Two important technological developments with transformational power in vehicles are taking place side-by-side: electric vehicles (EV) and autonomous vehicles (AV). They have the power of transforming consumers’ experiences of driving their cars, or travelling as passengers, and maintaining them, possibly changing the way consumers perceive passenger vehicles in whole. The purposes and functionalities of the technologies are different, but both are significant and evolve in parallel, including the moves made to get them into use in the market. However, the timelines proclaimed by players in the field (e.g., automakers, technology companies) continue to be pushed forward for getting cars equipped with those technologies pervasive in the market — from 2020 to 2025, and on to 2030, then 2035 until 2045 (so far); still, it seems that the time span predicted for progress in EVs is shorter than for AVs.

There are actually different grades of car electrification: from mild hybrid electric vehicle (MHEV), to full hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (HEV and PHEV, respectively), and culminating in the holy-grail of fully battery-powered electric vehicle (BEV). From the early days there were serious deliberations and trials, regarding how batteries should be re-charged, or rather replaced — the option of replacement seems to have perished. There are yet important implications remaining such as acquisition and ownership costs of electric vehicles (attributed primarily to the battery), and an infrastructure needed for enabling widely accessible re-charging of electrified vehicles (countries in Eastern Asia are better prepared than Western countries).

  • From 2024 we might see a faster growth in the share of sales of EVs of different grades in place of fuel-powered cars (gasoline/petrol/benzine or diesel) with internal combustion engine (ICE). According to predictions of BCG global consulting firm, the share of EVs may grow from 10% in 2020 (merely 2% BEVs) to 51% in 2030, while the share of ICEs would fall from 90% to 48% during that period (44% would be gasoline-fueled). But even by 2030, just nearly 20% of electric vehicles are expected to be BEV-type while 20% would be of the mild form of hybrid electric vehicle (MHEV) which is optimising the energy consumption of ICE but not reliant on battery power for driving any substantial distance, unlike the HEV or PHEV (“Who Will Drive Electric Cars to the Tipping Point?”, BCG, 2 January 2020 — allowing for inter-regional differences: for example, EVs share in Europe is predicted to reach 25% in 2030, higher than US).

The field of autonomous, AI-enabled vehicles is likely to have a furthermore impact on driving and travelling in passenger cars, but is also complex and multi-leveled. Cars are gradually and increasingly installed with advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). They employ cameras and sensors for gathering essential road and vehicle data for performing different functions (e.g., keeping a car in lane, from a warning signal to actual correction of deviation in the pathway of the car). The autonomous vehicle system can be involved in more material functions such as overseeing the energy management of the car (in any form of electric vehicle) as well as facilitating the use of the entertainment system, browsing the Internet, and any informational applications (e.g., road navigation). All this, however, does not imply yet complete delegation of driving a car to the autonomous AI-enabled system of the vehicle (i.e., levels 4 or 5 of autonomous driving) — we could transit from human-AI-assisted driving to human-supervised AI-driving over quite a long time before humans are allowed to engage in non-driving activities during travelling. Another crucial consideration is the security and privacy of data gathered and utilised in the AI-enabled system.

As typical for domains that are relatively young, consumers continue to grapple with quite a few questions about the implications and consequences of using the different types of technologies in their cars (e.g., costs, convenience, safety, reliability). Uncertainty, or at least ambiguity, drives hesitancy and can stall the acceptance and adoption of these vehicle technologies. For encouraging consumer acceptance of the EV and AV technologies, automakers and technology companies (possibly integrated in a single company such as Tesla) need to better understand the approach of consumers to these technologies, their perceptions and goals, and standing barriers to adoption. But also public authorities (e.g., legislators, national governments, regulators, municipalities) have to be involved to get their countries better prepared for implementing the technologies.

Tim Grainey and Renah Wolzinger present in an article in Quirk’s Marketing Review magazine (“Driving Interest”, January/February 2022) key developments and factors to consider, and suggest directions for market research on critical aspects in each domain: electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles.

Electric Vehicles

Grainey and Wolzinger recommend conducting comparative studies, such as between countries who have made greater progress in adopting EVs and countries that lag behind, or between segments within a country of buyers and non-buyers of EVs to-date (e.g. study reasons for purchase/non-purchase, driving habits, satisfaction). It would be particularly informative to examine how owners of EVs accustom to using their cars. Charging the battery is a matter of special interest (e.g., average miles on a charge, charging frequency, usage/availability of public chargers). Availability of public chargers could be of critical importance because in many residential areas and buildings private charging “at home” may not be feasible or it could be unsafe, such as in basement parking lots due to risks of fires at charging ports.

Other aspects that according to Grainey and Wolzinger researchers should investigate include consumers’ reactions to innovations (attitudes and acceptance), testing messages on concepts or information (for ‘consumer education’) that may help to alleviate concerns and reduce hesitancy, and expected responses to government incentives that may encourage consumers to adopt electric vehicles. They propose using methods such as diaries for revealing the early steps and experiences of new buyers when transferring to an electric car, and qualitative interviews followed by tracking studies for allowing manufacturers, dealerships, and advertising agencies to adjust and refine their messages.

Autonomous Vehicles

The key benefit Grainey and Worzinger foresee in shifting to AVs is a considerable reduction in number of car accidents and fatalities. The main hurdles to overcome by the industry in their view are: choosing between LIDAR (sensors) and camera technologies to proceed with in order to guide a vehicle on its appointed route; establishing correspondence between road and vehicle technological infrastructures (e.g., exchange of information on road signs and conditions); resolving issues of accountability or fault for insurance claims; and driver hesitancy about self-driving cars.

Therefore, it would be vital, as proposed by Grainey and Wolzinger, to track general consumer interest in AVs, particularly consumers’ perceptions of benefits and obstacles. They suggest two directions for starting such studies: consumers who have had already experience of travelling in robotic-taxis, and EV owners who can be compared (again as above) with non-EV owners (their logic is that electric vehicle owners can be seen as early adopters of new technologies such as autonomous vehicles as well). Researchers may investigate ways for encouraging EV owners to purchase, lease or rent self-driving cars in the future, and purposes for which they would consider utilising an AV (e.g., work, vacation trips). Other aspects they relate to include testing messages intended to persuade or encourage consumers to adopt AVs, and making assessments of awareness and reactions in the market to current autonomous AI-enabled technology already implemented in trucks and other “behind-the-scenes” vehicle applications (perhaps referring to vehicles in use on factory and warehouse premises).

It is apparent that the research plan outlined by Grainey and Wolzinger for AVs is more experimental or less mature than for EVs, which could be just another sign of how progress in developing autonomous technologies is slower and less ready for fuller implementation (i.e., beyond just assisting human drivers). First, they return to suggestions they have actually made with regard to EVs, including effectively returning to EV owners (probably inevitable at this time since AV owners are still rare). Second, Grainey and Wolzinger suggest a reasonable motivation for targeting existing EV owners, but relying on utilisied autonomous AI-enabled systems (up to fully self-driving cars) might have much more significant implications for consumers-drivers with more active impact on their behaviour and experience than in electric vehicles. Hence, responses of EV owners may not be a much better basis for making predictions or raising expectations about adoption of AVs than among non-yet-EV owners. Third, it is hard to believe consumers would have much interest in autonomous trucks for calibrating their expectations, so the suggestion in this regard seems to be exclusively relevant to business and industrial uses.

Unfortunately, geo-political and economic conditions are not favourable to further advancing in implementation and marketing of electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles. The continued effects of the coronavirus pandemic (e.g., more costly and longer durations of transports, shortages in supply of raw materials and parts) combined with the new impact of the Russia-Ukraine War already look likely to cause more delays in timelines predicted for sales and deliveries of electric vehicles as well as cars with any ADAS installed. There are at least two factors to account for: shortages in micro-processors or integrated circuits (‘chips’) that are essential for the advanced computer-based and AI-enabled systems more heavily installed in cars, and the prices of electric vehicles that already start to rise (but on the other hand oil prices are also rising).

There is evidently on-going progress in the development, implementation and marketing of vehicles with the advanced, transformational EV & AV technologies, with some promising benefits. But it may take longer than advocates and enthusiasts look forward to. It may require more patience of the industry with consumers, and by the consumers themselves. But that could truly be good relieving news for marketing and consumer researchers, giving them more time to study the field and make their recommendations.

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