Could Generation Y take the lead in a transformation from gas-powered to electric vehicles?

A new survey conducted by Deloitte suggested Gen Y consumers, generally between the ages of 19 and 31, prefer hybrids or electric vehicles -- vehicles with some electrified elements.

The survey, which Deloitte has conducted for the past four years, found a majority of Generation Y consumers polled preferred hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles. Fifty-seven percent of the Gen Y consumers surveyed responded that they would prefer to purchase a hybrid vehicle. Thirty-seven percent said they preferred traditional, gas-only vehicles. But just 2 percent were ready to say they would choose a pure, battery-powered plug-in electric vehicle.

Generation Y could be the generation that leads us away from traditional gasoline-powered vehicles, said Craig Giffi, vice chairman and automotive practice leader at Deloitte.

The study surveyed 1,500 consumers in the U.S., consisting of multiple generations. It also reached out to 250 Generation Y consumers in China and 300 in Western Europe.

The study found multiple reasons for the rising popularity of hybrids. Chief in a time of continually rising gas and oil prices was fuel efficiency. Deloitte's survey found that 89 percent of Generation Y consumers want a vehicle that gets better mileage per gallon. A significant 49 percent of Generation Y consumers even said they would fork over an extra $300 for each mile-per-gallon increase a hybrid vehicle provides.

Gen Y consumers also view hybrid technology as proven and reliable, Giffi said. Almost six in 10 Gen Y respondents prefer a hybrid over any other type of vehicle, while a mere two in 100 prefer a pure battery electric vehicle -- demonstrating that Gen Y is familiar and comfortable with hybrid technology, but not so much with battery-only technology.

The news is good for hybrid cars, makers of which hope to rebound from a down year in 2011. Hybrids made up 2.2 percent of all vehicle sales in the U.S., compared to 2.4 percent the year before. This came as overall car sales jumped and all three U.S. automakers saw their sales and market share increase.

But Generation Y's lack of familiarity and lack of inclination to purchase a battery-powered electric vehicle reflects the sentiment of the rest of the U.S. consumer base.

The U.S.'s highest-profile electric vehicle, General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet Volt, has recently come under attack by lawmakers in Congress after the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration opened an investigation into battery fires that occurred after crash tests. The NHTSA recently closed its investigation.

Both the Volt and the Nissan Motor Co.'s Leaf fell short of sales expectations in 2011. This month at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Nissan North America Vice President Al Castignetti said that number was affected by loss of production resulting from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and that Nissan likely would have met its goal of 10,000.

Castignetti didn't put a specific number on Nissan's expectations for the Leaf this year, but he said the company does expect a significant increase.

And in Detroit, Nissan introduced a concept electric van called the eNV200. It was a common theme across the showroom.

What I find ironic is that if you walk around this show today, every manufacturer in this show has an EV offering, whether it be concept or production, Castignetti said in an interview. But three years ago, everybody was telling us we couldn't do it, and now everybody's got one in their spots.

Moreover, Michael Omotoso, an analyst at LMC Automotive, said he did expect at least short-term consumer backlash in electric-vehicle sales after the Volt investigation.

I would say they'll be affected somewhat, Omotoso said. There's going to be that public perception. They're going to see the headlines of, 'Electric vehicles' and 'fire.'

I think the effect will be a small, negative one initially. But as long as there are no incidents with buyers, that fear will go away over time.