While some consumers are curious about the unfamiliar technology behind the all-electric Nissan Leaf and plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt, others are curious about something far more fundamental: Who sells the car?
An independent market research study has found that people shopping for the new electric-technology cars aren't entirely clear on where to buy them.
Nearly 70 percent of the shoppers had no idea that Nissan makes the Leaf, according to the study. And about 55 percent of those in the market for an electric car also couldn't connect the Leaf's chief rival, the Volt, with Chevrolet.
That's a problem for the manufacturers. "These are supposed to be halo products," says Lincoln Merrihew, managing director for transportation at the market research firm Compete Inc. in Boston, which conducted the study. "But the brands aren't getting the benefit of the halo. The halo of the Leaf isn't reflecting on Nissan."
According to the study, a little more than 17 percent of consumers polled knew that Nissan sells the Leaf. Another 13 percent incorrectly believed the car is offered by other brands, including Chevrolet and Toyota.
The Volt fared better. The study found that 45 percent of shoppers identified it as a Chevrolet.
Nissan has said all along that it expects the Leaf to help it win new customers who may be unfamiliar with its products.
"We've learned that most consumers shopping for an all-electric vehicle are new to the Nissan brand," said Jon Brancheau, Nissan vice president of marketing. "This presents a tremendous opportunity to Nissan as we introduce new consumers to our lineup."
GM spokesman Rob Peterson says most of the early marketing work on the Volt tried to build general credibility for electric vehicles. Now the focus is associating the vehicle more closely with the brand. For example, GM has 600 demo vehicles at Chevy dealerships.
"The purpose is to raise awareness for the Chevrolet brand and draw attention to the rest of the portfolio," he says.
Merrihew predicts brand awareness will improve in the months ahead. Both products are still scarce around the country. Although the first Leaf was sold last December, it currently is selling in small numbers in only seven states. The Chevy Volt today also is sold in just seven states.