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Status, Fuel Savings and Politics Drive Early EV Adopters

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author photo by Autotrader April 2011

With consumers and businesses reeling as gas prices surge for the second time in three years, chances are good most people have at least gotten curious about electric cars as a way to save some cash on fuel. Large businesses might call it risk management, but the rest of us tend to think of it in “once bitten, twice shy” terms.

Yet while most people are at least getting curious about plug-in cars, there is a growing cadre of folks who are willing to plunge right in ahead of the curve–and many have already. So who are these electric vehicle (EV) early adopters and what reasons do they have to be pioneers?

At a recent event hosted by GE in Seattle, Wash., the company’s fleet management team shared the results of some research into just this topic. Last year GE committed to putting 25,000 electric vehicles into fleet service – 15,000 in its own fleets and 10,000 in client fleets. GE also announced its entry into the electric car charging station business with the chic-looking GE Wattstation. To help shape its marketing plans, GE charged its internal analysts with figuring out where the demand for this new technology would come from.

“We’re seeing three shifts in the market,” said Brittany Williams, a GE Marketing Manager, at the event. “First, EVs and hybrids are now being used as status symbols. Second, based on the sensitivity of fuel prices, we’re seeing a lot of people start to demand more fuel-efficient vehicles for the first time in a long time. Third, we’re also seeing people that are using hybrids and EVs as symbols of their political views.”

Roughly translated, these categories correspond with three groups that GE identified: environmentally conscientious consumers, technology-driven consumers who want the newest technology first, and frugal travelers who care about the bottom line and are willing to invest in a new technology to decrease costs.

In addition it appears there is another small but growing group of early adopters, according to Chad Schwitters, a Director at EV advocacy organization Plug In America. “We’ve done some research as well and we came up with those same three groups, plus we had an additional fourth group that’s smaller than all of those, but we call them the ‘patriots,’“ he said. “This group is really concerned about sending so much money into OPEC countries, as well as how it affects our economy.”

With these four groups set to lead the electric car charge the wide variety of reasons electric cars can be appealing becomes clear. No one knows how fast electric cars might penetrate the mainstream or which groups will be most influential in that adoption, but if Middle East unrest continues to spread and gas prices continue to climb, it’s likely that many will be looking for some kind of alternative to ease the burden.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Status, Fuel Savings and Politics Drive Early EV Adopters - Autotrader