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20 August 2013
Interest in Electric Vehicles Held Back by Perceived Lack of Direct Personal Benefits

A GfK study covering the USA, China, Japan, France, Spain, and Russia shows that, overall, over half (55%) of respondents have a favorable opinion of electric vehicles (EVs) and not far off half (43%) are somewhat or very open to buying one. However, almost a third (31%) are ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ open to the idea of buying one.

Overall, the top three positive factors associated with electric vehicles are the indirect benefits of low emission / environment friendly (77%), innovative (76%) and quiet operation / less noise pollution (73%) – with the direct personal benefits of easy to operate (68%) and low energy/fuel cost (65%) coming close behind.  The top three negative associations are few choices available (67%), limited availability of service / repair locations (64%) and high purchase price and limited battery lifespan jointly at 61%. These were more widely associated with EVs than insufficient driving range (58%) and inadequate recharging infrastructure (57%).

Don DeVeaux, GfK’s Global Lead for Automotive, comments, “The different challenges and opportunity in each market become clear when we look at their perception of the main benefits that electric vehicles deliver. In Japan, which has by far the highest familiarity with EVs, it is the direct personal benefits that are most associated with them, such as ‘easy to operate’, ‘safe’ and ‘reliable’. But in the USA, China, Russia, France and, to a lesser extent, Spain it’s the other way around. In these markets, most respondents associate EVs primarily with the indirect benefit of ‘low emissions’ and have little perception of them as delivering direct personal benefits. If manufacturers focus on promoting the direct personal benefits of their electric vehicles in these countries, they will open up significant new opportunities.”

Breakdown by country: Perceived benefits and barriers to purchase.

EVs appeal more to customers of luxury segments.

In all markets except China, it is those intending to buy a luxury brand car that are most open to considering buying an EV, if an equivalent model were offered.

Overall, the strongest market opportunities lie in Japan and Russia, where close to three-quarters or more hold a favorable opinion of EVs and a half or more are open to considering buying one. When looking in-depth into the segments in both markets, it is intenders of luxury brands who are the primary potential purchasers – 76% of luxury ‘standard’ car intenders in Japan and 81% of luxury small cars in Russia are open to considering EVs.

Know a fair amount / know very well
Current opinion
Very or mainly favorable
Segment most likely to consider
somewhat & very open
not very & not at all open
luxury (imported) brand station wagon - 76%
luxury brand mini / small car - 81%
Luxury brand standard car - 55%
luxury brand crossover car - 47%
non-luxury brand mini / small car - 28%

Spain comes in third place for overall market opportunity, with almost two-thirds holding a favorable opinion and just under half open to considering one – and, again, it is those intending to purchase a luxury ‘standard’ car who are most open to considering EVs (55%). France also shows a clear majority of favorable opinion, but trails Spain with only a third open to considering one. The USA struggles with favorable opinion, with just over a third thinking well of EVs, but ranks with Spain in terms of willingness to consider buying one – a good indication of market potential if consumer concerns are addressed. In last place, China presents far greater challenges to the EV industry, with only one in five open to considering them and even less holding a favorable opinion. 

USA – only 36% of intenders have a favorable overall opinion of electric vehicles but still 45% are open to considering one, if it were offered in the type of vehicle they are planning to purchase. The main barrier is that they are seen as having a high purchase price and high maintenance costs. Customers in the US are not willing to pay more for electric cars compared to conventional engine cars, and they would also like to see a wider range of choices. We again see three quarters of this market perceiving ‘low emission’ as the main benefit associated with electric vehicles, with a half or more also saying ‘easy to operate’ and ‘safe’. Four out of ten see them as ‘reliable’, and under a third as ‘great value for money’ and ‘low maintenance cost’.

JAPAN - is the leading market for electric vehicles, with the majority of customers having a favorable overall opinion of them (82%) and considering them (63%). In this market, the triggers that drive the industry in Japan are different from all other markets. Electric vehicles meet the direct personal needs of these customers who primarily perceive them as easy to operate, safe and reliable. They also see them as good value for money and are willing to pay a premium price. Surprisingly, less than half of Japan’s intenders see ‘low emission / environment friendly’ as something that springs to mind when thinking about electric vehicles. There are no prevalent barriers to purchase.

CHINA – opinion and feelings toward electric vehicles in China are not as yet formed. The majority has a neutral impression (60%), there are few with a favorable opinion (16%) and only one in five (20%) are open to considering them for purchase. The main barrier in China is its insufficient driving range. Over three quarters see the non-personal benefits of ‘low emission’ as being most applicable to electric vehicles, while the direct personal benefits are not widely perceived. Only a half see EVs as ‘easy to operate’ and less than half as ‘low maintenance cost’ or ‘safe’. In particular, only a third associated them with ‘great value for money’ or ‘reliable’.

RUSSIA – 72% of respondents have a favorable opinion about them, but the main barrier is again a perception of high purchase price, meaning that only 10% are open to considering them. They are willing to pay 5% more than for a conventional car, but do not associate them with great value for money and want more choice of electric vehicles. They also see there as being limited service options. Russia is joint equal with France as having the second widest perception that ‘low emission’ is the primary benefit offered by electric vehicles (85%). Just over half also see them as ‘easy to operate’ and ‘safe’, followed by ‘reliable’ with 44%, and only around a third seeing them as ‘low maintenance cost’ and ‘great value for money’ (31% and 29% respectively).

SPAIN – has an overall positive opinion of electric vehicles, but still very low familiarity and the main barrier is again a perception of high purchase price and limited services. However, this market shows distinct potential, with 42% and 40% respectively seeing them as good value for money and low cost maintenance. Of the markets surveyed, Spain comes top for associating ‘low emission’ with electric vehicles, with nine of ten intenders agreeing to that, and almost eight of out ten also seeing them as ‘easy to operate’. Two thirds also agree that they are ‘safe’ and ‘reliable’.

FRANCE - overall 61% have a favorable overall opinion of electric vehicles, but customers are polarized when it comes to consideration. Cost is, yet again, the main barrier, with intenders linking them to high purchase price and only 21% perceiving them as great value for money. Other barriers are the lack of choice and believe that there is little infrastructure to support electric vehicles (such as charging points). France ties with Russia in its perception of ‘low emissions’ being the main benefit provided by electric vehicles (85%), while 78% see them as ‘easy to operate’. This then drops to just under half seeing them as ‘safe’ (49%), followed by ‘reliable’ (46%) and ‘low maintenance cost’ (39%).

About the survey

GfK’s Electric Vehicle Study 2013 surveyed nationally representative samples of customers across 6 different markets to study global opinion and attitudes towards electric vehicles. Countries, numbers and methodology were as follows: China – 3,105 general population online, Japan – 1,194 ‘Intenders’ online, France – 1,000 ‘Intenders’ online, Spain - 235 ‘Intenders’ face to face, Russia - 904 ‘Intenders’ online and the USA - 500 ‘Intenders’ online. Questions were incorporated into existing studies across the 6 markets. Respondents were asked Awareness , Consideration, Opinion and Perceptions/Attitudes toward electric vehicles. The fieldwork across all markets was completed between January and April 2013.

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