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Visibility is key to shifting behaviours towards electric vehicles


The number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the road is still small; at the end of May 2021, there were 260,000 pure EVs on UK roads. However, those numbers are growing fast. With increasing consumer demand, greater availability of vehicles and government support, EV sales are growing in parallel with the development of charging infrastructure. The question is whether people will notice this growth. Is there an issue with visibility?

Is selective attention slowing EV sales?

Imagine you’re considering buying a new car of a particular make and model. Suddenly, everywhere you go, you see that exact car. It’s parked near your office, you see one overtaking you on the motorway and every car ad seems to be promoting it. This is the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. It occurs when something you’ve just noticed, experienced, or been told about suddenly crops up constantly. It’s an example of selective attention, where we automatically filter out a great deal of the information around us, focusing predominantly on what is salient.

There is likely more EV infrastructure than we think. It’s just that most of us— especially those who don’t own an EV—are blind to it

For instance, buying a new car is typically a big purchase and an emotional experience, but the number of similar cars on the road hasn’t changed now that you’re considering making a purchase. They were there before, but they didn’t have the same level of emotional connection. What has changed is your ability to notice them.

Why do we filter?

Every second, we are bombarded with information across our senses. Attention is a limited resource, so we must choose how we allocate it. We could not possibly notice everything happening around us, so to process information efficiently we give the bulk of the resources to recent, relevant, and important information. Doing this prevents us from being overwhelmed with information.

Think about when you are driving, and you turn down the radio so you can find a road sign. It may not logically make sense that turning down the music would help you focus where you’re looking. However, reducing the number of distractions increases the number of attentional resources you can divert back to the task of driving.

How does this apply to EVs?

One of the primary objections to EVs is that there is not enough infrastructure to support them. It becomes a chicken-and-egg problem: EVs need infrastructure before people will buy them, but there is no reason to build infrastructure when there are so few plug-in cars on the road. However, there is likely more EV infrastructure than we think. It’s just that most of us— especially those who don’t own an EV—are blind to it. It fails to meet the Baader-Meinhof significance test and goes unnoticed.

Increasing the visibility of this infrastructure could help tackle people’s concerns about the practicality of EVs and ultimately, it would signal the rate of progress in this area

EV charging points are often small and inconspicuous; they are also rarely consistent in their appearance. This means that they are not instantly recognisable; they could easily be dismissed as parking metres for example.

Increasing the visibility of EV infrastructure could be done by ensuring that charge points are installed in high visibility, high footfall areas. High visibility signage and bay markings could be used to make EV zones more attention-grabbing. Finally, standardising EV charging and parking zones, for example by painting them green, could help increase salience of EVs for both EV drivers and non-EV drivers.

Introducing a bold and standardised appearance for the charging network is just one potential strategy to boost EV adoption. Increasing the visibility of this infrastructure could help tackle people’s concerns about the practicality of EVs and ultimately, it would signal the rate of progress in this area and tap into our desire to comply with trends we see emerging around us.


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.

Dr Jane Leighton is Head of the behavioural consultancy behave

The Automotive World Comment column is open to automotive industry decision makers and influencers. If you would like to contribute a Comment article, please contact editorial@automotiveworld.com

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