Two studies recently undertaken by What Car? in the UK into what it would take for more consumers to take up electric vehicles can be summarised by one word. And the word is, of course: Knowledge!
The first of these was a 3 month survey of 9,000 consumers, where 8.4% of respondents said they were ‘considering a fully electric vehicle as their next vehicle’ and were then tracked in their research journey to buying a car.
The second was a review of the data of 80,000 users of the Which Car? vehicle comparison tool.
The review showed that a fully electric car (or BEV, short for Battery Electric Vehicle) was the optimum choice for 10% of users – yet only 0.7% of new car sales in the UK are currently fully electric – potentially meaning there is a huge potential market for selling EVs yet to be met.
So if buying intentions are up around 8.4% for BEVs, and a BEV would suit 10% of people looking to buy a new car – why are only 0.7% of sales there BEVs??
Well if the two were completely unrelated – then 8.4% of 10% is 0.84% – so maybe it’s not really that big a mis-match after all. However the Which Car? survey delved deeper than that, and came up with some rather more nuanced (and interesting) results. The biggest concerns they found are shown below.
The data becomes particularly interesting as they followed potential buyers through their EV researching journey.
To begin with, potential BEV owners rated themselves as having a poor understanding of EV technology, and it took 3 months or more to catch up to their perceived ICE vehicle knowledge (By the way ICE = Internal Combustion Engine meaning they run on petrol, diesel or LPG).
And where did they get this knowledge: well as it turns out, it wasn’t from the sales staff at dealers!
As is well known by AEVA (Australian Electric Vehicle Association) branches around Australia – potential buyers are hungry for dispassionate advice on EVs and EV technology and in particular find vehicle sales staff are not (yet) at all well informed about EV technology.
This is also seen by the traffic to EV websites such as The Driven – in particular, many of our readers look for answers to their questions via the FAQ section and then seek further information via the Readers’ Questions section.
So, as potential buyers researched EVs – what happened to their perceptions of these issues?
Interestingly, once the EV was purchased – ‘range anxiety’ almost halved. Again, actual knowledge was the key to improving people’s comfort with EVs – and the information out there did not help to sort the worries of potential buyers before taking the plunge.
What was also interesting was the charging result –it seems that the scanty information from manufacturers on how to charge and how long it took meant that the charging knowledge component changed the least from beginning to end of their research.
(From my experience: manufacturer charging information can’t be easily compared to others, as well as usually being incomplete).
Given how much work I personally had to put into creating a standardised model to be able to easily compare the charging times and rates for the various BEV models – (and I was an an electrical trade teacher for many years teaching this stuff!) I can seriously sympathise with the average potential buyer of an EV.
On the other hand – the lived experience of plug-in EV owners is that charging is not at all hard to get a grip of – nor is it ‘inconvenient’, as the mixed messages that come out in the media would have it to be.
So how did the manufacturers rate in their information provision? Well, the results, yet again, make ‘interesting’ reading. Only three of fifteen manufacturers scored 5 out of 5, and one of them (VW) has almost no EVs for sale yet.
(Remember though: VW group have excellent US EV websites, EV promotion resources and EV charging network rollouts to draw from, courtesy of their US$2 billion mia culpa for Dieselgate called ‘Electrify America’).
So my summary of the Which Car? UK results is that knowledge is the key to allaying the fears of potential EV buyers but the traditional sources of that knowledge (manufacturers and dealers) are the worst at providing it, resulting in a lot of time and research being needed to overcome that impediment.
Steve Huntingford, editor of What Car? UK, put it this way:
“Our research has shown there exists a gap when it comes to the public’s understanding of electric vehicle technology and their features – and this is holding back some from actually buying one.
It’s understandable that it takes buyers three months of research to be as comfortable with electric vehicles as they are at the beginning of their research on petrol and diesel vehicles because the technology is new – but it is clear that the industry and legislators must start making it easier for would-be buyers”.
Thankfully, in the days of the internet and websites like The Driven, (and VW’s Electrify America spending), that process is a lot easier than it used to be – along with old fashioned person-to-person interaction with the lived EV experience through interest groups like AEVA.
(Who fill the gap by providing EV information sheets and people to talk to at expos and events, along with group presentations to members and the general public).
It would really help though if an EV adoption strategy at Australian Federal Government level could be implemented …….. soon?
Bryce Gaton is an expert on electric vehicles and contributor for The Driven and Renew Economy. He has been working in the EV sector since 2008 and is currently working as EV electrical safety trainer/supervisor for the University of Melbourne. He also provides support for the EV Transition to business, government and the public through his EV Transition consultancy EVchoice.