Electric vehicles (EVs) sales are, and will likely continue to be, promoted to help meet environmental targets for a more sustainable post-pandemic world. Changes in government regulation will encourage a 35% increase in global EV sales in 2023, from 7.9 million in 2022 to 10.7 million, according to GlobalData forecasts. However, the average consumer still has a lot of uncertainty regarding the efficiency and reliability of an electric car. A 2021 study from the East China University of Science and Technology found that car manufacturers still need to fight one tough battle in particular: customer acceptance.

Inside the mind of an indecisive car buyer

Daily, we are bombarded with news and articles about how EVs will be the future and how they will help decarbonise our economies. Customers who are planning to buy a new car are increasingly considering the benefits of an electric car, allured by the lower costs of electricity (at least in the good old days before the Russia-Ukraine conflict) and by the awareness that they would be doing their part to save the environment. However, uncertainty around EVs remains. Many buyers are worried that electric cars will not live up to their promise, mainly in terms of efficiency and reliability.

Imagine that you have decided to buy a Tesla (a brand that needs no introduction): the cost of a brand-new average model is approximately $60,000 to $70,000, and that is without any of the optional extras. This is the first hurdle; to continue being attractive to the average consumer, EVs need to maintain price parity with their internal combustion engine equivalents.

One of the major doubts that consumers cite in the purchase of EVs is related to the autonomy these vehicles can guarantee. It is worth noting that, for EVs, the age-old metric of ‘amount of fuel needed to travel 100km’ in km/l is switched to ‘how many km the car can travel with 100% battery’, in km/kWh. This is like comparing apples and oranges, preventing a level playing field between different kinds of vehicles. And the downside of this metric is that increasing the range of km in electric cars involves both an increase in the weight of the vehicle to store extra energy, and a consequent price increase. And the more it weighs, the more energy it uses. This is the vicious cycle of EVs. The market will need to find a middle ground to establish the convenience of these vehicles.

The battery charging issue

While the EV market recorded rapid growth, the rollout of EV charging stations failed to keep pace, and the current investment in public charging is falling behind. If public EV charge points do not become more accessible within a few years, then the substantial investment in EV technology will fail to pay off. Alongside the difficulty in finding an EV charge point, EV owners face a time-consuming recharging issue, which is a big issue in today’s fast world. So, fast lives need fast charging, but issues like lithium plating (i.e. lithium deposits forming around the anode of the battery during charging) deteriorate the battery technology. This means that if you need to charge the aforementioned average Tesla, it takes between eight and 40 hours to fully charge (excluding Tesla’s faster Supercharger stations, as they are not recommended by the company for daily charging). There is no clear-cut answer to this issue as many variables are in play, such as the various charging methods, Tesla models, and battery capacities. However, ultimately, though electricity is cheaper, fossil fuel vehicles do not need to be plugged in.

Another huge red flag is the battery replacement cost. A new battery can cost between $4,000 and $20,000, depending on the type. Refurbished batteries cost much less, but you need to be lucky to find one available for your vehicle.

More work needs to be done to make EVs attractive to consumers of different ages, backgrounds, and incomes. A study from the East China University of Science and Technology, titled “What determines consumers’ acceptance of electric vehicles: A survey in Shanghai, China”, discovered that EV diffusion is higher in 31-to-40-year-old buyers, and in customers with high income, education, and those living nearer to city centres. It also found that various ‘peer effects’ had a catalytic role in consumers purchasing EVs.

In the wake of energy transition goals, the portfolio of electric models is rapidly expanding. However, car companies still need to work out how to gear their vehicles towards a more general audience and touch the heartstrings of the undecided, average consumer.

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