A new study on the prospects for plug-in electric vehicles (EV) in the U.S, sponsored by Airbiquity and conducted by Zpryme Research and Consulting, predicts that EV “evangelists,” mostly in the Western U.S., will lead the way in the adoption of plug-in vehicles-- buying most of the EVs sold in America during the next two years. The study’s outlook for EVs is blindingly bright, holding that some 730.000 plug-in vehicles will be on U.S. roads by 2016, per the study.

While only 8.5% of all those surveyed reported that they were “very likely” to buy a plug-in vehicle in the near future, the study suggests that will be enough to help get the EV market really rolling. “As 2010 comes to a close, many electric vehicle developments, initiatives and movements are converging to make U.S. automotive history for 2011,” the study notes.

The study acknowledges that there will be challenges: “Like any new technology launch, both the EV ecosystem and consumers will encounter challenges,” reported Zpryme. “Yet, motivated by more than $5 billion in EV-related government loans and grants to-date and a projected 730 thousand EV/PHEVs (plug-in electric vehicles) on the road by 2016, a vibrant plugged-in auto sector in the U.S. appears possible.”

For trucking, the study offers some indirect glimpses at the future for EVs in commercial applications. The build-out of the electrical grid to accommodate charging hundreds of thousands of EVs and the availability and accessibility of charging stations, for example, are necessities for both the commercial and consumer sectors. The Zpryme study sees big “blue chip” companies, such as GE, Leviton, ABB and Siemens as being at the forefront here, providing advanced EV infrastructure and components.

Utilities like Southern California Edison, Florida Power & Light and Xcel Energy were given the nod for developing “EV grid integration road maps and infrastructure that can safely absorb the impacts [of] thousands of EVs on the grid.” While companies such as Better Place, ClipperCreek ECOtality and Coulomb Technologies are recognized as being key contributors to the development of EV charging stations.

In the meantime, the trucking industry has been proceeding along on its own EV development and implementation trajectory. In December for example,Ford Motor Co. and Azure Dynamicsannounced that shipment of the first Ford Transit Connect Electric commercial vans had begun to early customers in North America as well as to Great Britain for a demonstration project there.

The all-electric vans are built on the Ford Transit Connect body and are equipped with Azure Dynamics' patented Force Drive battery-electric powertrain. The vehicles, assembled by AM General at its facility in Livonia, MI, are reaching the market 13 months after the collaboration to develop the zero-emission vehicle was first announced.

To date, all initial units have designated customers. Azure Dynamics' LEAD customer program includes seven companies that are taking delivery of their first units in 2010, with the remainder of their orders to be filled in 2011. Customers for the electric vans includedAT&T, Southern California Edison, Xcel Energy, Johnson Controls Inc., New York Power Authority, Canada Post and Toronto Atmospheric Fund EV300.

“Consumers may be ready for EVs, too, as 37.2% of respondents …said they are very or somewhat likely to purchase an EV in the next two years,” the study points outs. When it comes to brand awareness, passenger vehicle buyers put four models at the head of the list: the Chevrolet Volt (53.1%), the Ford Focus EV (49.1%), the Nissan Leaf (30.8%) and the Tesla Roadster (16.8%). Ford was identified as the top brand in terms of preference, however (17.8%), followed by Toyota (16.7%), Chevrolet (16.0%), Honda (12.6%) and Nissan (7.1%). These five brands accounted for more than 70% of all responses to Zpryme’s question about top brands.

And according to a new white paper by Pike Research, 2011 is the year that will test the commercial viability for EVs in the U.S. market. The key will be whether these vehicles can successfully perform the various tasks demanded of them by everyday motorists and truck fleets alike.