What do Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Garner and Brad Pitt all have in common? Of course, they are all famous actors and have spent years in front of the camera. But what most people don’t know is that they have all owned an electric car at some point or still own one today. Many stars – not just those in Hollywood either – prefer this quieter alternative to a combustion engine for the sake of the environment. Environmental concerns also motivate a good third of German drivers to leave their car behind every now and again and walk, cycle or use public transport. But what does this mean for the future of electric cars? Is there a link between environmental awareness and interest in this topic? Currently, only a small portion of drivers can imagine making the switch to electrically powered vehicles. However, it is above all women with families who retain an open mind when it comes to this new technology.
Whether a sports car or a family sedan, an estate or a two-seater, an old rust bucket or a brand-new status symbol: Germans are seen as a nation of drivers, with the majority frequently spending time behind the wheel. Two thirds of all German citizens over the age of 18 drive, whether it is their own private vehicle or a company car. On average, German respondents estimate that they drive almost 12,000km each year, with very little regional deviation in this figure. In both cities and locations with under 10,000 inhabitants, the drivers surveyed estimated that they travel a good 12,000km annually by car. For people living in small and mid-sized towns the figure was slightly lower, at under 12,000km per year.
These are the results from the GfK Global Green Index, in which approximately 1,000 women and men (aged 14 respectively 18 and over) were surveyed on the subject of driving, among other things. Men are ahead both in terms of the percentage of active drivers and kilometers driven. Age also has an impact on who is in the driver’s seat and how long they spend there. Respondents aged under 35 estimate that they travel almost 12,000km by car per year, whereas the 35-49 age bracket judge it to be closer to 14,000km. For people over 50 years of age, this figure sinks to below 13,000km, while the over 65s estimate that they only drive some 8,500km annually.
Driving can be very useful: It’s flexible, comparatively quiet and quick – if you manage to stay clear of the numerous lengthy tailbacks at least. However, there is another side to the coin: Exhaust fumes which harm the environment and people, for instance. A total of 34% of respondents declared that, from time to time, they choose not to travel by car for environmental reasons. They prefer to walk, cycle or use public transport. Among non-drivers and people who do not own a car, approximately half indicate that environmental reasons are behind this. In contrast, active drivers are less willing to leave their cars at home for the sake of the environment: Only 27% frequently use an alternative mode of transport. There is also a difference in habits among between men and women. While 31% of men surveyed over the age of 18 stated that they leave their car at home for environmental
reasons every now and again, 38% of women stated that this was the case. Above all, the middle-aged group seem to be more environmentally aware: 41% of women surveyed under 50 reported that they regularly go their car. Where respondents live also seems to affect the percentage of people who would choose to leave their car behind: In cities (for this purpose, those with over 500,000 inhabitants) which are particularly affected by traffic, a lack of parking, exhaust fumes or noise pollution, the percentage of drivers who turn to an alternative form of transport (and are able to do so) rises to 45%.
It would be wonderful if we were able to exploit the advantages of driving cars while at the same time minimizing the disadvantages. Electric vehicles, for instance, can help to reduce the noise and exhaust emissions that our fellow humans are subjected to when driving. It seems that the 14% of drivers who answered our question on their preferred type of car with “electric” understand this too. However, rather than electric motors, it seems that more traditional gas engines are still the most popular. Respondents were asked what type of engine they would consider if they had to replace their main car or secondary vehicle within the next 12 months. Multiple answers were allowed and on average, each respondent named two options. In total, 83% would consider a vehicle run on gasoline if they had to replace their main car within the next 12 months. For a secondary car, this figure was 80%. Diesel engines would be considered by 51% for a new (main) car and 30% would contemplate purchasing a hybrid vehicle (29% for a secondary car). LPG engines were cited as the preferred drive system by 20% of drivers (secondary car: 19%), whereas hydrogen only appeals to 7% for both main and secondary cars alike. Electricity herefore still ranks in the lower reaches of the popularity scale for drive technologies. However, this isn’t the case for all drivers. Women with children or families are more inclined to consider buying an electric car to replace their current vehicle. One in five women aged 35-49 can picture themselves behind the wheel of this type of car in future. A similar picture emerges for families too. It seems clear that people who tend to leave their car at home for environmental reasons are also more open to considering environmentally friendly alternatives when it comes to driving. After all, there are some situations where families cannot avoid using a car, such as large shopping trips or traveling to sports grounds and play areas.
There is one thing which people who are interested in electric cars agree on: If they were to opt for an electric vehicle, the main motivators would be protecting the environment and to reducing their running costs. Three quarters of the drivers surveyed who were interested in electric cars mentioned environmentally friendly driving and almost as many cited the cheap upkeep of these vehicles. However, this last point has proven to be quite controversial among experts. A new app which was recently developed by engineers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum may help to clear things up. Drivers log typical journeys while they are in their current vehicle. From this data, the program compiles a list of models which would meet the driver’s needs, for instance in terms of range. The developers have reported that a cost comparison is also integrated into the app. The question of tax to be paid is easy to answer, even without the app: Currently, anyone who buys an electric car will not be required to pay vehicle tax for ten years. The 52% of e-mobility advocates who place low insurance and tax costs in the “pro” column for electric cars should also take this tax break into consideration. In total, 46% of respondents mentioned the tax perks and buyer’s premiums which currently apply to electric cars. Another important reason for considering a switch to electric was the lack of engine noise, which was mentioned by 39% of those surveyed.
The German government plans to have a million electric cars on the country’s roads by 2020. To achieve this goal, it has implemented a bonus of up to €4,000 per electric vehicle in addition to the tax benefits. In spite of this, electric cars often still cost more than vehicles with a traditional combustion engine, mainly due to high production costs. For the drivers surveyed, it seems that the financial incentives are too small – at least in comparison to the reasons they cite against electric cars. High purchase prices prevent 67% from making the switch. The question of distance also comes into play: 56% of respondents worry about finding themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere because of a flat battery. So how far does an electric car need to be able to travel before it becomes a viable option for consumers? Out of the active drivers, 29% believe that having a range of around 400‑500km is necessary. A range of up to 200km or 300km would suffice for 18% and 17% of those surveyed respectively, while 24% would prefer to be able to drive over 500km without any pit stops. Currently, the range of electric vehicles varies greatly according to the manufacturer and the model. The rule here is: If you want to drive further, then you will have to dig deeper.
Having a sufficient number of charging stations could at least reduce dependence on a fully charged battery. However, some drivers believe that the network of charging stations is still insufficient. This means that half of all respondents named the inadequate number of charging stations as an obstacle to purchasing an electric vehicle. Almost as many (49%) are concerned about long battery charging times, while less than half (43%) mention that there is nowhere at home or work for them to charge an electric vehicle. A third of the Germans surveyed over the age of 18 had doubts about whether this new technology is fully developed enough. A similar number (30%) mentioned energy prices, which are hard to predict and which therefore could become a cost driver in the long term. Battery deterioration and recycling are a concern for 25% of respondents and 22% have general misgivings about the reliability of these vehicles. One in five thought that the possibility that electric cars could have a reduced range in certain weather conditions (e.g cold temperatures) was an important reason not to switch to this alternative drive.
So it seems that while many drivers retain a general interest in electric vehicles, there are still many hurdles to overcome. However, manufacturers and researchers are pursuing numerous initiatives which focus on improving the vehicles available, thereby canceling out the disadvantages. For instance, there are investments being made into more powerful batteries and additional, cheaper models are being developed worldwide. There are concepts to increase ranges using integrated solar panels which would continually charge energy in good weather. Increasingly, companies and councils are offering the option of “filling up” electric cars at their parking lots. If production costs were to sink too, the world of e-mobility would be opened up to more drivers with an average budget. Although perhaps not the same models that top actors can afford..
Datasource: GfK Global Green Index, April 2016
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