In this article for the Oxford Energy Forum, George Beard discusses the factors which influence consumer car purchasing decisions, and the role of policy in helping to stimulate the market for plug-in electric vehicles. 

By looking at evidence from recent consumer research, it is possible to characterise the key factors influencing the uptake of EVs; these are not just practical issues such as the cost, electric range, and reliability, but also include ‘hedonic’ and ‘symbolic’ attributes of vehicles. EVs need to be both functional, and desirable. Financial factors can serve as barriers and motivators to uptake; on the one hand EVs typically cost more upfront compared with traditional vehicles, but on the other hand, savings can be made via reduced running costs. Such benefits are rarely fully considered by consumers, so we must try to simplify these financial calculations to make the benefits more salient. Charging infrastructure is clearly key and a lack of adequate infrastructure is a critical issue for consumers. It is important to note that uptake is influenced by both perceptions and reality; negative perceptions about the availability of charging points will still hinder uptake even if the actual availability of charging points is adequate.

Not only are the barriers wide-ranging, but different consumer groups are likely to be more heavily influenced by some barriers over others. A holistic approach should therefore be taken to address as many of the barriers as possible. To address the overall goal of increasing adoption of EVs, policy makers should consider a range of intermediate objectives to enable holistic interventions to be developed.

The full article and contributions from other experts offering contrasting opinions is available from The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

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