Car-based mobility accounts for a significant share of carbon emissions: reducing its impact is thus a priority to work towards sustainability. While several European governmental bodies have announced the phasing out of internal combustion engines cars running on fossil fuels, private car remains widely used, especially in low-density areas, where distances are long, alternatives scarce and modal shift is impossible. In this context, alternative fuels, generating fewer emissions, offer a promising solution.
Overtime, a variety of alternative fuel solutions have developed, from electric and hybrid cars to biofuels or CNG and LPG. However, they remain scarcely used. Studying how innovations spread within a population, Rogers1 conceptualised different stages through which an innovation is adopted. Rogers also proposes a 5-category typology of consumers, including ‘early adopters’, who start using an innovation as soon as it is available.
Adopting an innovation does not come without constraints for consumers (e.g., economic or practical concerns). Indeed, research in sociology and social psychology has shown that behaviour change is a complex process, guided by a number of dispositions acquired through socialisation, day-to-day interactions with peers, infused in the broader culture. Norms are also intertwined with technologies and infrastructure that structure everyday life, and that anchor habits that are hard to change.
The high level of car-dependency in low-density areas suggests that the automobility regime will endure in upcoming years. Through this study, Aramco’s R&D team therefore aims at deeply understanding the systems of norms and preferences associated with the choice of an automobile, and in particular of its motorization.
The goal of this research is to define the profile of motorists, to identify and classify the factors guiding the choice of vehicle and fuel and to survey motorists’ understanding and acceptance of synthetic fuels, referred to as ‘zero-emission fuels’.
Even if they can locally emit pollutants, like any vehicle with a combustion engine, renewable liquid fuels can be CO2 neutral since the electricity used during the process is renewable and as the amount of CO2 emitted during the use of the product is compensated by the amount of CO2 captured in the air to produce the synthetic fuel.
This study includes 3 countries – France, Germany and Spain – allowing cross-national comparison.
This study is based on a mixed methodology, allowing a comprehensive understanding of the subject:
- Literature review: To ensure that the survey is used to produce new evidence, and does not overlook some key aspects identified in past research works, a thorough literature review was first conducted. This literature review covers articles published in peer-reviewed, academic reviews of an international standing. About 80 references have been analysed.
- Exploratory qualitative study: In addition to the literature review, exploratory interviews have been conducted with 10 French alternative fuel-propelled car users. The type of AFV varies among the sample, with electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, flexfuels, natural gas. These semi-structured interviews allowed an in- depth understanding of the process through which individuals decided to switch to AFV and the factors that led them to consider it in the first place.
- Quantitative survey: The core of the study in based on a quantitative survey using a self-administered online questionnaire (June-July 2020 in France, and June-July 2021 in Germany and Spain). The sample is representative of French, German and Spanish people living in car-owning households in terms of geotype, gender, age and highest diploma achieved. After cleaning the database to exclude incoherent or hasty answers, a sample of more than 2,000 individuals in each country was obtained for analysis. The survey is made of two parts:
- Descriptive statistics;
- Stated preferences scenarios (understand the prospective choices of individuals in fictitious scenarios).
Adopting an alternative fuel vehicle
The main motivations to alternative fuel vehicle adoption are environmental (produce less polluting emissions and offer a socially valued pro-societal self-identity) as well as economic (low charging/fueling cost). Conversely, the main barrier to AFV adoption is the high purchase cost, followed by range anxiety for electric vehicles. AFV early adopters tend to be more frequently men, young, living in dense urban areas, highly educated and well-off.
French, German and Spanish motorists’ attitudes and preferences
Subjective attitudes of motorists in each of the 3 countries have been surveyed using Likert scales. Spanish motorists tend to be more environmentally aware than French and, even more, German motorists. The Spanish are also more frequently interested by automobile and technology.
When asked about their preference regarding alternative fuels among a list of 5 choices including a liquid zero-emission fuel made using recycled CO2, French and German motorists rank it in first place, followed by biofuels for the French and hydrogen for the Germans, while the Spanish have a clearer preference for electric vehicles.
Vehicle and fuel choice
Stated preferences analysis allowed to determine, all things being equal, the preferences of motorists in each of the 3 countries. When asked to choose between a conventional and an alternative fuel vehicle, the French prefer a conventional vehicle and the Spanish an alternative fuel vehicle, when no clear preference can be observed among German motorists.
Choice between a conventional vehicle and an alternative fuel vehicle
When asked to choose between 2 alternative fuel vehicles, the French and the Spanish both prefer a liquid zero-emission fuel to an EV, while the Spanish prefer an electric vehicle.
Choice between 2 alternative fuel vehicles (electric vehicle vs. liquid zero-emission fuel)
When it comes to the determinants of vehicle and fuel choice, in all 3 countries, the strongest factor is vehicle purchase price. In France and Spain, fuel price is the second most influencing factor, before fuel availability (time to the station). The Germans are more time-sensitive than fuel price-sensitive.
Determinants of vehicle and fuel choice hierarchy
1Rogers EM, 2003, Diffusion of innovations. The Free Press. New York.