If electric vehicles are to crack the mainstream market, automakers will first have to inform most U.S. consumers of what they are and how they work. In a Harris Poll released before Memorial Day, over two-thirds (67%) of 1,052 respondents said they don’t know anyone driving a green vehicle, with over three-quarters (76%) saying they’re completely unaware how far a plug-in hybrid can travel.
The Ford-commissioned study should be a wake-up call for Detroit automakers as they plan to release EVs in the coming years, and the release of the data coincided with the arrival of the 2017 Fusion Energi, the plug-in hybrid with range that increased to 610 miles following the redesign. (Electric range increased just two miles for a total of 21.)
According to the poll, most respondents guessed the range of a PHEV would be around 261 miles, which is not quite as far as the highest-trim Tesla Model S can travel on a full charge. Ford is planning to change some of these misguided perceptions by marketing its new Fusion Energi as the “cure for range anxiety,” touting its ability to travel in excess of 600 miles with a charge and full tank of gas.
In the company statement announcing the Harris Poll and new plug-in, Ford actually took a shot at Tesla’s EV for the masses. Fusion Energi’s range “is nearly triple that of the upcoming Tesla Model 3, which Tesla says has a projected total range of 215 miles,” the statement said. “The Model 3 doesn’t run on gas, so it also must be recharged immediately when its battery is depleted.”
We never thought a car’s ability to run without gasoline would be a weakness in this segment, but that seems to be the tack Ford is taking with Fusion Energi marketing. Likewise, stating the obvious, that an EV with no power “must be charged immediately,” seems a bizarre angle when trying to draw interest in your own plug-in vehicle. But here is the root of that misinformation Ford discovered when it commissioned its Harris Poll.
When General Motors began marketing its new Chevy Volt, it ran a commercial that mocked the limited range of cars like the Nissan Leaf (as well as the Chevy Spark EV). This approach is just as misguided. Ford noted that drivers commute an average of 42 miles a day to work, which would make the Fusion Energi a pure electric most days of the week. Why not tout the new model as a way to leave gasoline behind unless you need extra range for a road trip?
In our week-long test of the 2016 Fusion Energi, we covered well over 700 miles with regular charging and a full tank of gas (no fill-ups). The attractive sedan turned out to be a green machine without compromise, and you can charge the battery overnight on an ordinary household outlet. Ford did not mention this convenience in the statement accompanying the new model’s release.
We expect the upcoming Chevy Bolt EV will get people talking and bring about a better understanding of the segment. Most Americans can use electric cars as a second car in their household now, so 200 miles will be huge. Automakers’ marketing of EVs — or lack thereof, according to studies — has left much of the public in the dark about the technology and its benefits for the environment. So the electric vehicle poll Ford conducted is a great wake-up call; will Ford and GM hear it?