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Trend Research E-Cars – What about user experience?

Entering the minds of early adopters in electric mobility via Ethnography 2.0

One million electric vehicles are supposed to be on German roads by 2020. However, private users are still few and far in between. So how is the user experience for early adopters of electric mobility right now? Who are they, how do they live, and what drives them? Produkt + Markt has found accurate answers to these questions in a study conducted applying Ethnography 2.0; tried and tested approaches are combined with innovative methods of focussed ethnography.

By 2020, the German federal government plans to have one million electric vehicles licensed on Germany’s roads. Automakers seem confident and the diversity of supply increases with each presented new electric model. A total of 16 different e-car models produced by German manufacturers will be available by the end of 2014. Nevertheless, with 15,000 e-vehicles currently licensed in Germany, actual e-cars are still few and far in between. Additionally, only every seventh e-car is privately owned.

The advantages and disadvantages of electric vehicles are well-known. But how is the actual user experience of private e-car owners? Do they break down often due to their extremely limited range? Are there enough charging stations available? Would they choose another e-car when buying their next vehicle?

Ethnography is the method of choice when it comes to gaining a better understanding of the early adopters’ lifestyles, motivations, and attitudes as well as insights into the everyday usage of their vehicles. In addition to the tried and trusted, traditional face-to-face assessments, mobile ethnography is a new approach enabled via cloud platforms.

Produkt + Markt has combined these two approaches in one of her own studies. For the first step, ethnographic in-home interviews were conducted with owners of privately used e-cars. They usually took four hours and consisted of observation and in-depth interviews. The site of the interview was the home as well as the interviewee’s car. All relevant aspects were also captured on video. In a second step, an ethnographic self-observation including photographic documentation was realised via micro jobbing. This enabled us to validate the propositions derived from the first step on a larger scale, and to gain further ethnographic insights as well.

The results show that the private e-car users are surprisingly satisfied. Smart routing allows them to accommodate the small range rather well. Furthermore they consider themselves as environmental avant-garde and are delighted at the low overheads. Other perks are the comfortable handling as well as the attention they get from neighbours, colleagues, and pedestrians. Disadvantages are the lacking standardisation of plugs and the large variety of different public charging systems.


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