About one-third of electric vehicle owners in Japan say they may not buy another EV, according to a new report.
This could be a damaging trend, especially if U.S. consumers, who have so far been slow in accepting the technology, feel similarly to Japanese drivers.
A new report from researcher McKinsey and Co. found that about one in three electric-vehicle buyers felt "seduced" by the prospects of low energy costs, attractive subsidies and good test-drives, but became less enthusiastic about electric vehicles when faced with issues like higher electric bills and lack of charging stations.
"Until prices drop to the point where the level of mass-market uptake stimulates infrastructure development, manufacturers must learn how to build customer loyalty to broaden the market for EVs," study authors Axel Krieger, Philipp Radtke and Yoshi Takanuki wrote in their research.
Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis at AutoPacific Inc., said it's "not a surprise" some Japanese consumers won't buy another electric vehicle: "EVs are looked at more like a piece of technology and they don't age well. Mobile phones get obsolete quickly and EVs appear to suffer a similar fate, leaving consumers feeling like they have tape deck when all of the cool kids have an iPod."
Electric vehicle sales in the U.S. tripled in 2012 and surpassed 50,000 sales, but have fallen short of most sales expectations, including one by President Barack Obama, who said the automakers would sell 1 million electric vehicles in the U.S. by 2015.
Obama has since backtracked on that estimate, and some automakers, including Nissan Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. have backed away from some large-scale electric vehicle production plans in recent months in favor of more traditional hybrids. Ford Motor Co. projects that just 5 percent of its U.S. advanced powertrain vehicle sales in coming years will be purely electric; another 20 percent will be plug-in hybrids.
Potential issues outlined in the McKinsey study could also become issues in the U.S.
Electric vehicles will eventually be without the benefit of federal tax credits, which can take as much as $7,500 off the base price.
"American EV sales are purely existing on incentives and not because they are great cars," Sullivan said. "I wouldn't say customers are fleeing in the U.S., they aren't even buying."
But federal tax credits have not guaranteed strong sales.
Automakers like Ford and GM have offered additional incentives on cars like the Focus EV and Chevrolet Volt — an extended-range plug-in hybrid — to boost sales.
And Nissan has cut the price of its all-electric Leaf, which fell well short of its 2012 sales expectation of 20,000 units.