Thought Leadership

Are We Asking The Right Questions About Electric Vehicle Adoption?

April 25, 2019
Author: Kea Wheeler
Are we asking the right questions about electric vehicle adoption

I love asking questions. Being a moderator, it is literally what I do for a living. But like a musical artist who dislikes her most popular songs, the shine of some questions have become dull and over-played.  One such question is the ever so popular, “why aren’t people adopting electric vehicles (EV)?” It is not that this is a bad question, but it has already been answered, repeatedly.  When I searched, “why aren’t people buying electric vehicles,” I received over 100 million results. The top few articles to emerge (yes, a few out of 100 million results, so take my sample size with a grain of salt) discuss some key reasons that people are not adopting electric vehicles, including:

  • Range anxiety
  • Cost of entry
  • Lack of infrastructure
  • Lack of models for different lifestyles & life stages
  • Miseducation about EV
  • Lack of dealer knowledge and support

So why continue to ask this question if it has been answered ad nauseam? My guess is that some believe that their specific target is “different.” From my sample size of 1 moderator, I can tell you that while the order of these issues may be rearranged for different target groups, the same reasons are regurgitated back to me group after group. So I propose we start asking better questions – one of which would be:

“Given all of these aforementioned issues,
how do I sell an EV to you now?”

In my opinion, this is a better question to ask and here’s why.


1: It acknowledges that there are issues with electric vehicle adoption

Among those 100 million articles, there are some articles (again, sample size of a few) that wax poetic about “if people would just try it, they would like it.” While the results seem interesting for this type of research, I wonder if this is enough for widespread adoption for a high-risk investment product such as vehicles. Today, consumers borrow an average of $30,500 to purchase a new vehicle. That is a large risk to try something that does not meet a person’s needs.

The other issue I see with the “if they try it, they will come” philosophy is that trials are finite. When I have conducted EV research, some people always bring up the “what if” factor. What if I want to be spontaneous but can’t because I have to wait to charge? What if I run out of charge, particularly if I’m with my kids or an elderly relative? Worse yet: what if the car runs out of charge when my kid is driving alone?  Although some clients poo-poo these hesitations, to truly understand what it may take to get someone into an electric vehicle, one must empathize with the fact that this purchase is seen as a large leap of faith that must clear many hurdles, including the “what ifs.” And from my moderating experiences, I know that once people feel that you do empathize with their concerns, the conversations yield better insights.


2: It has longevity

Although some of today’s barriers, such as widespread adoption, may be breached in the coming years, some concerns may just dissolve into new ones. With 12 million electric vehicles slated to be on the road globally in 2025, predictions are that some countries’ infrastructure may not be ready to handle the expected demand. In the U.S. alone, the International Council on Clean Transportation (icct) suggests that 3 million EVs will be on the road in 2025. However, the icct analysis indicates that charging infrastructure will need to increase 20% per year to meet that demand. Although steps to increase infrastructure are deemed “promising” by icct, the analysis also indicates that there is still work to be done. This may come as a shock to some as the perceived golden age of EV infrastructure may be further out than anticipated. As such, the question of “how do I sell an EV to you now?” will still be relevant as the market, and its barriers, evolve.


3: It creates the foundation for a longer term marketing strategy of EVs

Although the influx of electric vehicles will give customers more choices, it will also come at the tune of a global oversupply of 14 million vehicles by 2030, according to Deloitte.

Competition will be fierce and the spoils will go to those who have a clear understanding of their customers, with Deloitte suggesting:

“[t]hose that can successfully build trust in their brand, ensure a positive customer experience from initial sale through to aftercare, and reflect consumer shifts towards the sharing economy in future business models will successfully navigate this.”

But how does one build trust and positive experiences if one is not asking more fruitful questions today? Knowing how to court consumers when there are numerous hurdles – real or perceived – to EV adoption will lay a solid foundation of understanding of what types of marketing messages, channels, and experiences work in the EV space before the market is saturated with options.

Asking the hard questions now may seem daunting. Like a favorite song played on repeat, it is simpler to continue to ask the same questions because we already know what to expect. But asking different and, potentially, more difficult questions is always advantageous as it usually provides more insightful responses that yield a larger set of viable solutions. And why I provided one such question that may spark better conversations with consumers, I am sure there are others that can be asked that will be more fruitful than a question that has already been answered over 100 million times.

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Kea Wheeler
Kea Wheeler
Senior Director, Qualitative

Kea has 17 years of experience in marketing research with Qualitative research being the focus for the last 12 years. While she is one of Escalent’s core moderators, she also enjoys weaving the insights captured from research into compelling and visual deliverables. Kea has experience conducting research across various categories which allows her to have a broader view of consumers that she leverages to enhance any project. In the Financial Service space, she has experience with research types including messaging/claims, advisor/investor relations, new product assessment, physical and digital property assessments, service selection and financial service website UX. Kea was also part of the Escalent project team that won a 2023 ARF Great Minds Future Forward award for its work on an investor match tool for a Financial Service firm.