The cognitive bias that blocks the proliferation of electric cars

What are the barriers to the adoption of electric cars? Although major financial and technological barriers have been overcome, the market share of these vehicles still needs to grow. In a recent study, a team at the University of Geneva looked at the cognitive factors that still prevent many people from switching to electric and found that owners of gasoline-powered vehicles systematically underestimate the ability of electric cars to meet their daily needs. .

These results, published in NatureEnergyopen new paths to accelerate the electrification of means of transport, in addition to conventional policies.

As the researchers point out, one of the main greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide (CO2), whose main source is the transport sector. Gasoline-powered vehicles alone are responsible for around 18% of global CO2 emissions. The electrification of vehicle fleets has thus become one of the main challenges of the energy transition.

Although the number of electric vehicles is increasing in several countries, they still do not represent a market share that would lead to a significant reduction in traffic-related emissions. In 2020, they formed just 1% of the global fleet, including hybrid vehicles. To meet the 2030 climate goals, this share must reach at least 12%.

Almost entirely a matter of perceptions

What factors still prevent the adoption of this mode of transport? A significant part of this answer is on the side of cognitive biases and car driver shortcuts.

“Until now, energy transition initiatives have largely focused on technological and financial barriers. Psychological factors have received little attention; however, several studies demonstrate that individuals do not automatically adopt behaviors that are most beneficial to themselves or society, often due to lack of access to comprehensive information,” said Mario Herberz, lead author of the study.

By interviewing more than 2,000 drivers from various backgrounds in Germany and the United States, the researchers identified the source of the cognitive biases that seem to prevent these people from switching to an electric vehicle. “We observed that participants systematically underestimated the compatibility between the capacities of currently available batteries and their real needs”, says Tobias Brosch, co-author of the study.

That is, consumers mistakenly believe that the autonomy of current batteries is not enough to make daily trips. This underestimation is substantial; researchers estimate at about 30%. “To reassure people, the solution is not just to densify the network of charging stations or increase the size of batteries, which require scarce resources such as lithium and cobalt. It is providing information tailored to the needs of drivers that will reduce their worries and increase their willingness to adopt an electric vehicle,” says Herberz.

250 kilometers, the ideal range

The research team found that more than 90% of car trips can be completed within a radius of 200 kilometers, a distance achievable by most existing battery models.

“The trend is to increase performance, but we have observed that at greater distances, beyond 300 km, for example, we do not have an increase in the correspondence to daily needs. This would have minimal impact on the number of additional moves that can be completed on a single charge. Increasing the size of batteries is therefore not a key element of the energy transition,” says Herberz.

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