Behavior-influencing policies are critical for mass market success of low carbon vehicles

July 16, 2018, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Policies to entice consumers away from fossil-fuel powered vehicles and normalize low-carbon alternatives such as electric vehicles are vital if the world is to significantly reduce transport sector carbon emissions, according to new research.

The new study, led by IIASA researcher David McCollum and IIASA and University of East Anglia, U.K., researcher Charlie Wilson, is the first to take a global look at the non-financial reasons why choose certain vehicles, and the long-term energy and carbon emissions implications those choices may have. It is not just the upfront costs and running costs that a consumer will look at; they will also consider attributes such as the available models and brands, comfort, acceleration, and interior space, and the availability of infrastructure such as refueling stations, which are still lacking for most types of alternative-fuel vehicles, particularly electric and hydrogen vehicles. Additionally, most consumers lack first-hand experience with these novel technologies.

Transport is responsible for 25 percent of energy-related CO2 emissions globally, with half of that coming from private passenger vehicles. More than 90 percent of such vehicles are powered by internal combustion engines burning oil-derived fuels. Encouraging the use of low-carbon alternatives is an essential part of meeting climate change targets as well as improving local air quality and health.

The researchers found that focusing on the behavioral aspects of consumers in vehicle purchase decisions is key to encouraging the rapid uptake of , battery-electric vehicles, and hydrogen . Making conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles more expensive to run—through increased fuel or carbon taxes—is not enough to incentivize the majority of consumers to change. However, carbon taxes can be critical in pushing electricity providers to decarbonize their operations.

"Alternative-fuel vehicles will play a critical role in the effort to avoid dangerous climate change, but only if measures to stimulate their adoption in cities—with positive climate, , and health outcomes—are combined with policies to drive fossil fuels out of the electricity mix in favor of renewables and other low-carbon resources," says McCollum.

The researchers employed six global energy-economy models in the study, upgrading the tools so that they could more adequately represent consumers and their behavior and preferences. They modeled two different future scenarios for alternative-fuel vehicle policy worldwide to 2050. 'AFV Push' imagines a future where policy and social nudges lead consumers to be less risk averse, allowing low carbon vehicles and their requisite refueling and recharging infrastructure become the norm. In contrast, 'No AFV' imagines current views of these vehicles persisting, due to minimal support, low levels of consumer awareness, and limited infrastructure.

The models show that a mix of robust transport policies and strategies could increase the market share of alternative-fuel vehicles to more than 25 percent of all passenger cars and trucks by 2050, perhaps even higher. This would amount to some 500 million of these vehicles worldwide by mid-century. Without any such policies, the market for alternative-fuel vehicles will remain very niche, with a market share hovering around 1 percent for the foreseeable future—in other words hardly greater than today.

Behavior-influencing policies to encourage the use of alternative-fuel vehicles include a suite of options: fuel taxes, vehicle subsidies, technology mandates and efficiency standards, investment in refueling infrastructure and dedicated parking spaces, as well as social media campaigns and car-sharing networks to demonstrate the technology. The difference these policies can make, if applied in a multi-pronged strategy, can already be seen in countries that strongly support the use of alternative-fuel vehicles, such as China, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. In Norway for example, 40 percent of passenger cars sold in 2017 were either battery-electrics or plug-in hybrids.

"Our research indicates that, when considering the wide range of non-financial attributes over which vehicle purchasers express preferences, alternative-fuel vehicles will be a hard sell to many for some time to come. The good news is that this is where dedicated transport policies and measures can help—and in fact are already helping," says Wilson.

Stimulating the market for alternative-fuel vehicles will also likely lead to cost reductions and improvements in critical technologies, such as batteries and rapid charging infrastructure. McCollum and the team argue that policies over the next few years can leverage the power of social influences, for example early adopters of novel technologies communicating recognized benefits to individuals in the wider mainstream market, thereby eventually reducing the present-day negative perceptions surrounding alternative-fuel vehicles and ultimately normalizing their purchase and use.

The researchers add that their results are relevant for multiple stakeholders, including governments, manufacturers, and companies involved in wider transport activities, such as installing refueling and recharging infrastructure.

Explore further: Hyundai Motor, Audi join hands for fuel cell technology

More information: David L. McCollum et al, Interaction of consumer preferences and climate policies in the global transition to low-carbon vehicles, Nature Energy (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41560-018-0195-z

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2.6 / 5 (5) Jul 16, 2018
the sheeple must be herded !
5 / 5 (3) Jul 16, 2018
Make them cheaper and people will buy them.
3.4 / 5 (5) Jul 16, 2018
If the advertisers can convince people to purchase lite beer? Why not lite vehicles?

Though it's going to be a tough sell to the pinheads who confuse their unmuffled penis-substitute gas-guzzler with masculinity.
not rated yet Jul 16, 2018
Just make a product that is better the current platform in terms of convenience, expense and performance. I for one would love to drive an electric vehicle since electric motors are better than internal combustion engines in all aspects. Unfortunately the current crappy battery technology keeps me away.
2.6 / 5 (5) Jul 17, 2018
Just make a product that is better the current platform in terms of convenience, expense and performance.

Which EVs already are.

Convenience? Never having to pull up at a gas station in your life ever again? How can be anything more convenient than that?

Expense? If you calculate the lifetime cost of an EV it beats a combustion car easily (even at a 50% greater sticker price). You spend more money on a car than just at the point of purchase, you know?

Performance? Electric motors. They wipe the floor with anything based on exploding gasses. Range is noo longer an issue, because while people may want a 1000 miles range no one actually ever uses it. People need to buy for what they need - not what they could conceivably want (then again - people are buying SUVs, So I guess there's still a lot of smartening up to occur on that front)
Jul 17, 2018
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3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 17, 2018
This is the same communism, like the belief that producers should manufacture only things which people need.

No. It is a part of teaching people look at their own user profile and check what they will actually use.

Case in point: People are buying SUVs, which are basically off-road worthy vehicles. No one goes off road with them. Ever. So is it sensible to buy these gas guzzling monsters? Absolutely not. The 'soccer mom' syndrome is a myth.

There's plenty of other commodities that offer features that no one ever uses but which are hyped as 'must have' (so vendors can charge more).

If people would buy what they actually need (a car that fulfills all their need and is cheapest/most convenient/least amount of hassle over the lifetime of the car) then everyone would have an EV by now.

People stuff their faces with more calories than they need and wonder why they get fat. Face it. people are terrible at knowing what they need vs. what they want.
Jul 17, 2018
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Jul 17, 2018
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Jul 17, 2018
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1 / 5 (1) Jul 17, 2018
"If people would buy what they actually need (a car that fulfills all their need and is cheapest/most convenient/least amount of hassle over the lifetime of the car) then everyone would have an EV by now."

If people only bought what they needed most of us would not be reading these comments.
Ps; The dogma of 'daddy knows best' clearly works, no one smokes nowadays...
1 / 5 (2) Jul 17, 2018
People are buying SUV due to their larger volume of cargo and passenger-carrying space.

I come from a family with 3 kids. We had a station wagon type when I was a kid. Plenty of space for everyone (and lugagge space to spare). There is no use case that we had then (and no use case I can think of now) that would have required anything bigger.

The amount of households that have 6 or more people is incredibly tiny - certainly in no relation to how many people have these types of cars.
not rated yet Jul 17, 2018
Expense? If you calculate the lifetime cost of an EV it beats a combustion car easily

Untrue. The EV costs 1.5x the price and has half the useful lifespan, so it ends up at 3x the cost over the lifespan of the vehicle. Even subtracting the lower maintenance and fuel costs, it doesn't come ahead of a regular affordable car.

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