3 roadblocks preventing car-buyers from going electric

Jason Klein, Joonsu Yang May 2019 Search, Video, Automotive

Car manufacturers are betting big on electric vehicles, but consumers are still on the fence. Jason Klein and Joonsu Yang, from Google’s Human Truths team, dug into the data and spoke with potential buyers to understand how auto marketers can win over apprehensive customers.

Last year, one of the world’s most famous car manufacturers announced it was doubling its electrified vehicle spending. “We’re all in,” a Ford executive told participants at the 2018 North American International Auto Show. “The only question is, will the customers be there with us?”

This raises a good point. After all, while battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have been making headlines for a long time, they still represent less than 2% of global car sales and less than 3% of car searches on Google in the U.S., the U.K., and Germany.1

Why are potential customers holding back? To find out, we interviewed global car buyers open to electric vehicles2 and dug into the human insights we could uncover from aggregate Google and YouTube data.3 We discovered three roadblocks that auto marketers need to address before BEVs become a serious consideration for customers.

I can’t figure out how much electric cars cost

A brand new car is a big ticket item, so it’s no wonder people like to research what it’s going to cost. But what really stands out in electric car searches is just how much more important this cost factor is. For example, the share of cost-related searches for BEVs is more than 20X that of regular car searches in the U.S. and the U.K., and more than 10X in Germany.4

Icon: Front view of a green car with a white lightning bolt inside a blue dot above — an electric car. Text: the share of cost-related searches for BEVs is more than 20X that of regular car searches in the U.S. and the U.K., and more than 10X in Germany.

Most car buyers understand concepts like miles per gallon and how to compare the cost of different options. However, they’re less familiar with a host of new potential costs, like charging and battery replacement. For some people, this unknown factor is off-putting and overwhelming. Do you know your electricity cost per kWt?

Give potential customers the clarity they need, and they’re more likely to take the plunge. For example, you might consider creating an online cost comparison tool that uses reference points car buyers will already understand. As one respondent in the U.K. told us, “If I can get detailed information [about things like] cost, I would be happy to go ahead and buy one.”

I’m worried about reliability issues

You know the feeling: You’re heading out of the house and you realize your mobile phone is almost dead. So you either go back in to wait while it charges or do without it. But what if it was your car you were waiting on? According to Google Search data, this question of reliability is among potential buyers’ biggest concerns — the biggest in the U.K. and Germany, and the second biggest in the U.S.5 “Anything can happen, and I’m worried about those situations where you might need to leave in a hurry and you can’t because your car isn’t done charging,” one American respondent told us.

The main thing people are looking up related to reliability is not range, but rather the availability of charging stations.

How does this play out in search? The main thing people are looking up related to reliability is not so much about range, but rather the availability of charging stations. This was also something we heard in our interviews. “There need to be a lot more charging points all over the country to ensure drivers don’t get stranded,” one British respondent told us. “I would be worried about the vehicle running out of electricity before I reached my final destination.”

Of course, what consumers are failing to recognize is that, just like your smartphone, you start every day at 100% and rarely drive more than your regular commute in a single day. Reinforcing this information and highlighting the number of charging stations in someone’s location — like Audi USA does in its educational video “Range Tranquility” — can go a long way to addressing reliability concerns.

I don’t understand the technology, which makes me think it’s unsafe

One of the points we heard again and again in our interviews was the question of safety. “I feel like it could cause accidents,” one respondent in the U.K. told us. Another, based in the U.S., said something similar, noting that those concerns have prevented them from buying an electric car. “Safety is, and always will be, a prime factor when it comes to purchasing a vehicle. That’s why I’m waiting.”

Many people are conflating electric cars with other technologies, such as self-driving cars.

Why the apprehension? After all, there’s nothing to indicate that electric-powered cars are inherently more dangerous than their gasoline-fueled counterparts. Our research suggests a lot of this fear is related to the fact that many people are conflating electric cars with other emerging technologies, such as self-driving cars.

As one respondent in Germany told us, “If I were to buy an electric vehicle, I’d like to drive it myself. Driverless technology makes so many errors, it won’t be safer than human drivers.” Most electric cars are not self-driving (and many self-driving cars won’t be electric). It’s the job of auto marketers to help dispel these myths — just like Audi USA does in its recent “Not For You”  campaign — so that people start seeing electric cars as a viable alternative to what they’ve been using ever since they passed their driving tests.

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