How can EV driver insights improve connected car service design?

January 31st, 2023

What user experiences and concerns do EV drivers share? When do these experiences and concerns diverge? How can this user information contribute to even better connected car services? By identifying and categorizing different groups of EV drivers, we are able to see not just overarching patterns, but specific factors that may affect certain EV drivers more than others. This article will discuss some of these key groups, and how EV driver insights can improve connected car service design.

Taking a closer look at vehicle electrification and EV drivers

Since mid-2022, we at WirelessCar (in collaboration with Halmstad University, as part of the FREEDOM Project) have been looking closer at electrification. More specifically, how to better understand data application, and how we can leverage connected car data in order to optimize vehicle electrification. While electric vehicles make up a small share of today’s global car fleet, the pace and potential of vehicle electrification makes it one of the most exciting areas within the entire automotive industry.

A central part of our work with the FREEDOM Project was an interview study that involved stakeholders from the entire mobility ecosystem, related to electric vehicles. These include both current EV drivers and drivers interested in switching to an electric vehicle, as well as fleet operators, charging station providers, municipalities and city planners, and several car makers.

While this study resulted in a variety of interesting discoveries across the board, this particular article will focus on results from the experiences of early EV adopters. We wanted to understand what made them decide to get an electric vehicle, how they use it, and what their expectations are – especially with regard to digital solutions and connected car service design. These are some of the key insights and conclusions we were able to reach.

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The EV driver pioneers – confident, convinced, and connectivity-curious

Electric vehicle drivers can be categorized according to their different levels of maturity. This maturity is very much related to how long the EV driver has owned/leased his or her vehicle, but extends far beyond that.

In our study, we identified four main categories of EV drivers. In this context, what we mean by EV drivers are people who personally own and regularly use an electric vehicle, through purchase or leasing.

The first group we will look at are the EV driver pioneers. They have owned their electric vehicle for more than five years, and feel confident about using it. That means that they are better at planning their EV journeys than less experienced EV drivers are, regularly use their cars for longer trips, and have less range anxiety.

These drivers do not need any more convincing in terms of the benefits of using electric vehicles. That said, they still want even better connected car services to further facilitate their overall EV experience. As their EV maturity becomes greater, so do their expectations for even better connected car service design.

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The early EV adopters – active and enthusiastic, but not without anxiety

The second most experienced group of EV drivers have had their electric vehicles for 3-4 years. They are similar to the aforementioned pioneers, but often have a hybrid or ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle as well. As these drivers usually have families, having two cars is often a matter of convenience, even though most respondents in this category said that they would likely choose their second vehicle for long trips and emergencies

These early adopters are active on online EV forums and in social media where they talk to other EV drivers and share experiences, though not to the extent that more recent EV adopters are. They are frequent users of third-party apps that facilitate charging and journey planning. Early adopters of electric vehicles tend to feel confident about using them for longer trips. However, their experiences related to range and charge anxiety may prevent them from using their EVs as much as they would ideally want.

Range anxiety refers to drivers’ anxiety about not being able to use electric vehicles for longer trips, due to a lack (or perceived lack) of charging infrastructure. Charge anxiety stems from bad experiences at charging stations, such as long lines, lacking infrastructure, payment problems, and/or exorbitant prices.

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The early majority of EV drivers – combining caution with curiosity

Drivers in this category have had their electric vehicles for 2-3 years. They are largely similar to the early adopters, but are more likely to regularly use social media platforms to discuss and learn more about EV usage.

Generally speaking, they are still cautious in their EV usage as well. They tend to use EVs for shorter trips and could be inclined to switch to a hybrid or ICE vehicle for longer trips, due to range and charge anxiety. Many of them also own a hybrid or ICE vehicle.

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The late majority of EV drivers – trying the waters, one short trip at a time

Lastly, we have the recent adopters, who have owned their electric vehicles for less than two years. Among the people interviewed in our survey, most respondents belonged to this category. Being recent adopters/users, they are often active on online EV forums and social media, looking for advice and inspiration. They express confidence in their choice of an EV, but in terms of their usage, they are still "trying the waters". If the driver has a family, they often have an ICE vehicle as well.

While environmental concern and climate consciousness are common in all the user groups outlined above, they are the most prevalent in this EV driver category. Still, as range anxiety is rather common in this group, these late EV adopters mostly use their cars for shorter trips.

Additional key findings and insights about EV drivers

Here are some additional, important takeaways from our interviews with the EV drivers.

– The respondents were Swedish, most of whom lived in cities (major or smaller). A majority were men, middle-income earners, and between the ages of 46 and 55.

– Most of the EV drivers lived in houses, and charged their vehicles at home. However, some respondents who lived in apartments expressed a desire for solutions that would allow them to charge their electric vehicles at home, too.

– Being able to lease an EV through a company/employer was a deciding factor for most of the drivers interviewed; a strong nudge towards actually using an EV in their everyday lives.

– Most drivers still use their electric vehicles for shorter journeys, although this gradually changes as their EV ownership becomes more mature. So range anxiety tends to fade with time, but charging anxiety can still be more difficult to overcome if the experience at the charging station is that it is often costly and/or inconvenient.

– Many respondents owned an ICE vehicle, in addition to their EV. Note that this was only because they already owned the ICE vehicle when they got their EV, and needed an additional car for reasons of convenience. Notably, not a single respondent regretted their decision to get an EV. On the contrary, most were very pleased with theirs, but were hoping for more and even greater connected car services to make their journeys and EV ownership easier.

– Most respondents said that using an EV has changed their driver behavior for the better, including driving at a more steady speed than before, and planning their journeys better than they used to.

Using EV driver insights for connected car service design development

How can we develop new digital services to improve the EV user experience, and overcome the challenges and worries that different kinds of EV drivers face?

Talking to drivers provides concrete insights on the everyday things they like and dislike about their electric vehicles. A lot of it boils down to worries, inconvenience, and uncertainty; precisely the kinds of things that can be handled through excellent connected car service design. Crucially, this knowledge makes it easier to address and solve EV driver issues in general, but also issues related to certain groups of EV drivers.

The notion that one size fits all is thus not at all correct in this context, but that in itself is more of an opportunity than an obstacle. The more we get to know EV drivers, and the more we can leverage connected car data from electric vehicles, the better car makers and we at WirelessCar will become at meeting the ever-evolving needs that EV drivers have. It is through this evolution that car makers can continue to offer better cars and digital services, and build and maintain customer loyalty while doing so.

We will return to this vast and exciting subject in the near future, taking a closer look at the data science that is essential to our work with connected car service design. If you have any questions on this topic, email me at Collins Senyemi. Make sure to also read the articles on the FREEDOM Project, mobility insights, connected car service delivery, Smart EV Routing, and a range of other, related topics, here on our WirelessCar Insights blog.

Collins Senyemi
Business Analyst