstacles to Acceptance
Continuing on, officials also examined some of the obstacles hindering consumer acceptance of newer engine technologies, and what automakers and the government must do to overcome this resistance.
Harris explains that price does play a role in consumer accepting these technologies, but costs of the specific fuels that are necessary (for those vehicles requiring fuel) and the fact that there's no real infrastructure in place for drivers to refill or recharge vehicles are among the hurdles, as well.
Moreover, there are service and repair concerns and, for the electric models, consumers are leery about how long these vehicles can go between charges and how that compares to their daily commutes.
"Although there are some significant entry barriers, we believe that as consumers become more familiar with alternative fuel approaches, and gasoline costs rise, demand will grow," shared David Pulaski, vice president of Harris Interactive Automotive and Transportation Research.
"To raise mass market appeal automakers and government agencies must educate consumers on the benefits they offer, while reducing infrastructure issues," he added. "Education must not only address what is being done, but connect with the emotional elements of the concerns.
"At some point technologies that nip away at enhanced fuel economy aren't going to provide automakers with the gains needed to keep up with industry requirements," Pulaski continued.
Finally, Harris also discovered that consumers have become more interested in voice-activated technologies that let drivers keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road as they interact with their audio, navigation or telematics systems.
Additionally, technologies for customizing a vehicle — like the instrument panel or interior lighting color — has more of a "niche" appeal than "mass market appeal." There is less consideration for this type of technology.