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Electric Car Mass Appeal: What Will It Take?

Time's Brad Tuttle asks John O'Dell his thoughts on what electric cars need to make them more acceptable to mainstream buyers.

Published: 30-Jan-2013

It's widely assumed that the car of the future will be powered by gasoline. At least partly powered by gas, that is, and at least for the near future. When, if ever, will the pure-electric car — one powered solely by battery, without a drop of gas — go mainstream?

Much will have to happen before purely electric vehicles (EVs) will appeal to the masses. For now, auto observers foresee a much rosier future for gas-electric hybrids such as the Chevy Volt and the Honda Accord Plug-In — which can be driven a limited number of miles on electric power before a gas engine takes over — than for plug-ins like the Nissan Leaf, which operate solely on electricity. In a new report from the advisory company KPMG, auto-industry executives were asked to name the electric-vehicle technology that they thought would generate the most interest among consumers. The most popular answer was the plug-in hybrid, the category that includes the Volt. More than one-third of those surveyed (36%) said so, compared with 21% who gave that answer in the previous year's poll.

By contrast, faith in the future of purely battery-powered EVs is waning; just 11% of executives pointed to the category as the top electric-car technology of the next decade, down from 16% the year before.

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