Taking a Ride? The Potential of Diffusion of Electric Vehicles in Sweden.

Taking a Ride? The Potential of Diffusion of Electric Vehicles in Sweden.


Kerstin Westin, Transport Research Unit, Umeå University, Johan Jansson, Transport Research Unit, Umeå University, Annika Nordlund, Transport Research Unit, Umeå University


Drawing on diffusion theory and based on a questionnaire survey in Sweden geographic and socio-economic characteristics as well as attitudes to environmental behavior and innovations are charted for different groups of car owners including EV owners.


As humans’ activities contribute to climate change there is a need to better understand what factors influence individuals’ willingness to change environmentally damaging behaviors, such as driving fossil fuel vehicles, into less harmful ones. Today electric vehicles (EV) are developing into a stronger alternative to the petrol driven car, and these vehicles can be defined as an eco-innovation, that is, a new product that avoids or reduces environmental harms. The adoption of an innovation is the result of gaining an initial knowledge of the innovation, to forming an attitude towards it, to making a decision to adopt or reject the innovation, to implementation of the new idea, and to confirmation of this decision. The probability that people will accept and in the end acquire an EV can be expected to be related to the extent to which they have to modify their behavior, and by accepting an EV these behavioral changes can be minimized as mobility per se is not affected.
Some people are more prone to test and accept new products/innovations, and these early adopters are key actors for diffusion of innovations. Research has shown that attitudinal factors are of importance when it comes to choices related to environmentally related perceptions and behavior such as buying an EV, and also that socio-economic characteristics influence the decision to what kind of a car is purchased. In this study geographic and socio-economic characteristics as well as individuals’ attitudes to environmental behavior and innovations are charted for different groups of car owners, with the aim to investigate which and how different factors correlate with the intention to, or the actual adoption of, an EV. The specific questions addressed are: (i) What are the socio-economic characteristics of EV owners’ and in what respect do they differ from non-EV owners? (ii) Are there geographic ‘hotspots’ in EV density that cannot be explained by population composition? (iii) To what extent are attitudes to environmental behavior and pro-environmental policies a predictor of adoption of an EV?

The study is based on a survey directed to 3000 car owners in Sweden in 2014 (response rate 39.7%), a survey that aimed to identify the conditions for the introduction and acceptance of different forms of electric vehicles (hybrids, plug-in hybrids, pure EVs) among motorists. In order to avoid relying on adoption intentions only, we defined three groups of adopters. Early adopters (n=494) have already adopted and thus own some type of EV such as a battery electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. Potential adopters (n=386) have already adopted and own some type of alternative fuel vehicle (AFV, excluding EV) which can be fueled in full or in part by alternative liquid fuels such as bioethanol or biogas. The last group, nonadopters (n=312), have adopted neither an EV nor an AFV and thus own cars than can only be fueled by conventional fossil gasoline or diesel. The questionnaire held questions about the respondents’ socio-economic characteristics, attitudes to different environmental behavior, demands on car performance and characteristics and attitudes to different policy measures aiming at reducing car traffic in general and fossil fuel vehicles in particular. The analysis is based on a SEM model analysis in which these factors are structured to measure the effect on adoption of an EV or an AFV.
The results have direct policy implications. A number of studies have shown how an innovation is accepted, and in these studies it is argued that a “critical threshold” has to be reached before the diffusion takes off. Until that level is reached, a number of measures have to be introduced (e.g. economic incentives, marketing) that creates an awareness of the innovation and that can shape or affect attitudes. Among private car owners there is a certain lack of trust in a new technique that EV’s represent, which prevents acceptance and adoption. By comparing those who have already accepted the innovation EV and those who have taken a first step in adopting an AFV with those who have not, we can better design the policy measures needed for behavioral change.


Association for European Transport