The development of the electric car in Italy
Segmentation and joint approach to the consumer analysis
In 2019, the European Commission approved the Green Deal. The legislation stems from the need to make Europe an environmentally sustainable economy. The European legislation is also implemented in Italy with the publication of the PNIEC, or Piano Nazionale Integrato per l'Energia e il Clima (National Integrated Plan for Energy and Climate), which envisages 4 million fully electric vehicles in Italy by 2030. A vehicle can be called an electric vehicle, or BEV, when it has only one motor, which is electrically powered. When we speak of BEVs, we therefore do not mean PHEVs, i.e. cars equipped with two engines, one of which runs on petrol. BEVs are the only vehicles whose emissions are equal to 0.
Thanks to an aggressive state incentive scheme, the market for BEVs - although lagging behind other European countries – has gradually been growing, reaching about 250,000 BEVs in circulation by 2021. To reach the target, five enabling factors are needed: the development of the charging infrastructure; the technological development of vehicles; institutional policies favourable to market growth; the development of alternative mobility solutions, and finally consumer readiness. Consumers themselves must be inclined to buy an electric car and willing to change their driving habits. Through the analysis of a sample of 812 individuals, this research set itself the goal of uncovering certain consumer peculiarities that call into question specific certainties regarding the electric market. The study does not merely analyse the pros and cons of adopting a fully electric car, but rather sets out to investigate what benefits might drive consumers away from traditionally powered cars. The most significant analyses to which the respondents were subjected were factor analysis and cluster analysis, which divided the sample on the basis of the importance awarded to 18 different attributes in the decision to purchase a vehicle (of any fuel!). In addition, the sample was subjected to Van Westendorp's model in order to assess the optimal price of an electric vehicle according to all 812 individuals. The joint analysis, however, remains the red thread that allows one to read all the points identified in the analysis.
For this purpose, 8 packages of 48-month long-term rental offers were proposed to respondents, differing in price, bodywork, range and, of course, fuel supply. Price, as can easily be assumed, turns out to be an extremely important attribute for respondents. Looking at the analysis of those who drive an electric car, it can be seen that the marginal economic price is higher than for conventional drivers. The marginal economic price is the point at which more and more sales would be lost with a reduction in unit price because quality perceptions would be too low and would have the car be perceived as being of poor quality. Having already tried the product, the potential consumer is aware of his needs and feels that low-cost cars do not meet his needs, in terms of range, for example. A smaller battery is less expensive, but allows the vehicle to travel shorter distances.
Since institutions care about reducing the CO2 impact, incentive policies must look at traditional drivers. Since the average price of an electric vehicle is around EUR 32,500, one solution could be an ecobonus reduced from the EUR 8,000 granted in 2021, such as EUR 4,000, to avoid wasting resources: the sum would seem to be sufficient to bring the vehicle into any potential buyer's consideration. However, consistency remains the key aspect: an incentive must remain active throughout the year in order to avoid creating confusion in the minds of potential customers. In any case, for both subgroups of the sample, the acceptable price range, i.e. the price range between the marginal economic price and the marginal expensive price, fluctuates around 11,000 €. Having attracted the potential buyer to the dealership by a price that is considered optimal, the sales force can offer additional services that increase profit and consumer satisfaction. These services can include a monthly fee for a car switch for a certain number of days per year, to cater for any mobility needs such as a holiday, or services such as the one offered by E-Gap!
Once the vehicle is positioned price-wise in what can be called the sphere of consideration, correct positioning within the minds of potential buyers is important: for this reason the sample was segmented through factor and cluster analysis, and four types of drivers were extracted.
Millennials represent the ideal target audience for BEV manufacturers given their interest in the environment and in technology, yet they present elements of risk. Their general lack of interest in visibility deters a disinterest in elements such as the brand, which is one of the biggest loyalty factors in the automotive sector. This opens up space for new players in the market that offer different autonomies and experiences, such as Tesla. That is why it is important to communicate on channels used by this young target group and highlight the technology aspects of their products, which on electric vehicles is always top of the range. On the other hand, it is important to provide, exactly as with diamonds, a sustainability certificate for the vehicle throughout the production chain.
For drivers, the most important factor in choosing a car is the sportiness of the vehicle, and accordingly, as the conjoint analysis shows, they prefer a petrol car. Drivers are the most difficult target group for an electric car. Excessively sporty driving could affect the vehicle's performance in terms of range, which is still an important attribute.
Romantics can be an interesting target group: the electric car, in fact, perfectly meets the needs for comfort and safety, as it has all the adas (driver assistance systems) available on the market and is also much more spacious than a traditional car. As an older target group, the beliefs and habits gained from driving experience over the years could create a distrust of electric cars. For this reason, this target group could be attacked by more traditional brands in the Italian market, such as Volkswagen. It is important to explain the benefits of the electric car, perhaps by using an ambassador. Volkswagen's brand communication strategy uses Totti, who explains in a simple and effective way the benefits that most appeal to this target group.
For designers, the key attribute is the visibility of the vehicle: for lower performance, they tend to prefer a recognisable brand. Given the importance of the aesthetic factor, the most interesting strategy to bring this target group closer to the electric vehicle is to leverage the emotional attributes of the vehicle. To approach this target group, one strategy could be to create hubs in city centres, where we are more accustomed to finding shops: creating an environment in which potential buyers can discover the car's advantages in terms of sustainability, coolness and price is essential.
Finally, from the analysis of consumers, market conformation and the investments made by the various car manufacturers, a SWOT analysis was drawn up, making it possible to summarise the main points of interest in order to understand what tomorrow's mobility will be like and what the risks are. The most important aspect that emerged from this analysis concerns the risks of traditional car manufacturers. But rather than providing an answer based on the elaboration of the data of which we have read a brief summary, we would prefer to ask the reader a question:
What would happen if a price-competitive model with a significantly higher range than the one offered by the current leading automotive manufacturers were proposed in the market. To what extent can brand loyalty built up over the years guarantee that their customers will not choose another brand that performs better or meets consumer benefits more effectively?