Translating Consumer Attitudes Toward Electric and Autonomous Vehicles Into Sales

An overwhelming majority of cars on the road today are still powered by fossil fuels. Despite the recent rise of hybrid and electric cars, noise and air pollution plague the world’s major cities. It just doesn’t seem like the world is ready to give up internal combustion engines.

Can “Consumer Opinion” Be Trusted?
In a 2017 light-vehicle survey by Desrosiers, 41.3% of respondents indicated they’d consider purchasing an electric vehicle. That number grew slightly in 2018, up to 43.4%.
In the 2018 TRADER Keystone study, over 30% of Canadians aged 25–39 said they believe all cars will become eco-friendly in the next 5–10 years.

Yet less than 1% of new car sales in Canada are plug-in electric models.

To say nothing of autonomous—or driverless—cars? While consumer confidence in autonomous vehicle safety dropped from 50.5 percent to 47 percent from 2017 to 2018, reported trust levels are still very high.

So where are the crowds putting down deposits for a self-driving electric car?

The truth is that buyers often have great intentions. They may generally—or even passionately—support a concept like EVs or autonomous cars.
But until new technology is widely adopted, and proven safe and reliable—and affordable—most consumers stay an arm’s length away.

Drivers Need to “Warm Up”
Here’s what “widely adopted” means when it comes to technological innovation, according to something called the Rogers curve:

• The first 2.5% of adopters are known as Innovators. These are often people with deep pockets and left-of-centre ideology.
• The next segment in the curve is Early Adopters. They represent another 13.5%. These consumers recognize benefits early on, often before a particular technology could be said to be “proven”—and usually while the rest of the world is still skeptical.
• The Early Majority is next. This is the tech-savvy 34% of the population that “jumps on the bandwagon” once a technology takes off.
• The Late Majority are the hold-outs, although not necessarily because they’re against new technology. They’re usually just overly skeptical about tech, or simply without the financial means to pay for it. This category represents another 34%.
• Finally come the Laggards. This 16% of the population clings to tradition because of “the way it’s always been done.”

Now that’s the theory; in practice it can be simplified further: a technology can be considered “widely adopted” when the Early Majority begin to get aboard. In other words, when adoption rates in the general public begin, more or less, to cross the 16% mark.

The beauty of the Rogers curve? It’s “on the money” so often with new technology that it’s become the standard way to predict innovation adoption rates.
Take smartphone adoption, for example. In December 2005, just 2% of Americans owned a smartphone. In December 2009, the Early Majority was getting on board—17% had a BlackBerry, iPhone 3G, or some other (now-vintage) device. Smartphone adoption has nearly quintupled since then, following this exact bell curve.
For our purposes, the Rogers curve neatly explains why consumers can fall in love with an idea like EVs or autonomous cars, yet still take years before they make a move.

What It Means for Automotive Innovation
With just 1% of new cars sold in Canada fully electric, and autonomous vehicles still largely on the horizon, it’s clear that adoption rates are still in the Innovator stage.

The good news is that nearly half of Canadians feel they can get behind these new technologies… eventually. Whether the pricing is still too high, there aren’t enough choices, or the tech is viewed as unproven; it’s still too early for most Canadians to buy electric or autonomous cars.
However, if this wave of automotive innovation follows previous trends, it won’t be long until the din on the street is quieter because of electric cars. The Early Adopters should soon get on board, and EV and autonomous sales will be, if you’ll forgive the pun, off to the races.

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