Electric vehicles – is range anxiety a thing of the past?
An emerging market
The UK ban on petrol cars is less than a decade away – and the situation regarding hybrid cars after that date remains uncertain. Given this backdrop, it’s unsurprising that a large part of the automotive qualitative research we’ve done over the past 4-5 years has revolved round electric cars and how consumers perceive this dynamic sector. The market is developing rapidly, and consumer impressions have changed significantly even in the short time we’ve been exploring them in our focus groups, depth interviews, drive-alongs and ethnographic studies.
Barriers to EVs
In the early days of speaking to consumers about electric vehicles, around 5 years ago, EVs simply weren’t on their radar. For some car buyers, the idea of an EV had not occurred to them; some were put off by lack of infrastructure such as charging points; others found the high price of entry too daunting; a few disliked the appearance of EVs which they dismissed as ‘milk floats’; and still others suffered from what’s become known as ‘range anxiety’, in other words they were worried that an EV would run out of juice before their destination and they’d be stranded somewhere with no ability to recharge.
Electric as the new sports car
Early adopters who bought into EVs 5 years ago dismissed such fears as groundless, seeing prestige no longer in a flashy, expensive car, but in the pleasure of being first into a new category in an old-established market. They’d done their homework thoroughly and many had apps on their phone to help them locate charging points they could use while out and about; near a favourite restaurant; at the office (some large places of work provide rapid charging points, especially outside London); at a petrol or motorway service station. They felt relaxed and proud of their choice made for both economic and environmental considerations. They loved the tax breaks and the easy city centre parking.
The new normal
In October 2020, battery electric vehicles represented a tiny share of the market – just under 7% – but growth is accelerating rapidly. (Pun intended). Compared to the early research we did, attitudes have shifted from the decidedly sceptical to the definitely interested, but with some reservations nonetheless. It’s not surprising that consumer perceptions have moved on; almost every ad you see these days is for an EV and clearly this sector is on an upward trajectory. The automotive sector isn’t known for being fast-moving, but car manufacturers are now upping the ante and the race is on to promote EVs from a Porsche Taycan 4S or a Tesla S at one end of the market to a Renault Zoe or a Mini electric at the other. If you really want to push the boat out, you could go for a Lotus Evija or a Pininfarina Battista – that is if you have £2million to spend!
Range is still the biggest anxiety for those who haven’t yet bought into the sector, and we’ve found that lifestyle issues will drive perceived appropriateness of an EV. An electric car is an easy win for someone who does a lot of short journeys across town or needs to travel relatively short distances to work. They can soon work out where the charging points are in the local supermarket, near their favourite restaurant, or even at work – we’ve interviewed quite a few motorists who work for forward-looking companies with charging points at the office.
For those who need to travel longer distances on a regular basis, Tesla has its own Supercharger network across Europe, claiming to cover 99% of the European population; these points are located at motorway services, shopping centres, hotels and business parks. For people who don’t own a Tesla, then it’s slightly more complicated because a number of different companies run car charging networks across the UK, offering different means of charging and paying. Whilst the infrastructure is most definitely improving, there’s still no guarantee that you won’t have to queue at a charging station – or find a charger which isn’t working – they can be temperamental.
You might think that home chargers could be a solution – but that won’t help people who don’t have off-street parking, as is the case for many city dwellers. Tesla claims a range of 405 miles for its Long Range version of the Model S, but this can reduce depending on factors such as the weather, driving style, traffic and elevation. That said, most car drivers don’t drive more than a couple of hundred miles without taking a break; and so charging time can be built into a journey as part of the necessary stops even on a very long journey – assuming that the charging point is available when you arrive. What this means is that there’s still some adjustment to go before EVs will be the norm. But with the market growing at an estimated +195% year on year 2020/2021, watch this space!
As qualitative researchers, the experience of speaking to consumers week in week out puts us in a unique position to spot upcoming trends. We’ve seen a big shift in the very recent past from the ‘milk float/stranded with no means of getting home’ anxieties to a definite interest in EVs. If you’re looking to understand your consumers in the automotive or any other sector, then please do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org