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2020 | Book

Who’s Driving Electric Cars

Understanding Consumer Adoption and Use of Plug-in Electric Cars


About this book

This book offers a comprehensive yet accessible snapshot of the latest consumer research on the adoption and use of electric vehicles. It discusses the importance of developing a better understanding of consumer behavior in relation to electric vehicles, and the advantages that can be gained from the growing number of electric vehicle users, who can now be studied directly. In turn, it systematically analyzes the leading markets for electric vehicles in North America, Europe and Asia.

Bringing together the experience and expertise of authoritative researchers and practicing professionals, the book shares a wide range of empirical data obtained at the national level and summarizes the general lessons learned. The last part of the book discusses policy-relevant insights, forecasts the future evolution of the field in terms of methods and data availability, and addresses several key questions that policymakers and other stakeholders are currently facing.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Understanding the Development of the Market for Electric Vehicles
Many books have been written about plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) technology. However passenger cars are consumer products and ultimately the market success of PEVs requires individual consumers to decide to adopt them. The decision processes behind buying and using PEVs are not yet well understood by the governments that support their adoption and the automotive industry that manufactures them. The aim of this book is therefore to provide stakeholders with an overview of the international evidence currently available as well as the necessary tools to navigate it. By comparing and contrasting the country-specific studies presented in the book, further insights can be derived, some questions answered and new questions asked. This introductory chapter discusses the motivation, intended audience, scope and contents of the book. 
Marcello Contestabile, Thomas Turrentine

North America

Electric Cars in California: Policy and Behavior Perspectives
This chapter is divided into two parts: in the first part we illustrate the evolution of PEV regulation and technology in California, which has both led and influenced PEV policy globally. In the second part we present selected results of recent research conducted at UC Davis, particularly looking at the profiles of current PEV adopters in California and how these have evolved in recent years, the impact of financial and non-financial incentives on adoption of PEVs, charging behavior as a function of dwelling and home charger type, travel patterns, electricity price and PEV range.
Gil Tal, Ken Kurani, Alan Jenn, Debapriya Chakraborty, Scott Hardman, Dahlia Garas
What Conversations Between PEV Owners and Owners of Non-PEVs in California Tell Us About Sustaining a Transition
The excitement of advocates, policymakers and automakers for the increasing number of makes and models of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) coming to market, increasing number of PEVs sold in successive years, and growing networks of PEV charging infrastructure is presently lost on the vast majority of the car-buying public—even in California, touted as being among the global PEV market leaders. Sustaining PEV market growth will become problematic if the number of car-owning households paying attention to PEVs is not growing, too. Survey data from California in 2014 and 2017 show no increase over time in the percentage of households that have already purchased, shopped for, or even started to gather information about PEVs. Conceptual frameworks regarding how innovations spread through relevant social groups stipulate communication is necessary between the few early actors and the many more potential later actors. With the goals of improving PEV policy and marketing, we explored what might be said between households who have purchased PEVs and some who have not. Workshops were convened in three regions throughout California representing high to low PEV sales and charging infrastructure development. In response to non-PEV owners’ questions, PEV owners gave “account,” i.e., told their stories of buying and driving a PEV which included informal tallies of costs, incentives, and benefits. This storytelling conveyed to non-PEV owners many of the signs of PEVs, i.e., how PEVs, charging infrastructure, and incentives are (to those who know the signs) symbols of transition to electric-drive vehicles. Routinely, but not universally, learning the symbol system of PEVs produced more positive evaluations of PEVs’ symbolic, functional, and affective benefits among the non-PEV owners. The workshops reinforce the results from large sample survey research showing the lack of attention paid to PEVs by most car-owning households and suggest elements of a social narrative to promote a transition to electric-drive vehicles.
Ken Kurani
Gasoline Savings from Electric Vehicles in the US
Without the option to purchase plug-in electric and/or hybrid vehicles, conventional counterfactuals used in literature may underestimate the fuel savings from clean vehicle adoption, thus overestimating the costs of securing associated environmental benefits. Using a nationally representative sample of new car purchases in the U.S., a vehicle choice model-based counterfactual approach is proposed in this chapter that allows for the prediction of what consumers would purchase if these clean vehicles were unavailable. The cost of demand-side policies in the form of financial incentives to encourage plug-in electric vehicle adoption is estimated.
Policy relevant insights:
  • In the US, gasoline consumption under a no clean vehicle scenario increases by 1.7%, compared with a 1.1% increase based on a conventional counterfactual.
  • Many pivotal buyers would instead purchase premium brands and larger vehicles, leading to an increase in the share of light trucks, which are subject to less stringent, but more difficult to meet standards.
  • Assuming a vehicle lifetime of 16 years, the conventional counterfactual overestimates the cost of gasoline savings from clean vehicle adoption incentives by $1.16 (27%) per gallon compared with the choice model-based counterfactual.
Tamara L. Sheldon, Rubal Dua
The Present and Future Market for PEVs in Canada: Evidence from a Mixed-Method Research Program
Understanding the current and future market for plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) requires an understanding of consumers, technology suppliers, policy, and the interplay between. We illustrate a mixed-method research program that explores this interplay, using the case of Canada. Our approach is “reflexive” in two ways. As researchers, we connect insights from several research methods, including qualitative interviews, quantitative surveys, choice models, technology adoption models, and policy evaluation. For consumers, we prompt reflexivity by helping them to learn about PEVs, and how the technology may (or may not) connect with their lifestyle. Consumer data were collected from samples of “Pioneers” (the earliest buyers of PEVs), and “Mainstream” new-vehicle buyers. Results show that Mainstream consumers have low awareness of PEVs, though one-quarter demonstrate interest in purchasing one after learning about it. Interview and survey results indicate diverse consumer perceptions and motivations, including orientations towards new technology, the environment, and practicality. We combine these survey data with technological constraint data (supply and charging access) to construct a technology adoption model, which can help explain limited market share (1–2% PEV sales) and simulate how policy might increase future sales. Finally, we demonstrate how insights from this research can be used to evaluate PEV-supportive policies.
Jonn Axsen, Zoe Long


Norway—The World Leader in BEV Adoption
Norway is the leading per capita BEV market in the world. The share of BEVs in the fleet exceeded 5% in December 2017 with another 2.5% being PHEVs. The market shares of BEVs and PHEVs in 2017 were 20% and 18% respectively. The total market share of BEVs and PHEVs in 2018 was well above 40% and in 2019 exceeded 50%. These vehicles have easily been adopted by Norwegian households. 4 out of 5 BEV owners, however, own another vehicle, giving them the option to swap vehicles when the range is too short. A strong incentive package has been introduced since 1990. The political targets which these incentives are intended to support have developed over the years. While these incentives were initially introduced to allow for experimentation with electric vehicles, and subsequent industrialization efforts, they are now geared towards meeting climate policy targets of reducing transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions. These incentives induced 20 years of BEV niche market experimentation and led to a fleet of 3000 BEVs by 2009. The long-term stability of BEV policies, the public awareness of BEVs created by their owners, the competences developed in the niche markets, and the strong incentive package, became a window of opportunity for the traditional passenger vehicle importers. When BEVs became available from their brands from 2010, they could import and sell them with immediate success using their vast national dealer networks.
Erik Figenbaum
Plug-in (Hybrid) Electric Vehicle Adoption in the Netherlands: Lessons Learned
The Netherlands is considered one of the frontrunners in the field of electric mobility, both in number of plug-in electric vehicles sold as in the number of publicly available charging stations. This chapter analyses the policy measures that led to the growth in the number of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. It also provides room for a critique of the policies, with a special focus on the actual reduction of emissions. Consequently the number of public charging stations also rose. The chapter provides an analysis of how these charging stations are used and in which way this is related to sales policies. The chapter provides several lessons learned on how to shape policy to get a group of early adopters to drive electric.
Rick Wolbertus, Robert van den Hoed
What Can Driving Patterns Reveal About the Suitability of PEVs in Sweden? Analysis and Policy Implications
Sweden has ambitious climate goals. For the transport sector the goals is a 70% reduction of emissions from domestic transport by 2030 relative to 2010 levels. Even if Sweden has not set any specific goals for PEVs, electrification of the transport sector is one of the major strategies to achieve the climate goals. In this chapter we analyze the suitability of PEVs with a special emphasis on BEVs, in Sweden. The main approach has been to study driving patterns and how these relate to the limited range of a BEV. Special emphasis has been set on two-car households since these are potential early adopters. Data on driving patterns is complemented with interviews of households that have trialed a BEV for at least 3 months. We find that the longer driving distances in Sweden might make it more challenging for BEVs to be adopted. On the plus side the economic conditions in Sweden with low electricity prices, higher fuel taxes and subsidies make the BEV economically viable from a TCO perspective. The combination of these factors might explain the relatively high shares of sales of PEVs in Sweden (5.3% sales share in 2017) and why these are dominated by PHEVs. The chapter also looks at the lessons learned from the failed introduction of flex-fuel vehicles and finds that is important to maintain the economic advantages of PEVs through, e.g., higher fuel taxes and that PEVs should have a relative advantage for the user that goes beyond their environmental performance.
Frances Sprei
Beyond Consumer Innovators: Adoption of Plug-in Vehicles by Mainstream Consumers in the U.K.
This chapter discusses key methodological issues involved in researching potential Plug-in Electric Vehicle (PEV) uptake among mainstream consumers: all those who are not Innovators in terms of Rogers’ (Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, New York, 2003) diffusion model. In the U.K. in 2019 mainstream consumers do not have their own PEVs and have little or no direct experience of using them. Issues considered in this chapter include the problems of psychological distance, the Hawthorne effect, the “Bed of Procrustes”, and the role of symbolic meaning and self-congruity in influencing uptake. Two studies that have worked with mainstream consumer samples, one qualitative and one quantitative, are described in depth to illustrate how these issues can be addressed.
Stephen Skippon, George Beard
Electric Vehicle Adoption in Germany: Current Knowledge and Future Research
This chapter provides an overview of the current knowledge of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) adoption as well as of their adopters and the use they make of the vehicles in Germany. This includes a separate discussion of drivers and barriers in the different segments of the car market (private, fleet and company cars) as well as of the role of charging infrastructure. The chapter summarizes previous studies by the authors on PEV diffusion and usage in Germany and compares the results obtained with those of other studies as well. The chapter concludes with a discussion of key areas for future research on PEV adopters in Germany.
Patrick Plötz, Elisabeth Dütschke


China’s Booming Plug-in Electric Vehicle Market—How Will It Continue?
The plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) is recognized as a pivotal component in transportation energy security and technology innovation in China. With government incentives and substantial capital investments, the Chinese PEV market has become one of the largest in the world. However, is this market boom ephemeral or will it be continuing? This chapter provides a general review of the Chinese PEV market mainly from the consumer perspective, by summarizing the characteristics of the vehicle policies and consumer concerns in the PEV market in recent years. Moreover, it introduces detailed examples on how the policies, technologies, and infrastructure shape the market. In addition to employing large amounts of reliable data from the China Automotive Technology and Research Center for the review, the authors also adopted a quantitative analysis tool—the New Energy and Oil Consumption Credits model—to project the potential industrial impacts of the government policies in multiple scenarios. Based on the findings, it seems that the prosperity of the PEV market, incentivized by the government, will continue in the short run. The direct subsidies to PEV from the government will gradually phase out, and the supply-side push policies such as the dual-credit policy and other charging infrastructure incentives will work as the invisible hand to force the automakers to invest more in the PEV segment. However, in the long run, innovation in PEV technology and business models, together with consumer acceptance will be the major factors that can sustain further market growth.
Shiqi Ou, Zhenhong Lin, Xin He, Steven Przesmitzki, Zhixin Wu, Jihu Zheng, Renzhi Lv, Liang Qi
Plug-in Electric Vehicle Market Research on Consumer in Six Cities in China
China’s Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PEV) market’s recent surge makes it the world’s largest PEV stock. A series of supportive policies in China contributed greatly to the rapid PEV adoption. However, what role these policies play in encouraging consumers to purchase PEVs rather than conventional vehicles is unknown. Additionally, factors other than incentives that may help maintain the current adoption trend are still unclear. The latter are especially critical in understanding how the market reacts to phasing out subsidies while aiming to achieve the next goal of 5 million PEVs on Chinese roads by 2020. Therefore, in this study we employed both quantitative and qualitative methods to explore these research questions through a cross-sectional study of the current PEV consumer market in six cities in China. The sample size of this study is by far the largest survey of PEV users ever conducted in China. Additionally, to the best of our knowledge, it is the first study focusing on PEV adoption in third-tier cities in China, where there is much room for PEV sale improvement. Further, collective attitudes toward micro-scale electric vehicles, which have not received much attention due to their smaller market share in big cities, were captured in this study for the first time. The results altogether provide meaningful insights into ways to increase PEV adoption in China and internationally.
Yan Xing, Gil Tal, Yunshi Wang


Lessons Learned and Future Prospects
At the end of this journey around the leading PEV markets in America, Europe and Asia, guided by the scientists who have been studying them over the last several years, what have we learned? Firstly, that much evidence is already available on consumer adoption and use of PEVs which can be used to answer, at least in part, important questions that policymakers and other stakeholders are currently faced with. Secondly, that undoubtedly much work still remains to be done and that, as the markets continue to expand, it is essential that research efforts in this area continue. Technology, policy and consumer behaviour will continue to co-evolve. Some of the answers to current questions may therefore change, and new questions may arise. However the evidence available today can already be a good guide to policymakers and other stakeholders in their efforts to support a rapid and effective transition to electric mobility. The evidence presented in this book also points at new questions that are worth researching and at the methods and new data that would be needed to tackle them. This concluding chapter is organised around key questions currently being asked. For each question in turn, it briefly discusses the high-level messages that have emerged from the market-specific studies presented in the previous chapters and, by comparing and contrasting them, seeks to derive more general insights. The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of future prospects for this field of research and their implications for policy-making.
Marcello Contestabile
Who’s Driving Electric Cars
Marcello Contestabile
Ph.D. Gil Tal
Ph.D. Thomas Turrentine
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