We often hear that sales of electric cars are reaching double-digit percentages. These are enthusiastic signs that a revolution is taking hold. We must remember, however, that new registrations are one thing and the total number of cars on European roads is another. In the latter case, the real weight of electric cars is less easy to understand. The data traceable in public databases stop at 2020, and two years can be a long time when there is a revolution going on…
Today – according to the leading Italian magazine Quattroruote, which in turn cites data from the equally authoritative Schmidt Automotive Research – electric cars in Europe (including the UK) account for around 2% of the total car fleet. On closer inspection, the news is therefore that traditional cars still account for 98%, despite the efforts being made in the go green movement, the media coverage and the quantity of electric models already available on the market. Meanwhile, car sales in Europe are certainly not increasing. To recap, the share of electrics is rising in sales in a market where overall sales are slowing down. In fact, the car fleet remains firmly anchored to traditional engines and the feeling is that sales are also somewhat held back by the uncertainty of choice. Those who have to buy a car are not sure which fuel type to opt for. And in the end, they often put off deciding not to change their car.
At this rate, driving around in a classic car might soon no longer be a sign of refinement and exclusivity, but rather the result of a forced choice, or better a forced ‘non-choice’. It would be a pity for that section of retro enthusiasts who are not so much driven by genuine passion as by vanity, who might be forced to find a different way to stand out.
It is especially unfortunate for all of us who have seen the purchase of a new car slowly but surely turn from a pleasure into a complexity. It is becoming increasingly clear from our research that buying a car has become bloody difficult. It is very much like a jigsaw puzzle in which there is always some piece missing.
It is not just about the constant rise in list prices, within a complex economic situation. And it is not just about the risk of seeing the car you have just bought age in no time at all. Yes, it is certainly a step forward if the same plug-in hybrid car model two years ago allowed an electric-only range of 45 kilometres while today it can achieve a range of 85 kilometres, in the exact same series, version and price. However, it is a step forward that is difficult to explain to anyone who finds the first of the two in their garage and left worrying about how much this laudable development will affect the depreciation of their car when they resell it.
The real difficulty is in finding one’s bearings in a shifting market, that gives no sure reference points. We receive too much conflicting input: for example some say the environmental benefits are real, others say they are alleged. The same happens for future traffic restrictions. There is a controversy over the veracity of claimed range for electric vehicles. In some countries, it is not known how long government incentives to purchase electric vehicles will last. In others it is not at all clear how the charging network will be able to grow enough to handle the growth of electric vehicles. The difficulty is in finding the solution that corresponds to our needs, searching for it among the thousand combinations of variables – certain and uncertain – that make up the problem.
OK, we are still in the middle of a revolution, but the situation is very confused and so are the people.
Added to all this is an underlying opposition that further foments entropy. On the one hand there are the politicians who set deadlines for banning the sale of ICE (internal combustion engine) cars that are ambitious to say the least, if not simply political point-scoring. On the other there are the manufacturers who contest the rules but at the same time fight a war amongst themselves over new models that are as innovative as they are distant from the interests of the real public.
In between are the normal people, who live immersed in a thousand other issues. For them, changing the paradigm of their relationship with the car is certainly not the number one priority. In this whole affair, they are the only ones who seem to act with the reality principle in mind, if only their own. Despite being indispensable to this as to all other revolutions, neither politics nor supply cares about them. As if the individual could no longer determine his or her own choices and both politics and supply could impose their will, without fear of contradiction and in defiance of those who believed that politics should represent the citizens and that the customer is the real king for companies.
Instead, in doing market research, our eyes have always been on the individual. In this case, even more so, precisely because the individual is the decisive but somehow overlooked actor in this matter. Since 2008 we have cyclically observed the demand for electric cars. So far we have done so in Italy and from this year, together with 7th Sense Research, we will be going to a wider base, with 10,000 interviews covering the five main European countries.
Our aim is to identify the segments of people who are closest to the electric car today, those who will enter it in the medium term and those who will resist it. For each of them we will find the keys that marketing can use to engage them.
We will start with whether the transition to electric vehicles is a decision that motorists have now fully understood or rather an issue that they still consider undefined. What is their real opinion on electric vehicles, compared to conventional vehicles and future alternatives such as hydrogen vehicles. How much does the high cost of energy affect their mobility choices. We will clarify which decision criteria drive them towards electric. Above all, we will identify what product and infrastructure barriers are holding them back, and what levels of development will have to wait for them to unlock. And how financing services can make up for the purchasing difficulties. From the pioneers who are already going electric, we will hear how the relationship with the car has changed and how much and whether they feel ready to spread the good news to the world.
We know that such a difficult subject as whether or not to take part in a revolution deserves a very wide lens. The myriad of forces at play generates ‘new results’ – up-to-date and in constant flux – that cannot be identified without having the basic information about the individual: the principles, truths, values, attitudes, and actual conditions that end up governing him or her and directing his or her choices. We will therefore rely on our experience in finding the basic traits to describe the different types of individual.
In short, we will do whatever it takes to decipher the individual’s point of view. We will give the marketer all the tools to make the best choices in this complex environment. After all, this is a fantastic time. The opportunity to witness or participate first-hand in an epochal transformation compensates for the absolute complexities we experience.