Green Cars Can Be Dream Cars

Global Survey Finds Most Consumers Want Environmentally Friendly Vehicles

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- Green cars are moving into the mainstream, with 59% of consumers coveting more environmentally friendly vehicles, according to a global survey by Aegis Group's market-research arm, Synovate.

BMW's Hydrogen Series 7
BMW's Hydrogen Series 7 Credit: BMW
In the survey, city-based consumers were asked whether, if money were no object, they would go for a dream car that wasn't environmentally friendly, a green car, or a dream car that is green. Around the world only 30% (35% in the U.S.) would go for a dream car without considering the environment. In the U.S. 42% said they would either choose a green car on principle or that their dream car is indeed green, with men and women giving similar responses.

The challenge for automakers is to manufacture cars that are green, but still don't involve too much compromise for consumers. Andrew Grant, director of motor research at Synovate U.K., said, "Most drivers are happy to go green as long as they still get everything that their normal car gives them -- performance, good looks and speed.

"But the number of people who are prepared to make a sacrifice to go green is still very small indeed. Electric cars, for example, have a negative image and represent too much compromise. For most people the green agenda has to match their own agenda."

Incentives for going green
Many consumers get tax breaks for driving green, and know they will use less gas, so they are prepared to pay a bit more for an environmentally-friendly vehicle. With the U.S. government stipulating a move to green as part of GM's bailout conditions, the shift towards eco-driving is clearly accelerating.

Mr. Grant added, "There is also a lot of pester power. Kids are fed the green agenda at school, and buying a hybrid means parents can go green without much trade-off. It's no more painful than turning off the TV or using eco-light bulbs."

The long-term problem is that hybrid cars are not really that green, but the more radical, effective solutions for automakers are risky and expensive. Electric cars need an infrastructure to support re-charging -- and even so, the batteries are, in themselves, an environmental hazard. And advances like BMW's hydrogen fuel and stop-start technology (where a car automatically goes into "sleep" mode when stationary) don't come cheap.

"It would cost about $5 billion to fit out 10% of the U.S. with new fuel outlets. Who's going to pay for that?" Mr. Grant said. "And consumers are also reluctant to risk money on technology that may not become mainstream -- they need to be able to sell their cars on. Everyone is staring at an abyss."

Some of the most enthusiastic green drivers were in Thailand (77%), Korea (76%), China (75%) and Brazil (72%).

Synovate's director of motor research for China, Kelvin Gin, said, "Last year's Olympic Games really highlighted issues with China's air quality, plus the government has made concessions for both green car manufacturers and the people who choose to buy and drive them. In fact ,there is $1.5 billion up for grabs for investment in manufacturing greener cars."

Brazil's incentives
The Brazilian government also provides incentives for people to buy greener vehicles. By law, all cars now have to be flex fuel, which has quickly made green cars part of consumers' behavior and thinking in Brazil. Brazil is also -- controversially -- giving over a lot of land to the cultivation of bio-diesel crops, with the result that Brazilians are proud to be leaders in developing alternative fuel.

South Africans showed the least interest in green cars, with 53% choosing their "dream" car without any consideration for the environment. In India, where the auto market is still relatively vibrant and automakers are marketing "dream" cars to aspirational consumers, 47% would not take the environment into consideration when purchasing a car.

The survey covered 13,500 urban respondents across 18 markets: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the U.K. and the U.S.

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