automotive | consumer insights | 7 min read

What’s Next for E-Mobility in a Post-COVID 19 World

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The E-Mobility automotive industry is no stranger to economic pressure but it has proven itself resilient over the past 20 years. It has continually overcome low market saturation, government regulation, and slow consumer adoption to beat sales records year after year. Now, as long term sales growth is threatened by ongoing travel restrictions and limits on movement due to COVID-19, stakeholders are left looking for some reassurance.

While the unprecedented international lockdown measures have affected movement, they have also accelerated conversations around a future with limited auto-pollution and clean energy alternatives. As consumers grapple with their new normal they are more seriously considering sustainable options for mobility.

In the past, automotive industry executives have asked what consumers really want in their search for an electric car. With the feedback of their early adopters, brands moved electric vehicles (EV) beyond the realm of niche ownership with adjustments to design and key features. New consumers began purchasing electric vehicles to associate themselves with the green e-mobility lifestyle and trendy branding. Now, as environmental considerations move to the forefront of the industry debate, carmakers have another opportunity to reposition EV. This time as not only a status symbol but as a practical everyday car.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

The automotive industry has been one of the hardest-hit economic sectors thanks in part to supply chain issues in the manufacturing industry at large. In the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, automotive manufacturers remained hopeful that production would remain steady. From the beginning of 2020, 2.61M publications on the English speaking social web were dedicated to e-mobility. 286k mentioned e-mobility in the context of COVID-19 or confinement. The number of conversations on COVID-19 and the automotive industry were 7 times higher and amounted to approximately 1.5M posts during the same period.

Industry leader Tesla, Inc. began offering free supercharging to its Chinese customers to foster goodwill as the crisis became more apparent offline. Unfortunately, this gesture was quickly overshadowed in the news by the closing of the Shanghai Tesla factory. This move was widely discussed on social media and Tesla is in the lead for brand mentions as of August 2020.

emobility-post-covid-brands

Source: What's the Future of E-mobility?, Linkfluence Research Team

Speculation about the long term effect of the pandemic in the wider market is rampant in the media despite the reopening of manufacturing centers. In our latest study of the e-mobility industry, we aimed to identify who the key conversation starters are and eliminate speculative media coverage. What about those who keep the engines of the economy going -- consumers themselves? With this narrower focus, we aimed to uncover new opportunities for the automotive industry as we move to a post-coronavirus world.

emobility-post-covid-conversations

Source: What's the Future of E-mobility?, Linkfluence Research Team

From these conversations, we can draw a direct link between the coronavirus pandemic and electric vehicles. While demand is low for the products to match lowered production rates, interest in e-mobility vehicles is rising. Most notably, despite an overall decline in conversations around e-mobility after the outbreak, there has been an increase in conversations discussing COVID-19 that relate the ongoing pandemic to e-mobility.

50% of all posts were brand-centric, but the conversation has shifted to focus less on design or features and more on issues like clean energy, sustainability, and the future of movement more generally. EV owners still appreciate the design, as the Porsche Taycan’s sports car appeal has pushed it to the top of social media mentions, but its allure is two-fold. Social media users have particularly noted and drawn awareness to the reduced air pollution in city centers all around the world. Though unexpected, these outcomes are being highlighted as one of the more positive side effects of the ongoing pandemic.

A unique opportunity is presenting itself for automotive brands to position their e-mobility vehicles as an attainable option to a greener future. Consumers are actively considering a greener and more sustainable post-pandemic world and are weighing the changes they are capable of making today.

A Fork in the Road

Some optimists see the newly traffic-free cities as an inflection point for faster adoption of electric vehicles, while more visionary environmentalists see a future that entails less movement by society as a whole.

There are still persistent consumer sentiment barriers to widespread adoption, but past predictions for growth remain on track through the next decade despite the pandemic induced slowdown. We previously analyzed 1.3 Million posts referencing e-mobility vehicles to identify 9 key topics around EV and e-mobility to establish that while sustainability was the most discussed theme at 214k posts, cost appeared in 65% of those conversations.

In the last 12 months, these figures have exploded. E-mobility accounted for 4.41 million social media posts. These publications on the English-speaking social web have reached 27.6 billion users worldwide over this period. The conversation is much broader than the 2.61 million posts featuring COVID-19 related concerns, and brands would be well-served to consider this growth a positive sign.

emobility-post-covid-conversations-per-week

Source: What's the Future of E-mobility?, Linkfluence Research Team

Despite traditional ICE automakers moving into the e-mobility space, EV brands and electric cars are still perceived as more costly in the short term with the added unknown of long term costs of maintenance and upkeep. Consumers are becoming increasingly more attuned to the fragility of the global economy in light of climate change and the possibility of future pandemics. Many potential customers have experienced financial instability during the global pandemic, and while they have their eye to the clearing skies, they are also taking a closer look at their daily habits and purchasing behaviors. As society continues to grapple with the possibility of a long-term economic slowdown, affordability will be key to brands increasing their market share in an increasingly competitive e-mobility automobile industry.

What Can Brands Do: Post-Pandemic Opportunities

Broadening affordability alone will not pave the way to assured success. E-mobility companies need to focus on obtaining a concrete understanding of their key consumer groups and focus their attention on delivering on their specific needs. Beyond environmental concerns, refining design and focusing on performance can help brands reach Tesla and Porsche to increase their market share and encourage more budget-minded consumers to buy an EV.

A proactive approach is essential to assuring consumers that they are properly supported through times of uncertainty and that there is ample information relevant and useful to the continued usage of their vehicles. The power is now in the hands of the brands to shape perception in the post-pandemic world. If they choose to leverage the conversation to affect a meaningful change they can shape the future by inspiring a positive version of it.

There are millions of EVs on the road today because society has already acknowledged their efficacy. A laser-focused plan to target impactful tribes such as tech lovers and change-makers alike on the social web will be the key to managing consumer perceptions and cost expectations in an increasingly anxious market.

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