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Electric cars appeal to younger, wealthier drivers

Logic dictates that all cars with greener credentials would appeal equally to consumers with a social conscience.

autos Updated: Apr 29, 2014 14:48 IST

Logic dictates that all cars with greener credentials would appeal equally to consumers with a social conscience. However new data from Experian Automotive, published this week, shows that there is a clear generational split when it comes to choosing a more environmentally friendly ride.

Hybrids -- cars powered by a combination of fossil fuel and electric batteries -- may well be the most popular type of greener car, accounting for 98 percent of all alternatively powered vehicles on the road, but they are more likely to be bought by drivers in their mid-to-late 50s and beyond. Crunching through data from over 3 million vehicles, Experian found that in 2013, just over 45 percent of hybrid buyers were 56 or over, compared with only 26 percent of electric car buyers.

Full electric vehicles, which offer a very limited traveling range and need to be connected to a mains or other type of outlet to recharge, again are more popular with younger, more affluent drivers -- 55 percent of new owners are aged between 36 and 55 (74 percent under 56), and 21 percent of buyers had a combined household income of $175,000 or more. Only 12 percent of hybrid owners had the same income levels.

Other interesting findings include the fact that 44 percent of electric car buyers have children and that on average they borrowed more money and accepted higher monthly repayments in order to finance the purchase than their hybrid-buying counterparts. However, they also plumped for a shorter repayment term of 58 months (62 months being the average loan term for a hybrid buyer).

"At first glance, one would imagine that consumers purchasing either a hybrid or electric vehicle would be nearly identical; both are environmentally conscious, are of similar ages and have higher income levels," said Melinda Zabritski, senior director for Experian Automotive. "While for the most part those statements ring true, our research shows that there are slight differences between the two. One possible reason for the disparity could be the growing popularity of the higher-end luxury electric models available."

In the US, where the study was conducted, the very exclusive Tesla Model S is currently the country's second most popular electric car. And despite its high ticket price, Experian Automotive says that 46 percent of owners paid cash for their Tesla in 2013 and 54 percent took out loans. The Nissan Leaf is the most popular in the US (and in the world), while the top three is rounded out by the Ford Focus.

And while electric cars have some way to go before they overtake hybrids (98% of the roughly 3.1 million alternatively powered cars on the road in the US at the end of 2013 are hybrids), popularity is rocketing. In 2012 there were only 21,000 electric cars on US roads. That number now stands at 72,000 -- a 245 percent jump.