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Purchase potential for electric vehicles with so-called early adopters

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Project Acronym
early adopter
STRIA Roadmaps
Transport electrification (ELT)
Smart mobility and services (SMO)
Transport mode
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Transport policies
Societal/Economic issues,
Transport sectors
Passenger transport


Background & Policy context

In 2009 the German government has announced the goal of one million electric cars on German roads by 2020. However, among industry as well as among final consumers a great deal of scepticism towards electric cars can be constituted. A successful implementation strategy thus needs the exploration of most efficient and promising ways to promote and incentivise electric vehicles. The analysis of the purchasing behaviours of individuals open to new technologies and ideas, so-called "early adopters" in the group of private consumers in Germany constitutes an important pillar of the implementation strategy.


The objective of this study was to identify the early adopters of electric vehicles among private and commercial customers in Germany by 2020 and to describe these in more detail under the premise that by then there will be a stock of one million electric passenger vehicles registered in Germany. Implications for company cars and (also privately used) company cars are

  • Who are the early adopters of private electric passenger cars and users of company electric cars?
  • Which factors influence the concrete decision to buy in the identified target group?
  • How large is the group of potential buyers or users of electric mobility in the early market phase?
  • How suited are electric vehicles, i.e. purely battery vehicles and plug-in hybrids to meeting the mobility needs of these early adopters?
  • How well do the driving profiles of urban car drivers - who are being discussed as potential target group for electric mobility - really correspond to the routes needed to operate different electric vehicles economically?
  • How much can the additional purchase cost and possible extra costs in the overall use of an electric vehicle be offset in the affected target group's perception by non-financial advantages and positively evaluated characteristics like environmental-friendliness?
  • How high is the actual willingness to pay more for electric vehicles and how does this correspond to the expected prices?
  • Under which conditions and prerequisites will electric vehicles meet the demands of the identified groups for a sustainable product with emotional added value?
  • What are the experiences from other markets, which can be used to draw conclusions?

Identifying potential early adopters, i.e. buyers of new vehicles, is done from three different perspectives: the economic-ecological, psychological and sociodemographic:

  • The economic efficiency calculations are based on an extensive database with technical and economic parameters for passenger vehicles for conventional and alternative drives and on analyses of developing the corresponding infrastructure to supply the fuel/energy. Scenario assumptions are defined for the calculations, for example on oil and electricity price trends and the development of technical and economic parameters, e.g. battery prices and lifespans. Optimization is applied to assign car owners the most cost-effective car drive type. Sensitivity analyses make it possible to analyse the influence of individual parameters.
  • The evaluation of first users of electric cars from an environmental perspective is done by referring to life-cycle assessment studies that document and evaluate all the environmental impacts holistically – from extracting the raw materials through the individual production stages involved in making a car and the service period right up to recycling.
  • Already existing data taken from surveys of electric vehicle users but also potential users are assessed in detail for the psychological and sociodemographic analysis of potential early adopters. Alongside two re-analyses (FSEM survey, model regions survey), three new empirical surveys were conducted: First, a short, online survey of persons interested in electric mobility. The second step was to recruit persons for more in-depth interview from this group. Finally, group discussions were held with potential early adopters.

The conclusions drawn based on empirical data and analyses were intensively discussed with representatives from the market research departments of OEMs (Daimler AG, Adam Opel AG and BMW Group) who supplemented these with their own expertise.


Funding Source
Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy


The analyses indicate that the private buyers most likely to purchase e-vehicles are middle-aged men (typically in their early 40s) of higher socio-economic status in technically-related occupations. These potential buyers live mainly in multi-person households with several vehicles, often in rural or suburban areas. They are tech-savvy and their decision is influenced by the high significance of driving pleasure, individuality and environmentally-friendly driving. In addition, they are willing to pay a certain additional amount on the purchase price compared to a conventional vehicle, although this sum is clearly below today's additional cost of an electric vehicle.

A rough estimate is that there is probably an annual purchasing potential of around 50,000 new car customers. However, around 80,000 new cars would have to be sold on the private car market in 2020 together with commercial buyers in order to achieve the target of one million e-vehicles. Other possible purchase groups were identified based on empirical analyses, expert discussions and literature analyses: slightly older vehicle owners 50+ with a high affinity to technology; persons with high environmental awareness who are reliant on a car (this increasingly includes women as well and, compared to the first groups of buyers, younger persons with above-average education and income). They live mainly in rural areas, in smaller or medium-sized towns or in the region surrounding a larger city); well-off retired persons.

There are currently no empirical findings and only a few arguments that consumer groups that are environmentally aware and well-off financially, younger, and mainly driving in large cities, will become a relevant group of buyers in the near future. It should be investigated whether this group has an interest in multi-modal concepts or car sharing schemes. It must be noted that several important prerequisites have to be fulfilled from a customer perspective (e.g. reduction of the purchasing price) for potential early adopters to actually become buyers.


Lead Organisation
EU Contribution
Partner Organisations
EU Contribution


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