Jane Leighton argues that the biggest barrier to EV adoption is the quality of government messages and information to the general public
The growth of electric vehicles (EVs) seems almost unstoppable. Electric vehicle registrations in the UK in 2020 grew by 125% and major automakers such as Ford have announced plans to increase investment in electric vehicles. Globally, too, the signs look promising, as reports find that sales of electric vehicles around the world increased by 40% last year.
However, if electric vehicles are to become the norm, there is still a long way to go. A significant number of consumers are still unsure of the practicality of these vehicles and have not yet replaced their gasoline or diesel cars with an electric one. In fact, research carried out by Ofgem found that 38% of people in the UK have concerns about battery life and range, and 36% fear they have nowhere to charge their car.
The planned infrastructure and technological improvements will therefore help pave the way for the mass adoption of electric vehicles. Battery technology that reduces range anxiety, a network of charging stations that make charging faster and easier, and vehicle prices that compare favorably to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles will no doubt push people forward. to electric.
Changing people’s behavior is less about changing your mind and more about changing the way you frame a choice so that it aligns with how people’s minds work.
However, improving infrastructure cannot do much. Consumers’ decision-making is not entirely rational and they will need more than a few new charging stations and increased range. Auto companies will also need to overcome their biases in decision making and how they embrace change or not.
How consumers make decisions
Human decision making is skewed by unconscious mental processes, or shortcuts, which usually allow us to make quick and intelligent decisions, but can sometimes cause us to make seemingly irrational choices. One of those biases is the status quo bias, which is our preference for the current state of affairs. Our intuitive response to new technologies like electric vehicles is often to ignore or reject them, rather than taking a risk on a new, unknown option.
Understanding biases like this can help explain the choices people make and can even help us influence those choices. Because we don’t always act rationally, changing people’s behavior is less about changing your mind and more about changing the way you make a choice so that it aligns with the way the mind works. people. Automakers need to make the decision to buy an electric vehicle an intuitive and emotionally rewarding choice, not just a choice that ticks the boxes of lineup numbers or CO2 emissions comparisons.
Simplify the process
One of the reasons we prefer the status quo is that we are “cognitive miser”, with little time and energy to focus on every decision. In other words, it’s easier to stick with what we’ve always done without considering other options.
Anything that can be done to facilitate decision making can have a positive impact. For example, helping consumers navigate the complex world of electric cars is likely to be helpful, especially for those who are not tech-savvy. Take the Nissan’s Foolproof Guide to Electric Driving campaign – the campaign used comedy to usefully educate consumers about electric vehicles.
Focus on the benchmarks
Another feature of the status quo bias is the use of benchmarks. We tend to use our current state as a benchmark and view any deviation as a potential loss. Driving gasoline-powered vehicles has been the norm for decades, and as such, it’s only natural for consumers to compare EVs to their experience of driving a conventional car.
It’s important to help consumers make easy comparisons between ICEs and EVs on key metrics like performance, durability, and range. Ideally, standardized metrics should be used to familiarize consumers with electric vehicles, using terms and concepts they understand. Over time, this will help drivers become more familiar with electric vehicles and make it easier to judge which vehicle best suits their needs.
This approach could also help combat another bias known as current bias, where we tend to overestimate things that are closer in time and underestimate those that are far in the future.
Consumers’ decision-making is not entirely rational and they will need more than a few new charging stations and increased range.
In the automotive market, many consumers make their purchasing decisions based on the initial cost of the vehicle, often neglecting future expenses such as running costs, taxes, and insurance. The challenge with electric vehicles is that many of the financial benefits are incurred during their lifespan rather than at the time of purchase. Better long-term cost communication to support accurate lifetime cost comparisons between EVs and EVs will allow consumers to make informed decisions, rather than being put off by the initial cost of an EV.
Highlight social norms
Social norms are one of the most powerful drivers of choice. We intuitively take the behavior of others as a guide on how we should behave. All in all, it’s a good strategy: following the crowd is a quick and effective rule of thumb for our brains, and often leads us to safe and acceptable choices in terms of physical and social consequences.
Harnessing the power of social norms by communicating about the growing number of people adopting electric vehicles is probably an effective strategy to drive adoption of electric vehicles. MG, for example, embraces this idea with its slogan “electric for all”. Likewise, the UK government recently introduced green license plates so people can mark their ‘badge of honor’ for clean vehicles and to raise awareness of the growing popularity of electric vehicles.
Behavior specialists from the Ministry of Transportation also conducted a trial to investigate messages aimed at best encouraging adoption of electric vehicles. One of the top performing posts appealed to social norms by highlighting the number of drivers who switch to electric vehicles each month. There is unlikely to be a quick fix that will lead to mass adoption of electric vehicles. However, by understanding the full range of influences on human behavior, we can make it easier for people to adopt new, greener technologies in the future.
About the Author: Dr Jane Leighton is the Head of the Behavioral Consulting Firm