According to the latest research, global sales of electric vehicles have increased significantly over the past few years*. However, this trend does not appear to be replicated in Australia, with sales declining in 2016 compared to 2015**.
Are Australians just not buying into the concept of hybrid or electric vehicles? Not exactly. Conventional hybrid cars are still popular, with Toyota (Camry and Corolla hybrids) and Lexus (NX) making up the bulk of sales in this category^.
The significant degree of interest in hybrid cars can be seen in the high search share of the keyword “hybrid” when used in conjunction with popular models “corolla” and “camry” (the 3rd and 9th highest selling models of 2017 in Australia)^^. The keyword “hybrid” was the second largest variation of Camry and fifth largest variation of Corolla, demonstrating the fact that Australians are highly engaged with the hybrid variations of these traditional models.
However, it is the sales of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) that are not performing well in this market. A number of reasons have been offered to explain this, including the high cost, the low number of available models, and the availability of recharging stations. All of these concerns are borne out in the online behaviour of people interested in electric cars**.
Taking a snapshot of total visits to key models in this category, it is clear that Tesla is dominant, with visits to the Model S, Model 3, and Model X ranking well ahead of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, BMW i3, and BMW i8.
In fact, comparing traffic to the Tesla Model S with the most popular passenger cars in the Australian market reveals that their level of visitation is quite similar, with the Model S seeing a similar number of total visits to the Mitsubishi ASX (the 13th highest selling model of 2017)^^.
This clearly demonstrates that there is a strong interest in the electric vehicle market in Australia. However, an analysis of the search terms driving traffic to these sections provides an indication of why this isn’t translating into sales. Based on the top search term variations of “tesla model s”, the key concern for people interested in electric vehicles is “price/cost”, with queries about battery size and range also proving popular.
So who exactly is the “electric car” audience? We can build an audience of people who visited at least one of a number of electric car model pages and analyse their online behaviour. This audience is highly over-indexed for 18-24 year olds, which would seem to indicate that a high share of this audience would be made up of “dreamers” rather than realistic purchasers. However, affluent families (MOSAIC Group A), and the >$150k household income segment were also highly over-indexed. This indicates that a large portion of this segment is still made up of those with the financial ability to purchase an electric vehicle, and that a large portion of the younger audience may be young adults in these households that may be looking to influence the purchase of the family car.
A look at the types of websites they are visiting reveals a skew towards technology sites such as Gizmodo, Lifehacker, CNET, TechRadar, and The Verge, suggesting that this audience is more likely to be tech savvy compared to the rest of the population and is still filled with a high share of early adopters. These sites provide ideal targeting opportunities for manufacturers but it also helps inform the type of messaging that needs to be directed to these early adopters.
Putting all of this together indicates that electric vehicles are attracting a great deal of interest in Australia but concerns about pricing and range (especially with a lack of appropriate infrastructure) are preventing this from converting into actual sales. So it does look like Australians are dreaming of electric vehicles, but those dreams appear to still be a while away from becoming a reality.
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*Business Insider: The Rapid Growth in Gobal Electric Vehical Sales
**Electric Vehical Council: State of Electric Vehicals in Australia 2017
^Caradvice: Australia Electric Vehical Sales Analysed
^^Caradvice: Industry Claims Annual Record 2017