In 2019, the UN Climate Change Conference held in Madrid (Spain) called for a prioritisation of energy policies that support a transition towards low-carbon solutions in view of the continued rise in CO2
emissions, which have been linked to global warming [1
]. In Europe, transport is responsible for approximately one quarter of greenhouse gas emissions and remains the main source of air pollution in cities. Furthermore, road transport accounted for 70% of these emissions in 2014 [2
]. However, the type of transition required towards more sustainable models of energy consumption implies considerable changes for this sector of the economy. In line with this, electric vehicles (EVs) remain at the forefront of new transport technologies with regards to reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions [3
]. In this study, EV refers to battery-operated electric cars (i.e., solely electric vehicles) and plug-in hybrid electric cars (i.e., those that combine an internal combustion engine system with electric propulsion).
The EV market is growing rapidly. From 2013 to 2018, the global fleet of electric passenger vehicles rose tenfold to surpass five million vehicles in 2018, of which 45% were in China, 24% in Europe and 22% in the United States [4
]. However, despite this level of growth, the market share of EVs remains modest compared to that of internal combustion engine vehicles. For instance, EV sales as a fraction of all new car sales in Europe represented only 6.3% of the market in the third quarter of 2018 [5
], even if there are considerable country differences across Europe in terms of market share [6
] as well as key factors affecting consumer behaviour [7
]. Therefore, a country-level analysis is necessary to elicit the factors having the largest impact on the adoption of EVs in each case.
To date, the majority of published research has focused on countries like China, the United States, Germany or the Scandinavian region, whilst only a limited number of studies exist on key economies where the market share of EVs is low, such as Spain—the fifth largest country in Europe in terms of population, and an important global supplier of vehicles. In Spain, the transport sector generated 26.1% of all noxious gas emissions in 2017 [8
]. In line with this, electromobility would not only appear to be a desirable option in Spain from a public health and environmental perspective but could also be linked to a source of competitiveness for this country in world markets with positive impacts on the country’s economy and levels of employment. Yet, although the Spanish government has prioritised an increase in the national EV fleet by 2030 as part of its policies [8
], Spain’s current share of the market for EVs remains one of the lowest in Europe [6
]. Even when annual sales of EVs nearly doubled from 2017 to 2018, this trend would not suffice to achieve the policy goals set out in this respect in the National Integrated Strategy for Energy and Climate [8
], with Spain lagging on this front well behind the European average [9
]. The global electromobility index in the third quarter of 2019 positioned Spain in the penultimate place European Union countries, with one of the lowest rates of market growth in 2019 [10
]. Therefore, a better understanding of the characteristics of potential adopters would support better decision making among policy makers and business managers, especially with respect to relevant marketing initiatives for EVs.
Research grounded in innovation theory [11
] posits that there are different typologies of potential adopters of EVs, which are often linked to the time lapse between the product’s launch and its adoption. Today, EVs remain in the early stages of the adoption in Spain, which raises the importance early adopters in this process as this typology of consumers tends to adopt new technologies faster than market segments [12
]. As a result, this market segment remains key to research on EVs and has been analysed in various countries around the world. In order to define the characteristics of early adopters, scholars have used a wide array of factors that can be clustered into two key categories, namely individual-related variables and EV attributes [15
]. Common examples of the first category include age, gender, income, education level [16
], social influence, environmental concern, and innovativeness [18
]. Attributes used in earlier research studies to analyse consumer behaviour related to the adoption of EVs include price [20
], driving range [21
], availability of charging points [22
] and vehicle acceleration [23
The purpose of this study is to establish a profile of early adopters of EVs in Spain. Further, the study’s focus is on the identification and description of market segments in this respect using clustering algorithms. On this front, Loker and Perdue [24
] suggest the use of a combination of descriptive variables (e.g., demographic) along with predictive factors (e.g., advantages or benefits obtained by customers from specific products), as users in identical demographic groups can display varying behaviours depending on their underlying motivations. Following on from a review of the literature and in line with rational choice theory, this study posits that the adoption of EVs by consumers revolves around two specific attributes—price and driving range. In turn, this choice is influenced by four individual-related variables, three of which involve socio-demographic characteristics (i.e., gender, age and income), with the fourth one—green moral obligation (GMO)—based on a psychographic approach. Research has found that these four variables are the most influential in the adoption of EVs [15
]. In order to evaluate the effect of these factors, this study gathered consumer data using an online survey, which rendered 404 responses of potential adopters of EVs. The resulting data was then subject to a cluster analysis.
In line with this, the novelty of this study rests not only on the lack of published research related to the characteristics of potential early adopters of EVs in key economies where EV’s still have a low market share, but also in the fact that this is the first study of its kind in Spain in seeking to establish the profile of early adopters of these vehicles at an early stage in their market entry. Similarly, this is the first research study to evaluate the effect of GMO on the adoption of EVs. Although earlier studies have included pro-environmental behaviour as a variable, the concept of GMO taps into more deeply rooted beliefs and personal values. Moreover, few earlier studies have considered the joint effect of different variables taking into consideration consumers’ socio-demographic and psychographic characteristics along with technical and financial factors affecting consumer choice.
Next, a revision of the literature is carried out setting out the theoretical context of this study. Then, the research methodology is explained, including the method used in the analysis of the data gathered. Following on from that, the results of the research are outlined and the implications of the findings discussed in the context of theory and practice with regards to the adoption of EVs. Finally, this article sets out the limitations of this study along with future areas of further research.
After applying the algorithm in two stages to the seven variables outlined above, two clusters were obtained with a cluster quality (cohesion and separation) of “fair” reported by the software [96
]. The size of the clusters was very balanced with the first cluster formed by 189 respondents (49.7%) and the second one containing 191 respondents (50.3%). The size ratio between clusters was 1.01.
The importance of predictor variables is shown in Figure 2
, with vehicle driving range emerging as the most important variable (importance of 100%) for the classification of respondents and the creation of segmentation profiles. This variable was followed by GMO and price, with levels of importance of 6% and 5%, respectively.
Based on the level of adoption, as the variable under scrutiny here, two groups were defined—one with the highest probability of adopting an EV and the other one with the lowest probability of this event occurring.
The higher probability group accounted for 49.7% of the entire sample. The mean value of this group’s intention to adopt an EV was 5.40/7.
The lower probability group included the remaining 51.3% of the overall sample in this survey. In this case, the mean value of intention to adopt an EV was 4.52/7.
The first cluster can be characterised socio-demographically as formed by female respondents (53%), young respondents (52.4%) and individuals with high incomes (37.6%). In addition to this, the individuals from this group had a high GMO (65.1%) and had generally less negative perceptions related to driving range (97.9%) and price (58.2%) than in the case of the second cluster. The average intention to adopt EVs of individuals in this cluster was of 5.4 out of a maximum possible of 7. Therefore, it appears that this segment of the respondent sample would be more favourable towards the adoption of EVs.
In the second cluster, the prevailing profile includes mostly male respondents (51.3%), younger people (69.6%) and respondents with a medium income level (39.3%). Most respondents in this cluster had a low GMO (57.6%), and a very negative perception of EVs’ limited driving range (100%) as well as their price (61.8%). The average intention to adopt EVs among respondents in this cluster was of 4.52 out of a maximum of 7. All in all, this cluster would appear to include primarily respondents with a low intention of adopting EVs. Table 5
summarizes the composition of each variable in each group and Figure 3
illustrates visually the characteristics of these two clusters using SPSS software.
This study makes several valuable contributions to existing theory and practice in marketing related specifically to the adoption of EVs. Current knowledge related to the adoption of EVs shows that it depends on a plethora of issues related to consumers, the vehicles themselves, transport infrastructure and government policy, though with very different levels of impact across countries [15
]. As a result of this, the marketing of this technology requires a country-specific knowledge of the characteristics that define potential adopters of EVs in order to improve policymaking and strategic approaches aimed at developing a wider level of market share for EVs in view of reducing noxious gas emission levels related to road transport. Yet, few studies up to now have analysed the profile of potential early adopters of EVs in Spain, one of the largest countries in Europe in terms of population and one of the world’s largest car manufacturers.
The results of this research have identified two consumer segments in terms of their intention to adopt EVs. The most important predictor variable in both segments was found to correspond to EVs’ driving range. This finding is in line with earlier studies [19
], though it emphasises the importance of this variable in the segmentation of this market as few studies up to now have identified this variable as the dominant characteristic governing early adopters’ attitude towards EVs.
This study introduces a new variable in the development of a profile of adopters of EVs: green moral obligation. Earlier studies had shown that adopters of EVs tend to be concerned about the environment [17
]. However, few studies had established a link between the adoption of EVs and customers’ personal values and norms. Therefore, although the predictor capacity of GMO is not high, the results obtained in this study contribute to a better understanding of early adopters’ motivations to purchase EVs.
The analysis of the data rendered by this study confirms the findings of earlier research, where price of EVs was shown to be a key barrier among their potential adopters [15
]. Even if this variable is less important compared to the two outlined earlier (driving range and GMO), this study shows that it retains a significant impact on the market segmentation of adopters of EVs in Spain.
This study shows that socio-demographic characteristics, when considered at individual level, have a low influence on the segmentation of potential adopters of EVs. Although there do not appear to be major differences related to gender, it could be argued that consumers more likely to purchase EVs could be profiled in general terms as young women within the higher income band. This would appear to be in line with earlier studies [21
], even if other research has shown that, generally, male customers tend to be more likely to purchase EVs [12
]. In this particular study, the higher levels of concern about climate change among female customers in Spain may go some way to explain this [98
]. Regarding the higher levels of income enjoyed by early adopters of EVs in Spain, the results of this study are in line with those of earlier research [40
], so this study confirms the importance of this variable in market segmentation strategies. Additionally, regarding consumers’ age, there was a higher proportion of young people among respondents less likely to purchase EVs. Although this result contradicts those of earlier studies [16
], this remains in line with the findings of some studies, which established a lower level of propensity to adopt EVs among young consumers with lower income or with higher mobility requirements than those of older consumers [37
Finally, this study provides a contribution to existing knowledge on this topic by identifying the characteristics of two different groups of potential adopters of EVs. In the early adopters’ group, the price and driving range of EVs are deemed as less important, whereas GMO is more important. In this group, female customers, young people and high-income customers prevail. On the other hand, the second group could be labelled as late adopters. This group is characterised by concerns among its customers with regards to the driving range of EVs and their price, with a lower level of GMO. In this late adopters’ group, male and medium-income customers prevail, with a higher proportion of younger customers than in the early adopters’ group. These findings provide a better understanding of the characteristics of potential adopters of EVs in the Spanish market, which had received little attention in earlier research studies compared to other countries.
This study also contributes to the marketing and commercialisation of EVs as it outlines a customer profile for early adopters of this product. The findings of this study will help to develop better communication and retail strategies aimed at potential adopters of EVs. For instance, in the case of early adopters it would be important to pay special attention to young women with a high level of income and place a specific emphasis on EV attributes related to environmental issues, including the lower CO2 emissions of EVs or their low noise pollution levels. However, retail and communication strategies aimed at late adopters of EVs would have to target mainly male customers and use arguments that contribute to reducing the key barriers identified earlier. This could include, for instance, government incentives for the purchase of EVs or reducing the impact of price on purchase intentions by using marketing that emphasises the cost efficiency of EVs in terms of performance. Similarly, in order to reduce the negative perception of EVs’ driving range, manufacturers of EVs could lobby governments for improvements in the network of charging points.
To conclude, this research study is subject to several limitations. Firstly, the research was performed using a sample of potential users of EVs. Further studies could contrast the findings of this study with a survey of existing owners of EVs. Secondly, this research has investigated the customer profile of early adopters of EVs using customer characteristics as well as vehicle attributes. Further studies could build on this by including other related variables, including charging point infrastructure and policy instruments for the promotion of EVs. Thirdly, variables such as age, GMO, driving range and price were re-coded into two categories to perform the cluster analysis. Although this technique allows for the creation of large groups, it can make it difficult to identify smaller consumer market segments. Therefore, it is suggested that further research should address this finer-grained level of analysis by creating different data analysis criteria to re-code these variables. Finally, the concept of EVs used in this study refers to battery-operated electric cars and plug-in hybrid electric cars. Further research in this field could explore separate profiles of early adopters either type of vehicle, which would help to elicit potential differences.
A good understanding of the profile of potential adopters of EVs is key for the development and implementation of initiatives aimed at growing current rates of adoption of these types of vehicles. This study has explored different factors to create a customer segmentation of Spanish consumers in terms of their readiness to adopt EVs. Based on a review of relevant literature on this topic, and in line with rational choice theory, this study has evaluated the predictive capacity of three socio-demographic characteristics (gender, age and income), one psychographic variable (green moral obligation), and two vehicle specific attributes (price and driving range). For this purpose, a two-stage cluster analysis has been performed on data gathered through an online survey involving 404 respondents. The results of this analysis have shown that driving range was the most important factor and that, to a lesser extent, green moral obligation, price and age followed, in that order. This study concludes that customers most likely to purchase an EV in Spain are female customers, young people and high-income consumers. Similarly, this group had a higher level of green moral obligation and a less negative perception of issues related to EVs’ driving range and price. On the other hand, customers with the lowest likelihood to purchase EVs are generally male with an average income, a low level of green moral obligation, and for whom driving range and the market price of EVs remain considerable obstacles to their adoption. As a result, this study contributes to a better understanding of the profile of early adopters of EVs in Spain and highlights the importance of considering green moral obligation, a hitherto neglected variable, as part of future research in this field.