Why 2021 will finally be the year for EVs (according to Behavioural Science)

By Dan Monheit, originally shared on Carsales.com.au 10.5.21

It feels like Electric Vehicles (EVs) going mainstream has been ‘about a year away’ for close to a decade now, so forgive the slight hesitation as I boldly declare that 2021 might just possibly, probably, very likely be the year that it almost definitely, pretty much happens. Despite the tsunami of hype and the growing offering from manufacturers, EVs still only account for around 2% of cars on the road globally. So, what will be different about 2021? I’m glad you asked.

It’s easy to point to the obvious, tangible factors as making all the difference. Regulatory changes, better incentives, and lower prices are all important ingredients that will help EVs ‘tip’ into the middle, and each of these is moving in the right direction.

The Victorian Government has taken one of its biggest strides yet, announcing a major subsidy scheme to boost the adoption of Zero Emissions Vehicles. The initial grants of $3,000 (for new EVs purchased under $69,000) are a reasonable start, and these, along with a $19m investment in charging stations will no doubt get things moving.

As important as these sorts of initiatives are, they can distract us from a far bigger, far more influential factor at play. What I’m referring to is ‘Social Proof’, a concept from Behavioural Science that explains why we wait in line outside full restaurants, while empty restaurants across the street wait for us.

Social Proof refers to our innate herd mentality. Our brains are literally wired to imitate others — after all, imitation is how we learnt to walk and talk as babies and conduct ourselves at art galleries and wine tastings as grown-ups.

When we see a group of people acting in a certain way, we tend to automatically assume that this is the correct, appropriate and desirable thing to do. From here, it’s easy to conclude that it would be in our own best interest to act the same, especially in situations that are unfamiliar or risky (like purchasing a new car for many people).

As the rate of EV adoption starts to climb, so too does the influence of Social Proof. From noticing your neighbours’ new solar panels, to seeing more and more Teslas sitting next to you at the traffic lights, the once-obscure concept of going electric is quickly becoming safe and familiar. More news, reviews, content and advertising only add fuel to the fire (sunshine to the solar panels), as our primal urge to stay with the group slowly but certainly ratchets up.

While actual sales are only just beginning to hit their straps, the leading indicators are already there in full force. The carsales editorial team published 130 pieces of EV related content between January and March of this year alone, which was almost double the volume from 2020 and five times that of 2019. This year, direct enquiries for EVs are up over 25%, views of EV listings are up over 30% and views of EV related content are up a staggering 134%.

With these sorts of numbers, it feels like an inevitability that (provided supply can keep up with demand), the day when everyone knows someone with an EV is only months, not years away.

Further reading

$3000 subsidy to spark up Victorian EV sales

EV sales winners in March

Tesla dominates Australian EV sales

Key carsales EV advice to help consumers make an informed choice

Dummies’ guide to electric vehicles
Pros and cons of owning an electric car
How long does it take to charge an EV?
How to charge your electric car for free
How safe are electric cars?
Which electric cars have the longest driving range?
How much does it cost to maintain an electric car?
What sort of plug does my electric car take?
Will I enjoy driving an EV?
What is my used electric car worth?
How to take care of your electric car’s battery
How do electric cars work?