SAE Plenary Session: Will consumers accept EVs, AVs?

The topic of the plenary session of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), on Media Day at the Washington Auto Show, Jan. 25, meshed nicely with the public policy theme of the Washington Auto Show. SAE for a number of years now has met onsite at the Washington Auto Show. The SAE panel discussed getting the customer onboard with advanced environmental and safety technologies. Much of the session focused on electric vehicles (EVs), and the panel indicated that most consumers are not ready for EVs in their current form.

NADA Chairman Wesley Lutz told the packed room that gas mileage and safety features have been top consumer concerns at his dealership in the past five to 10 years. As for EVs, Lutz said, “We’re ready to sell them.” But customer interest is minimal.


Lutz expressed the concern about tough fuel efficiency requirements that NADA has raised for some time: They make new cars too expensive, he said.


“If [consumers] can’t afford the vehicles, we’re never going to get the old ones off the road,” said Lutz. That, of course, would defeat the purpose of raising fuel economy requirements on new cars.


Alexander Edwards, president of research company Strategic Vision, said, “Customers are open and willing [on EVs], but there are too many compromises right now.” EVs cost more and have a limited driving range, and the low price of gas is a disincentive.


“When the consumer says, ‘That’s what I want,’ we’re going to move them,” said Lutz.


As for Autonomous Vehicles (AVs), Strategic Vision’s studies have found that 10 percent of consumers want them, 30 percent hate the idea and the rest are somewhere in between, Edwards said. Many people feel that though they are good drivers, they don’t trust others to operate their AV safely. Questions remain on insurance liability.


Some of the fear may simply be lack of familiarity with the technology.


“Among people who’ve experienced the technology, there’s a recognition that it’s useful,” said David Zuby of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

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