Consumer Behavioral Responses to and Perceptions of Electric Vehicles

Tom Turrentine, Director, Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle Research Center and Research Anthropologist, University of California at Davis

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | Building 420, Room 40 | Free and Open to All

Consumer Response to Plug-in Electric Vehicles

We are in historic times for the auto industry, along many dimensions, from the expanding of car ownership in developing nations, to the peaking of oil, and to the challenges of climate change. In the past, automobile products have changed slowly compared to other “tech” markets. Today, most automobiles are in many basic ways much like vehicles of the past few decades. A few clean and efficient vehicles are having successes in the market and bigger technological changes seem to loom ahead; in particular, in the next few years, automobile makers will attempt to commercialize electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles around the world. Are these products that only a few engineers, enthusiasts and devoted environmentalists want or are these products that will transform the auto industry, embraced by the wide consumer market? For 20 years, researchers at UC Davis have been probing this question, surveying and interviewing car owners about their fuel use, actual or potential use of green cars, alternative fuels, want for small urban or neighborhood cars and electric drive vehicles in particular. UCD researchers have studied consumer response to the basic practical issues, such as purchase costs, operating costs, the constraints of vehicle range, the use of charging stations as well as more cultural arenas such as the development of new symbols, values, the role of information in car owner’s social networks, environmental concepts, efficient driving practices, and the use of energy feedback instruments. Dr. Turrentine reviews the relevant lessons he and his research team at UC Davis have learned in the past 20 years about the electrification of transportation and shares recent findings from his work with BMW in the MINI E program and from the 70 Northern California Automobile Association households who have participated in the PH&EV center PRIUS PHEV conversion program.

Bio: Tom Turrentine is Director of the California Energy Commission’s Plug-in Hybrid Electric & Vehicle Research Center and Research Anthropologist at the Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis. For the past 20 years, Tom has been adapting methods and theory from anthropology to guide research on consumer response to alternative fuels, vehicle technologies, road systems, and policies with environmental benefits. His most recent work includes studies of consumers using the MINI E, PRIUS PHEV conversions, and new types of energy use feedback displays in their vehicles. His center will be working with utilities and car companies on the use patterns of new electric and plug-in hybrids being deployed in the next few years, developing tools to advise deployment of infrastructure and ways to restructure the cost of lithium batteries.