A rapid and comprehensive transition to electric mobility will require a combination of technological, regulatory, institutional, economic, cultural and behavioural changes that together transform the sociotechnical systems that provide energy or mobility services.
More focused marketing of electric cars to women could be more effective in creating the required revolution away from more polluting vehicles than universal government intervention, a new study has said.
Highly educated women are an untapped but potentially lucrative market for electric vehicle sales because they have greater environmental and fuel efficiency awareness than men, says a new study by researchers at the University of Sussex and Aarhus University in Denmark.
The research also recommends the newly retired be targeted for electric vehicle promotion, even though they as a group have less interest in more environmentally friendly vehicles. Pensioners have high car ownership, drive short distances, have high budgets for car purchases and are less interested in design - all characteristics that could make them ideal electric vehicle owners.
Professor Benjamin Sovacool, lead author of the study and Director of the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand (CIED) at the University of Sussex, said: “The decisions people make about the forms of transport they use or purchase can transcend purely economic self-interest and logic.
"They can be shaped by a diverse range of factors ranging from gender, education, occupation, age and family size.
"The sooner that electric vehicle manufacturers and policymakers understand how these factors influence the decisions people make about their transport choices, the quicker people will switch to more sustainable modes of transport and hopefully long before legislation leaves them with no petrol or diesel alternative come 2040.”
The study found that women drive fewer kilometres per day, expect to pay less for their next car and have considerably less experience of driving electric vehicles than men.
It also found that men give more importance to speed and acceleration and design and style when choosing a car, while women rank ease of operation, safety, running costs and environmental impact - making electric vehicles a better fit for their specification.
Men, particularly those aged between 30 and 45 years of age with higher levels of education, working in the not-for-profit sector or academia, are currently more than twice as likely to own electric cars than women or retirees.
Surprisingly, environmental benefits are not the key reason they buy electric cars - instead they emphasized aspects such as comfort or acceleration.
Researchers also highlighted that electric vehicles still suffer from an image problem with families preferring large, conventional cars that symbolize welfare and status.
Prof Sovacool said current policy mechanisms to increase electric car ownership, such as the Carbon Tax or discounts, may not be particularly effective because they are gender or demographic neutral.
He added: “If the car-driving population of the world is to kick its habit for petrol or diesel vehicles in preference for something more environmentally friendly, then a more nuanced approach is needed than has been evidenced so far.
"A rapid and comprehensive transition to electric mobility will require a combination of technological, regulatory, institutional, economic, cultural and behavioural changes that together transform the sociotechnical systems that provide energy or mobility services.
"Shifting from a petrol or diesel car to an electric vehicle is not simply a choice between different vehicle models, it is a behavioural adjustment problem to adapt to the different restrictions of an electric vehicle such as it’s’ range and availability of charging.
"It is a similar shift as other health-related challenges such as quitting tobacco smoking or encouraging exercise, requiring older behavioural patterns to be broken and new behaviours established.”
The study looked at how perceptions and attitudes towards electric vehicles, as well as vehicle-to-grid integration, differ by gender, education, occupation, age and household size in five Scandinavian countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway, which leads Europe in its market share of electric vehicles.
Johannes Kester from Aarhus University, the second author of the study, said: “The Nordic region offers a useful testbed for examining the desirability as well as the social and political dimensions of the transition to low carbon transport.
"Our study offers insight into the Nordic context, but can also show businesses and industry elsewhere how to rethink their strategy when it comes to marketing EVs”.
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from the University of Sussex.