After years on the sidelines, global trends in sustainability and climate consciousness are finally driving electric cars towards the spotlight. As the industry anticipates increasing low and zero-emission regulations, it's also faced with growing opportunities.
Toyota is gearing up for consumers of the future in the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The automotive giant will showcase 3,700 mobility products and vehicles, of which 90 percent will be electric. Alongside e-mobility, the latest concept to innovate the industry is, in-car health. Hyundai revealed their plans for a health and mobility cockpit, able to cultivate the well-being of drivers. While Jaguar and Land Rover, announced their research into mood and stress responsive technology. Adaptive concepts include AI facial recognition for intuitive adjustments in lighting and music, bio-metric sensors to adjust temperature and seating, and self-driving technology to increase safety.
But despite the talk of the last decade, and more recent hybrid and electric models; plug-in electric cars still represent just under 2% of the US market, and 2.2% of cars worldwide. A record breaking 2 million EVs were sold in 2018, but translates into just one in every 250 cars on the road. E-mobility is an imminent automotive trend in response to our current climate, that all major players will embrace. So it's time to ask, what do consumers really want in their search for an electric car, and what can brands do to convince them? We did a deep dive into the electric car landscape to find out.
In this post, we’re breaking down the most discussed consumer topics around this emerging trend, the concerns of different tribes, and the key takeaways for brands. It's a long post, so feel free to jump to the sections that speak to you the most:
- Understanding the e-mobility landscape
- Who's talking about electric cars?
- 3 Tribes driving e-mobility conversations online
- Key takeaways for automotive brands
Let’s get started!
Understanding the e-mobility landscape
Our researchers looked at 2.3 million posts on e-mobility on the social web, in one year, across the US and the UK, and broke them down into 9 relevant majority categories. Here are the findings.
When it comes down to the most discussed topics around e-mobility, consumers were most interested in the environment, long-term costs & savings, and range in battery life. But as we’ll discuss later on, it’s not the first time electric cars have made an entrance.
First, let's clarify the some e-mobility terms.
Three major models make up the electric market segment today: full electric, hybrid/plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. E-mobility is the umbrella term used to describe cars and all other electric mobility products. Traditional diesel and fossil fuel models are referred to as internal combustion engines (ICE). Definitions aside, the fundamental goal of e-mobility is to produce low impact and sustainable mobility.
Electric Vehicles (EVs): The comeback
As mentioned earlier, EVs reached the spotlight once before. In 1966, General Motors released the EV1, an all-electric vehicle designed to meet the zero-emissions mandate of California. It was the first electric production car in the oil era, the first to use low resistance tires (designed to reduce energy loss) and the first to use induction charging.
The car was popular with celebrity figures such as Tom Hanks, had a reasonable speed between 100 and 250km and, could be leased for 3 years between $299 to $574 a month. Consumers fell for the futuristic car...but it failed to go the distance. High product costs, rigid leasing policies, faulty charging ports, and controversial politics made the EV1 disappear. It's a failed launch that contributes to an apprehensive consumer perception of electric cars. Are consumers ready to trust a product that's failed in the past?
Consumer perception towards electric vehicles
The debate on safety when comparing EVs to ICE vehicles is a popular topic online. EV safety was present in 66% of discussions, and often associated with fire hazards and electrocution risks. While supporters believe that EVs by design, are the safest cars on the market.
You are repeating @ElonMusk's false claims that Tesla is the 'safest manufactured cars; but, thanks for helping make @TheJusticeDept criminal case easier for them. The @NHTSAgov clearly states there is "no safest" car. #TheSociopathicBusinessModel #FraudFormula $TSLA $TSLAQ https://t.co/j1Lq7R4tNy— KillingMyCareer (@MelaynaLokosky) May 8, 2019
Delays and shortages held a lesser yet significant 19% share of conversations, driven by delays in the delivery of EVs and car parts. Concerns included Tesla’s viral announcement in May 2019, of a global shortage in nickel, copper and other electric battery minerals. Naturally, any uncertainty or failure in EV manufacturing slows down consumer momentum when adopting the electric trend.
9 key topics around electric vehicles today
The main challenge for automotive brands right now is to fight the misconceptions of electric, hybrid, and hydrogen vehicles. Among 1.3 million posts, we identified 9 key topics concerning consumers today.
Sustainability, cost, and battery: The top 3 concerns
Sustainability appeared in 214K posts, making it the most discussed of all 9 topics. Thanks to studies on climate, emissions, and the maximization of energy efficiency, there’s been a dramatic shift in environmental concerns, making businesses and consumers more aware.
However, sustainability was also a highly polarized topic among supporters and opposition. Resources appeared in 33% of sustainability conversations. Consumers debated the ethics of EV batteries and their reliance on non-renewable components such as lithium, copper, cobalt, etc., mined, for the most part, using diesel. Supporters found EVs to be an infinitely greener and more sustainable option to diesel engines. While EV opposition hailed the e-mobility trend as a fraud. They argue that electric energy production claims to produce less pollution than is actually the case.
2. Costs & Savings
The next major concern for consumers around EVs was pricing. Not only do consumers perceive electric cars as more costly, they also find it harder to evaluate the future costs of maintenance, insurance, taxes, second hand and resell value. In discussions around cost, price appeared in 65% of conversation and energy 33%.
3. Battery & Usage
The third most discussed topic was battery and usage in 183K posts. In American culture, car ownership is a defining right of passage to adulthood. It represents freedom and autonomy, further romanticized in Hollywood movies and entertainment.
One of the main resistance factors against EVs is battery life and range. Consumers are still apprehensive of electric engines. They’re assumed to perform slower and travel shorter distances than ICE vehicles, indicating a real challenge to convert attitudes towards EV performance. Within the topic of battery and usage, vehicle range was present in 55% of discussions and charging infrastructure 37%.
Who’s talking about electric cars?
Unsurprisingly, men overall, are the most visible on each topic. Here are some interesting findings:
- Men are more focused on the cost of EVs and are found to be considerably more receptive to topics around lifestyle.
- Women are more concerned with topics that apply to the overall sector (sustainability, industry).
The topics around e-mobility seem to vary with age:
- People aged 65+ discussed sustainability, costs, batteries and industry more than any other age group.
- While 18-34 year-olds prioritized looks, performance and lifestyle.
3 Tribes driving e-mobility conversations online
Going beyond simple demographics, we’ve identified three main tribes that talk about EVs with very different attitudes and concerns.
First are the #EVlife tribe. They’re the devoted ambassadors of electric cars, sharing a passion for technological development: innovative features, scientific breakthroughs and AI developments in the field of e-mobility. They also either own an EV or are in the market to purchase one.
They generated 38.4K posts of which 2.9% was user-generated content (UGC). In their tribe, they like to discuss the EV industry, functions, and car aesthetic.
If you want a car that’s slower, costs twice as much to run & tax & burns fossil fuel to create CO2 & gases that are toxic to the human body choose a diesel/petrol— David Nicholson (@rivergecko) September 19, 2019
Or go #EV like Tesla Model3, no exhaust gases, 300 mile range, quick to charge, cheap to run & .0-60 in 3.3 seconds pic.twitter.com/tzOYPJ07Ll
Die hard petrol fans
Next come the #Petrolheads. They are the naysayers. They're passionate about autonomous manual driving and the emotional value that comes with driving high-performance ICE cars; especially outside their daily commute routes.
They tend to debate with EV fans, directly comparing EV and ICE engines. Most commonly they engage in the criticism of e-mobility as a sector. They produced 32.9K conversations of which 2.5% was UGC. The Petrol Head tribe like to discuss sustainability, costs, and battery.
Last is the #multimobility tribe. They associate EVs with the future of the sharing economy (e.g. Taxify, Uber), and see e-mobility as a sustainable and efficient solution to end individual car ownership. They believe EVs will boost ride-sharing economy and automotive rentals. They tend to be less conversational online and produced 22.9K posts, of which 1.7% was UGC.
Flew home last night & took an Uber home. Drove to the Amtrak station today and took the train to SD. Took the trolley to the UC and I’m now on the ferry to my rental on Coronado. At this point I’m obligated to fit in a scooter & an ebike before my 24 hrs of #multimobility is up.— Holly Torpey (@hollytorpey) July 7, 2019
Bonus findings around electric vehicles
Instagram is the go-to platform to show off electric cars
Car culture, proud owners and enthusiasts are prevalent on Instagram and EV owners are no exception. They like to share their prized possessions and in particular, it's luxury EV brands like Tesla making up the majority of the posts. But unlike the traditional luxury car sphere, EVs attract consumers and influencers beyond typical car lovers. A significant number of social posts come from a range of profiles such as environmentalists, urban planners, and entrepreneurs.
The Tesla Model 3 Blew Away The Competition In July ....it makes me happy to see the right car for this age is getting the well deserved recognition....hopefully this will cause further innovation across the industry @elonmusk @Tesla #Tesla #innovation #cars #technology #Model3 pic.twitter.com/BIRGpZfj4T— payam zamani (@PayamZamani) July 30, 2018
EVs as a status symbol
In the share of lifestyle discussions, 46% of conversations focused on pride & statement. EV owners behave similarly to luxury car owners and enjoy showing off their cars. Owning an EV is a statement, almost an act of environmental activism, and an entrance into certain elite communities. They opt for EVs because of the branding and lifestyle associated with green e-mobility, making the electric car an official status symbol.
For automotive brands to emerge as front runners of the e-mobility trend, they need to influence consumer perception around their EVs. As highlighted above, perception is largely driven by topics that apply to the entire sector; environmental concerns, long term costs, battery, and vehicle range.
Sustainability and environmental consciousness are driven by transparency. For EVs to succeed, automakers need to address both sides of EV coin with simplicity, to fight misconceptions, and verify truths. But there are also clear opportunities to generate desirability.
When manufacturers can “prove” high-level performance indicators, offer standard and versatile functionalities, and release cars that match design expectations, they stand a better chance of competing with traditional ICE cars. Users expect value for money, so higher prices can’t be justified by turning "electric." Rather than trying to change the way consumers perceive the whole industry, manufacturers need to bring the focus back to their individual models and functionalities instead to prove long term viability.
Major opportunities also lie in targeting existing tribes with a passion for e-mobility as they spearhead conversations, attitudes, and UGC online.
If you’d like to have a conversation about social media intelligence and what it can do for your brand, get in touch! Or take a peek at our customer case studies page to see how we’ve helped other global brands.