Towards a Sustainable Car Fleet

Towards a Sustainable Car Fleet


J Berveling, O van de Riet, KiM - NL Institute for Transport Policy Analysis, NL


To realize a more sustainable car fleet the Dutch government should use tools which origin from social psychology and behavioral economics. Social norms could be used to facilitate the sale of clean hybrid and electric cars.


To reduce CO2-emissions by cars and realize a more sustainable car fleet the Dutch government uses financial measures, such as the car and motorcycle tax. Yet there are also other, under-used, tools which origin from social psychology and behavioral economics. The insights from these fields can help to affect the behavior of car users in order to make it more sustainable. Social psychology and behavioral economics pay attention to the unconscious and irrational side of decision making, including the heuristics or rules of thumb that people use and the role of social norms.

Buying a new car seems at first sight an entirely rational process. The car must meet several physical requirements which are well considered. Moreover, the purchase of a car is generally predominated only every four or five years and is for many people a large cut out of the family budget.

There is nevertheless also an irrational side to the purchase. Experimental research shows clearly how people are guided by the opinion and the behavior of others. That also applies to the purchase of cars. The car is not only an instrument, an object which ensures we can travel from A to B, it is also a source of status. It is a positional good with which we show something of ourselves and which we use to mark our position in society.

Who is aware of this social mechanism can use it to facilitate the sale of clean hybrid, semi-electric and electric cars. In this paper the possibilities are explored for several target groups. As a starting point for discussion a number of possible policy measures are explored, which are directly or indirectly aimed at stimulating the purchase of green cars using the status mechanism:
- Emphasize the exclusive character of green cars with the help of the Halo-effect (by using politicians, movie stars and famous sportsmen as role models);
- By anticipating to the different motives of people for buying a certain type of car (new technology, less fuel costs, pro-environment, independence from foreign oil);
- By making the green cars not to cheap (although this sounds like a paradox), because in the introduction phase the early adopters of these cars bye them because they are expensive and therefore exclusive.

We also discuss the role of the Dutch government. For national governments it is often difficult to influence (purchase) behavior of individuals directly. The help of intermediate actors (such as car manufacturers, car dealers and local governments) is needed as well.


Association for European Transport