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Established Automakers Hold Edge Over EV Start-Ups in Race to Win EV Shoppers

May 19, 2022

Latest Escalent EVForwardTM data show new car buyers are more likely to purchase an electric vehicle from familiar, traditional brands, though many are undecided

A new report shows new car shoppers are more likely to purchase an electric vehicle (EV) from a traditional, legacy automaker than from an upstart EV specialist manufacturer—including Tesla.

More than one-third (35%) of the survey’s respondents favor purchasing from a well-established automaker, while just fewer than one-quarter (24%) indicate they’d likely look to an EV start-up to purchase their first electric vehicle. A further 41% of the study’s participants are undecided, highlighting the stakes at play for familiar brands and start-ups seeking to capitalize on rising waves of EV interest among consumers and win over future EV buyers.

Those are the latest findings of the new Brand DeepDive report from EVForwardTM, the largest, most comprehensive study of the next generation of electric vehicle buyers. The dedicated platform was developed in 2019 by Escalent, a top human behavior and analytics advisory firm with extensive experience counseling the world’s automotive companies.

“While brands such as Tesla and Rivian continue to make headlines as the fresh entrants into an industry dominated by decades-old multinational corporations, many consumers have taken notice of the strides familiar auto brands have been taking to market—and improve—their electrified offerings,” said KC Boyce, vice president with the Automotive & Mobility and Energy practices at Escalent. “The idea that a new player to the automotive market will remain the leader as more and more established brands expand their EV offerings is far from a certainty.”

For now, consumers are more aware of specific product offerings from EV specialist brands than those from traditional automaker brands. But respondents who are more familiar with traditional automaker brands than EV specialist brands have higher opinions of traditional brands and are more likely to consider a traditional brand for their next vehicle regardless of type of powertrain. Traditional automaker brands’ foundational trust and familiarity will be critical to winning greater EV market share—if they can produce electrified cars that offer features that consumers want.

The study identified consumers’ expectations and preferences for features and traits of electric vehicles, and found automakers of all sizes and tenures have ground to make up to meet those desires. The top five attributes consumers want from an EV include:

  • Dependability, lasts a long time (44% of respondents)
  • Good value for money (42%)
  • Latest safety technologies (40%)
  • Inexpensive to maintain (38%)
  • Innovative features and technologies (37%)

The current crop of EV offerings falls short on these expectations, with just 5%–31% of respondents saying they feel that any automaker is delivering on any of these five areas. Brands must go back to the drawing board with respect to design, engineering and marketing to establish confidence in consumers looking for an electric vehicle that will serve their needs for years to come. Traditional automakers or EV start-ups that are successful in doing so can aim to win over EV shoppers who are undecided about the type of company from which they would consider purchasing an EV.

“We know cutting-edge innovation and safety technologies are important to EV shoppers, and respondents sent a clear message by adding another key priority: longevity,” added Ben Lundin, senior insights manager at Escalent. “Dependability, value and low maintenance costs rank highly as key attributes automakers must offer, and may reflect shoppers’ preference to purchase from an automaker they already trust.”

To learn more about the study, click below.

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About EVForward™

This EVForward DeepDive was conducted among a national sample of 1,585 respondents (1,057 mainstream vehicle owners and 528 luxury vehicle owners) between December 28, 2021 and January 27, 2022. Survey respondents evaluated 48 automotive brands and 10 public-charging brands. These respondents are a subset of the EVForward database, a global sample of more than 40,000 new-vehicle buyers age 18 to 80, weighted by age, gender and location to match the demographics of the new-vehicle buyer population and by vehicle segment to match current vehicle sales. The sample for this research comes from an opt-in, online panel. As such, any reported margins of error or significance tests are estimated and rely on the same statistical assumptions as data collected from a random probability sample. Escalent will supply the exact wording of any survey question upon request.

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