We recently ran a survey in partnership with Generation.e – South African electric vehicle (EV) Buyers Survey to gain insights into consumer perception, expectation, purchase intent, awareness and trust of electric vehicles (EV’s) in South Africa. The survey was hosted on AutoTrader’s website, gathering over 3 100 responses from SA’s in-market car shoppers.

AutoTrader and Generation.e strongly believe that an important step in the process of steam-rolling electric mobility is to understand what the current perception and intention of the South African car buying consumers is, as well as what gaps exist for the adoption of electric vehicles to happen.

The survey intends to bridge the gap between consumer perceptions & industry assumptions to assist South African automotive stakeholders such as dealers, manufacturers, marketeers and government bodies to drive action-based discussions. The hope is that these insights lead to a tomorrow that is greener, cleaner and mutually beneficial to the South African automotive industry, the South African economy, and most importantly, the South African car buying consumer.

Partnership with Generation.e

Generation.e run electric vehicle road trips, summits and have a lot of experience with test driving electric vehicles and we saw it fit that we partner with them to bring insights from car-buying consumers. Coupled with the at scale data we currently have on consumer car shopping behaviour, we were able to overlay this with the results of the survey.

Ben Pullen (CEO Generation.e) and I, recently chatted through the insights at this year’s Smarter Mobility Summit. If you’d like to go through the insights in more detail, the full report is available for download here: reports.autotrader.co.za.

The insights from the survey are summarised into the following 5 themes:

  •   Consumer penetration
  •   Consumer perception
  •   Consumer expectation
  •   Purchase Intent
  •   Awareness and Trust

I’m excited to share these with you and I hope we as an industry find value in driving a greener tomorrow.

Consumer penetration – Electric Vehicle

We focused mainly on ownership and driving opportunities amongst the portion of in-market car shoppers that had experienced an electric vehicle and were exposed to the benefits and potential limitations of electric mobility in South Africa.

We found that both experience and ownership are low, with only 1,8% of the market having owned an EV, 13% having driven one whilst 68% want to own an EV. This was already a vivid indication that there is huge potential for adoption of EV’s in South Africa.

The big question then is: why is there such a big gap between experience and ownership? And is this reflective of appetite in EV’s?

When we looked at the data, we noticed that this gap comes down to consumer perception, how consumers perceive the advantages and disadvantages of EV’s.

Consumer perception – Electric Vehicle

Under consumer perception we sought to understand what consumers expect and demand from EV’s and give insight into what consumers believe are the advantages and disadvantages of an EV. 

Overall, car buying consumers understand the green benefits of EV’s which is great, but what struck my attention was lower running and maintenance costs. So, are we under-emphasising the running costs or maintenance costs in the market? It’s a really hard one to get your head around, but it shows that there’s still a lot of consumer education we need to address especially if EV’s will become the new normal soon.

However, on the flip side, car buying consumers feel the disadvantages of EV’s are the lack of charging infrastructure, charging range and initial purchase cost (which I think is the biggest barrier right now). It’s a little-known fact that South Africa has one of the highest charging stations per EV in the world. We have 1 charging station per 4 EV’s and the rest of the world have 1 in 20 – whilst the penetration of EV’s is low, I can safely say, the charging infrastructure is there!

Consumer expectation – Electric Vehicle

In this section, we detail those aspects consumers expect and demand from electric vehicles in order for them to consider buying one. Car buying consumers were asked questions around range, charging expectations and frequency of use.

From the survey, we found that 86% of respondents would use an EV as their primary vehicle, which I think is quite important in the consideration set. I know a similar study conducted in the Middle East had slightly lower numbers with 61% of consumers saying they would use an EV as their primary vehicle – reflecting that they choose the EV as a second car, probably because EV’s are worth a substantial amount of money and the fact that average person in the Middle East is likely to have two or more cars.

The second factor that consumers expect and demand is that of price. Car buying consumers also said they are willing to pay not more than R500 000. A reason to believe that affordability is the main reason EV adoption could be slow in South Africa in the foreseeable future. Right now, the cheapest EV is at about R642 000, however in the chart below, anything over R500 000 has a clear drop – evidently price is something we need to sort out as a matter of urgency.

Whilst upfront costs are one thing, there are the running costs that need to be considered. We did high level calculations based on the fuel costs for an ICE vehicle and charging costs of an EV and we saw that it’s 7X cheaper to run an EV from an electric charge point of view in comparison to a fuel cost point of view, meaning it’s inexpensive to run an EV. Are consumers aware of this fact?

When it came to how long it should take to charge an EV at home, 91% of car buying consumers believe it should take less than 12 hours to charge, however for them to consider buying one, they demand that EV’s should take up to 4 hours to charge. How realistic is this notion?

Looking at public charging stations, 74% of car buying consumers felt that EV’s should charge fully in under one hour at public fast charging stations, but when it comes to buying intent, consumers want these public fast charging stations to charge the car within 15 minutes.

Evidently there’s an educational gap around overnight charging and therein lies an opportunity for marketing departments to drive the right messages to drive adoption and changes in consumer lifestyle behaviour, as charging is at the top of consumer’s minds.

Secondly, whilst the initial cost of EV’s is still a major barrier for adoption, we are hopeful that the discussions with naamsa and government will help bring these down.

Purchase Intent – Electric Vehicle

After everything has been considered, how far are South African car buying consumers looking to buy EV’s? Interested consumers aged 18 to 34 years say they would buy an electric vehicle after five years, and 38% aged 35 to 54 years are looking to buy an EV within the next three years and over 55-year old’s thinking about purchasing an EV within the next three years.

I wouldn’t have thought that it would be the oldest generation that would bite first, but overall the data points show that adoption could happen within the next five years. Are car manufacturers then missing a trick? It seems the older generation are the ones with the disposable income to buy EV’s and aspiration is more for the younger generation.

Awareness and trust – Electric Vehicle

Brand awareness and trust section, I’d say were the most interesting insights of the survey, and it’s in this section that I realised that car buying perceptions and car brands around electric vehicles are in line with the market search behaviour.

On AutoTrader, we already know that BMW is one of the most searched for brands in South Africa and it’s been like that for a long time. We also see in the survey results that BMW comes out tops as a brand car buying consumers are aware of when it comes to EV’s.

It’s clear that though BMW may have a little bit of an advantage in the minds of the consumer, let’s also not discount the rest of the brands.

However, what was interesting to note is that car buying consumers perceive certain brands to have launched EV’s when they haven’t yet. Again, whilst BMW came out on top as the most trusted brand to manufacture EV’s in South Africa, Tesla came second – a car manufacturer that doesn’t even exist in South Africa or Africa but is highly rated. It’s possible that if we address the price and the incentive issue with government, we could see the adoption of Tesla quite quickly in South Africa. 

Is South Africa ready for electric vehicles (EV’s)?

I think at the end of it all, the results show that our car buying consumers are ready for electric vehicles. What we need to ask ourselves is: What role are we each going to play to help catalyse the efficient adoption of electric vehicles in South Africa, whether it be government officials, OEM’s, consumers, car dealers, the society and even the African continent?

A greener future is for us all!

Interested in the full report, download it here: reports.autotrader.co.za