DETROIT -- After years of preproduction buzz, the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf are generating interest among the people who count most: buyers.
Most owners are charging their cars at home without any issues. They brag about cruising past the gas station. They're buying, not leasing.
Drivers of the plug-in hybrid Volt are averaging 900 miles between fill-ups of the 9.3-gallon tank, General Motors says. Worries that the Leaf's 100-mile top range would be inadequate are proving unfounded, with owners only having to charge their electric sedans for two hours a night on average -- and occasionally going two days on one charge, Nissan says.
But those are early adopters, the true believers. Many have solar-assisted chargers installed in their homes. They take meticulous steps to conserve juice, such as programming their cars to start and turn on the air conditioning while still plugged in.
To reach mass-market volumes, electric vehicles will have to break through to a broader audience. And many average-Joe consumers still view the Volt and the Leaf as little more than glorified golf carts backed by amusing commercials.
Consumers are confused by the federal government's mpg ratings for electrics (the Volt's is 60 mpg; the Leaf's is 99). They're put off by conflicting information about just how much electric range the cars have, says Cristi Landy, product marketing manager for the Volt.
The mainstream market is "still really confused," Landy told the Automotive News Green Car Conference last week. "We need more customer education. It is not an easy task."