08.02.12 - Electric vehicles have quite a good image in Switzerland, according to a study conducted by EPFL’s Transport Center in association with the company Renault Suisse.

A public transport user, owning one or more cars, comfortably well-off . . . and Swiss-German. This is just one of the profiles of people who are potentially interested in buying an electric vehicle in Switzerland. The identification of these target segments within the Swiss population has been performed jointly by the Transportation Center (TraCE) and the Transport and Mobility Laboratory (TRANSP-OR) at EPFL as part of a study performed in cooperation with Renault Suisse SA. The results are being presented today in Lucerne, on the occasion of the 3rd Electric Mobility Congress.

The French automotive company, which is preparing to launch a new range of electric vehicles, wanted to be able to understand and predict the demand for such vehicles, and thus to get a clearer idea of the potential of the market in Switzerland. A secondary goal was to better understand how the Swiss perceive this technology and its impacts.

The outcome is that electric vehicles are rather well thought of in Switzerland, whether because of the protection of the environment, their reliability or technological innovation. More than one out of two people questioned had a positive opinion of the electric car, with a more marked interest in German-speaking and Italian-speaking Switzerland than in French-speaking Switzerland.

Although there are obviously potential savings on fuel, the price of the vehicle is actually a determining factor in the decision to buy. Government incentives would have a significant impact, provided that the contribution was sufficient (more than 5000 Swiss francs). When looked at from a social-demographic angle, those who tended to be more favorable to the acquisition of an electric car were people who used public transport for their daily journeys, households with two vehicles, and those with relatively high incomes (8000 Swiss francs per month or more).

Leasing the battery

The survey was made more original by the introduction of some innovative ideas, such as being able to lease the battery, or an option to buy mobility services when acquiring the vehicle. In this way, it was possible to evaluate more accurately the acceptance levels within the population.

Conducted in 2011, and involving a sample of around 700 people, the collection of the data took account of many different parameters. These were mainly social-demographic – age, gender, level of education, profession, and preferred mobility patterns – and psychometric, including ecological conscience, attitudes towards new technologies and cars in general, and their perception of electric vehicles.

Factual and very precise data were also collected and integrated on the type(s) of vehicle(s) owned at the date of the interview, their make, their date of purchase, any intention to buy a new one, the price the interviewee would be prepared to pay, and the importance given to specific factors such as the time needed to recharge the battery, as well as the level range.

Multiple scenarios

Using all the information gathered, the researchers developed an original methodology, intended to place those taking part in the survey in a hypothetical situations of vehicle choices and asking them to indicate their preferences. The resulting data were then used to develop a “discrete choice” model that enables the prediction of a purchase decision (for an electric vehicle) according to the characteristics of the vehicle and the individuals taking part in the survey.

“This method of survey is called ‘stated preferences’”, notes Michaël Thémans, Deputy Director of the Transportation Center, “and it’s perfectly suited to a case like this, where the goal is to establish the level of interest for an object or a service that isn’t yet on the market.”

- Glerum, A., Thémans, M., and Bierlaire, M. (2011). Modeling demand for electric vehicles: the effect of car users’ attitudes and perceptions. Proceedings of the Second International Choice Modeling Conference (ICMC) July 4-6, 2011.

- Glerum, A., Thémans, M., and Bierlaire, M. (2011). Emergence of electric mobility: a nested approach to vehicle choice modeling. Proceedings of the 11th Swiss Transport Research Conference (STRC) May 11-13, 2011.