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In this article, we apply Everett Rogers’ theory, Diffusion of Innovations, to electric car innovations in order to understand some of the characteristics of current early adopters of electric vehicles. In our examination of the EV adoption curve, we find five segments of adopter groups: Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards.
The advent of electric vehicles has been driven by a confluence of technological innovations, government policies and a growing desire on the part of consumers and organizations to improve environmental conditions. Company after company has worked arduously to compete and offer the best electric car innovations in the market. Governments worldwide have implemented a range of incentives and regulations aimed at fostering the adoption of EVs, such as tax credits, grants, and emissions standards. As consciousness about climate change continues to rise, consumers are becoming early adopters of electric vehicles in order to embrace a more sustainable alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles. And due to governments, companies and early adopters electric vehicles have become increasingly mainstream.
According to IEA data, the percentage of electric vehicles in relation to total cars on the road is 1.4% worldwide. Scandinavian countries—including Norway (25%), Iceland (9.9%), Sweden (6%) and others—are among the highest in terms of this adoption rate. China’s on-the-road EV adoption rate is 3%. Of the 250 million vehicles on the roads in the United States, only about 0.9% are electric. In Canada, the adoption rate is only slightly higher, at 1.2%. And most countries in the world are near 0%.
Despite the potential benefits, EV adoption is evidently still in its early stages. Consequently, it is worth examining the factors that drive consumer groups to adopt EVs, particularly in light of barriers that may hinder wider EV adoption. It is useful to consider the stages of innovation adoption from the Diffusion of Innovations theory proposed by Everett Rogers in 1962. This model outlines the stages through which new products and innovations typically pass, including Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards. By examining where EVs fall within the EV adoption curve and this framework overall, we can gain valuable insights into the factors driving early adopters of electric vehicles and the barriers preventing more widespread EV adoption.
Thus, we can understand that the EV adoption curve has five stages, each with its own adopter category:
We will explore two complementary perspectives through which one can conceptualize the adopters of electric vehicles in the stages previously described.
One perspective through which we can understand early adopters of electric vehicles is by a region or market. We can regard the EV adoption curve as a continuum and measure and compare the EV adoption of regions along the continuum. We can describe each stage as having a certain proportion of the market adopt electric vehicles.
In this way, we can discern that, for instance, Norway is in the Early Majority stage of the EV adoption curve, with 25% of vehicles on-the-road being electric. Several countries, including Iceland, Sweden and China, and a few others fall under the Early Adopters stage of the EV adoption curve. And Canada, USA, and the vast majority of countries in the world are still in the Innovators stage, that is, very early in their process along the EV adoption curve.
In comparing the practices and circumstances of one region and another, we can gain insights into what contributes to greater degrees of EV adoption. In Norway, to cite one example, EV deployment has been predominantly driven by policy, including financial incentives like value-added tax, tax exemption for vehicle registration, and free access to toll roads.
Another perspective through which we can understand early adopters of electric vehicles is by the demographics of the populations that adopt electric vehicles. There are particular types of consumers in any region who can be described as early adopters of electric vehicles. One study found that “middle-aged men with technical professions living in rural or suburban multi-person households” were the most likely demographic of EV consumers. Another study, which contrasted different types of car owners, found that electric vehicle consumers had a younger age, higher education levels, and higher income levels in relation to their ICE vehicle counterparts. Additionally, EV consumers were more knowledgeable about electric cars and reported a higher sense of consciousness and responsibility about how their vehicle choices affect the environment.
Although an in-depth literature review is beyond the scope of this article, with these few examples one can already see how the Innovators and Early Adopters of electric vehicles are characterized. Individuals who have access to higher levels of education, technical training and also have the material means are the ones who have the openness and access to new technologies, and thus become the early consumers in the electric vehicle market. On the other hand, other segments of the population, who require more practical, lower cost transportation or who have less knowledge of and tolerance towards electric car innovations are in the latter groups of the EV adoption curve.
As thought leaders, early adopters of electric vehicles can help to educate the early majority about the benefits of electric vehicles, such as their environmental friendliness and cost savings. They can also provide valuable feedback and experiences with electric vehicles that can help companies refine mass production of their electric vehicles and that can aid the early majority to make more informed decisions about whether or not to adopt these vehicles.
In addition, the actions of early adopters of electric vehicles can serve as a signal to the early majority about the viability and attractiveness of electric vehicles. When early adopters embrace electric car innovations and demonstrate their satisfaction with them, it can help to build confidence and trust in these vehicles among the early majority. This can ultimately lead to increased adoption of electric vehicles by the early majority.
A less-talked-about aspect of the Diffusion of Innovations theory by Everett Rogers is the set of attributes that influence the rate of adoption of an innovation such as the electric vehicle. These attributes are relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability. Each of these attributes play a significant role in determining progress along the EV adoption curve.
Relative advantage refers to the superiority of electric vehicle innovations over traditional gasoline-powered cars. Electric vehicles offer a number of benefits, such as lower operating costs, reduced environmental impact, and improved performance, which provide them with a relative advantage over traditional ICE vehicles.
Compatibility refers to how well the electric vehicle technology aligns with existing values and the needs of early adopters. With the increasing focus on sustainable transportation and awareness about climate change, electric vehicles are becoming increasingly compatible with the sustainability and environmental values that consumers strive to incorporate into their lives.
Complexity refers to the degree of difficulty in understanding and using electric vehicles. To a significant extent, electric vehicles are similar to ICE cars and do not require too much additional learning for a consumer unfamiliar with them. Electric vehicles can be considered complex due to the lack of knowledge about charging requirements, availability of charging stations, etc. As technology and infrastructure become more prevalent, however, the perceived complexity associated with electric vehicles decreases. The development of user-friendly infotainment systems, mobile charging apps, the growing number of charging stations, and other electric car innovations also contribute to an easier and more straightforward use of electric vehicles.
Trialability refers to the ability to try out and experiment with electric vehicles. Opportunities for consumers to rent or borrow the cars in test drives give electric vehicles high trialability. These kinds of trial opportunities allow potential buyers of electric vehicles to experience the technology before committing to a purchase. Many car rental companies and dealerships now offer electric vehicle test drives. Even taking an electric vehicle in a ridesharing app can be considered a trialability opportunity, in which the consumer experiences and feels more comfortable with the technology.
Observability refers to the extent to which the results of using the electric vehicles are visible to consumers. Famous, recognizable EV brands provide the entire category of electric vehicles with high observability since consumers are quick to notice them on the road. In cities with a higher adoption rate of electric vehicles, such as Oslo, Norway, it is particularly easy to observe the prevalence of electric vehicle usage and infrastructure and the environmental benefits that result therefrom.
A number of challenges hinder adoption of electric vehicles in a widespread scope, including inadequate charging infrastructure, insufficient performance, high costs, and limited availability. In many parts of the world, there are few public charging stations, which, in contrast to the wide availability of gas stations, create inconvenience for electric vehicle owners and uncertainty for potential buyers.
Additionally, the performance of many electric vehicles is not yet on par with gasoline-powered vehicles, for instance, in terms of driving range. The long charging times make them less practical for long distance travel and negatively affect perceptions of potential consumers.
The high cost of electric vehicles is also a major barrier for EV adoption. In most cases, the upfront prices of electric vehicles are more expensive than their gasoline-powered counterparts, making them inaccessible to most adopter segments. For example, a low-income family may be unable to afford an electric vehicle, even if they would like to switch to one for environmental or long-term cost-saving reasons.
Lastly, the availability of electric vehicles is often limited, a barrier which has become even more pronounced in recent years with supply chain challenges after the pandemic.
Overall, the biggest challenges for the adoption of electric vehicles are related to charging infrastructure, performance, cost, and availability. These challenges need to be addressed in order for electric vehicles to become more widely adopted.
The electric vehicle market is a dynamic and rapidly evolving space. While the benefits of electric vehicles are many, EV adoption is evidently in its early stages in many regions. Thanks to early adopters electric vehicles are increasingly gaining traction and higher adoption rates. Analyzing the EV adoption curve allows for a better understanding of the current stage of development in each market.
As the electric vehicle market advances in its adoption stages, players in the market play an important role in encouraging successive adopter groups to join. Limited by the relative fewness of early adopters electric vehicles require much more technological advancement for more widespread adoption to occur. Technological innovation, lower pricing and better performance are significant ways to influence new adopter groups to use electric vehicles. In order to bring new waves of consumers, electric vehicle manufacturers must continue to innovate and introduce new features that will set their products apart from their competitors.
Exro Technologies, a clean tech and electrification leader, exemplifies this need for innovation with an intelligent EV traction inverter known as Coil Driver™. This electric vehicle inverter uses power electronics technology to optimize electric vehicle systems for better performance and reduced total system costs. This, in turn, gives a competitive advantage to EV automakers and brings markets one step closer to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.