Due to global climate change, decarbonization policy pressures, and technological advances, transportation start-ups and legacy automotive brands are investing heavily in electric vehicles to bring about the next era of mobility. The good news is that EV sales are increasing.
In 2021, EVs represented almost 9% of global new car sales. BloombergNEF’s Electric Vehicle Outlook 2022 predicts plug-in vehicle sales will triple by 2025, due primarily to higher adoption in China. Yet, the world is not on track to reach net zero emissions by 2050. For the transportation sector to do its part, zero-emission vehicles need to represent 93% by 2035, and the last ICE vehicle needs to be sold by 2038. Multiple factors influence the rate of EV adoption but a critical one—design of the entire EV user experience—is perhaps the most poorly understood.
Do consumers see a true value proposition? Do electric vehicles offer a better experience over combustion platforms? Is the cost and perceived effort to own and use this new technology worth it? To cross the mass adoption threshold, it’s not enough to have a similar experience to familiar internal combustion vehicles: EVs must provide a superior mobility experience. When the EV experience is superior across all consumer touchpoints, it adds up to exceeded consumer expectations, thereby making the investment and effort to adopt worth it.
For consumers, mobility is about freedom and empowerment. Whether combustion vehicle, electric vehicle, scooter, or skateboard, this will always be true. In fact, over years of consumer research for Fortune 500 automotive brands and multimodal app startups alike, consumers express a remarkably consistent set of desired attributes for any mobility experience. Our Lextant Ideal Mobility Experience framework reveals these experiences need to be Personalized, Inviting, Effortless and Capable to be considered by the majority for adoption and use. EVs today only deliver on half of this desired ideal experience: Inviting and Personalized. They do not yet deliver an experience that is fully Capable or Effortless. In fact, EVs require more investment and effort to adopt and use than combustion engine cars do. But this doesn’t have to be.
For consumers, any new vehicle represents a significant investment. In considering EVs, consumers continue to express confusion around how best to choose—and what it will be like to own and use—these new electric offerings. It’s this combination of high investment and high confusion that makes for sluggish short-term EV market adoption. Herbert Simon, a Nobel Prize-winning social scientist, studied the behavior of individuals and organizations when faced with a challenging decision. He used the term “satisficing” (a portmanteau of “satisfy” and “suffice”) to describe how humans’ cognitive limits constrain decision making, how, for instance, consumers’ inability to educate themselves on all aspects of a purchase in order to make the best decision prompts them to settle for a less than perfect choice. With the purchase of EV’s, the anxiety associated with this imperfect choice is compounded by the level of upfront investment required, and other financial considerations, such as how long it will take consumers to recoup their investment through energy savings or economic incentives.
Consumers often express concern about the unknowns of planning both short and long journeys and unfavorably compare this daily planning expectation with the relatively effortless trip planning required for internal combustion vehicles. They have anxieties about computing driving range based on vehicle load, and use of systems like air conditioning or connected services. The location of compatible chargers must be factored into route planning. The non-productive time needed for charging must be accounted for as well. Add family members to this mix and consumers’ planning anxieties are amplified. In fact, in a recent study by the University of California Davis, one in five consumers return to combustion vehicles after purchasing an EV, primarily due to the difficulties related to trip planning for fuel.
The truth is that the electric vehicle experience today “has baggage.” While EVs promise connected capability, energy savings, and unique benefits from novel vehicle layout and configurations, the experience today is not an improvement over traditional, known combustion platforms. And while early adopters are willing to make the investment and deal with the ambiguity and effort of purchasing and owning an electric vehicle, the majority of the market will remain hesitant until we can provide a superior experience. And we can.
To reach the EV mass adoption tipping point, the entire EV ownership experience has to offer substantial benefits over current ICE experiences. Once those experiential enhancements are designed in alignment with the brand’s positioning, EV adoption becomes less dependent upon higher consumer effort, which will always typify certain consumer segments but not the mass market. Lextant’s EV Mass Adoption Model illustrates the two mutualistic dynamics, and a reasonble EV market trajectory, as consumer purchase and ownership effort decreases and the EV experience becomes manifestly superior to ICE experiences and in ways distinct and valuable to each brand’s customers.
Owning 75% of the U.S. EV market, Tesla’s current position is an obvious outlier, as the company still faces overall mobility experience hurdles but has made its brand so synonymous with visionary and eco-conscious innovation that consumers desire to be part of the brand vision despite the extra effort it requires.