Electric Car Demand Remains High Despite Low Gas Prices, AAA Says

Low gas prices aren't turning Americans away from electric cars, according to a AAA survey.

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The past few years have seen consistently low gas prices and, with them, a rise in sales of SUVs. That's led some carmakers, including Ford, to grumble about meeting current fuel-economy standards, which CEO Mark Fields believes will hinge on selling large numbers of electric cars and hybrids.

But despite low gas prices, AAA says demand for electric cars is still robust. More than 30 million Americans are likely to buy an electric car as their next vehicle, according to a report produced by the group, which also indicated particularly high interest among the coveted millennial demographic.

In fact, demand for electric cars is as strong as demand for pickup trucks, according to the report, which is based on a survey of 1,004 U.S. adults conducted February 16-19.

Of that group of respondents, 87 percent said they wanted an electric car because they were concerned about the environment, 62 percent cited lower operating costs, 52 percent cited technology, and 29 percent wanted carpool lane access. 12 percent of respondents listed "other reasons." Respondents viewed the main negatives of electric cars as lack of charging stations, range anxiety, and cost.

The survey results would seem to be good news for automakers, who are in the process of launching larger numbers of electric cars in part to deal with emissions standards. But the AAA survey does not correspond with shopping and sales data collected by the likes of Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader, Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst for Autotrader, told CNBC. Krebs said Autotrader anticipates sales of compact and midsize SUVs to be the strongest growth area in 2017, while pickup trucks will rise to 13 percent of new-vehicle sales. On the other hand, she said sales of electric cars, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids have been shrinking, even before gas prices started going down. She also noted that electric cars are heavily incentivized (including with both state and federal government tax credits), and have low resale values.

As of now, electric cars still only make up about 1 percent of new cars sold in the U.S. every year—a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of internal-combustion cars sold here annually. Regardless of the effect gas prices may have on sales, something radical will have to happen for them to truly challenge gasoline for hegemony.