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Monday, September 1, 2014

Mental "Glitches" Slowing EV Sales (part 1)

Plug-in cars are finally here. The Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt have been on sale since December of 2010. New plug-in vehicle models are coming out each year. Plug-in car sales are growing at an exponential rate but they are still only a small fraction of total vehicle sales.

The plug-in cars that were leased or put into fleet service in '11 and '12 are now showing up on the used market at very good prices.

If plug-in cars are available, cheaper to "fuel", and are better for the environment; why are they still a small part of total vehicle sales? What is it that would prevent someone from buying a plug-in vehicle next time they are in the market for a new car?

The human mind is an incredible and powerful thing capable of 1016 processes per second, but it is flawed in several ways. We all have cognitive biases and employ logical fallacies. These are mental shortcuts that allow us to arrive at conclusions faster than we would if we had to reason everything out from first principles every time we need to make a choice. Each of us make thousands of choices during a typical day. Many of these are made on "autopilot" with little or no thought. Our mental shortcuts are great if they get us to the right place; however, when they lead us astray, they are mental glitches that must be reexamined.

Applying to this to our topic, we'll explore what cognitive biases could be preventing the mass adoption of plug-in cars.

Cognitive Dissonance

Number one on the list is Cognitive Dissonance. It is the discomfort felt when someone holds two or more contradictory behaviors, beliefs, or ideas. Put simply, your brain wants consistency in your actions and beliefs. People in the throes of cognitive dissonance, have a driving need to reduced or resolve the inconsistency. To avoid this discomfort, your mind will go to great lengths to justify, rationalize, or at least minimize any inconsistency.

In dealing with these inconsistencies your brain can be ingenious. Cognitive dissonance is number one on the list because many of the other cognitive biases are employed to appease or reduce the discomfort.

Most people don't want to pollute, encourage global conflict, increase national debt, or fund terrorism. Using gasoline is correlated to all of these. Yet most people also want the convenience of fast fill-ups, doing what they already know, while buying cheap cars. This creates a cognitive dissonance for many people on the roads today.

To address this fuel pump dissonance, our minds employ many tricks. We'll explore several of them in the posts that follow.

(Part 2 - Status Quo) Mental "Glitches" Are Slowing EV Sales 

About this series

I have just read over my first draft of this article and I see that it could all too easily be interpreted as "If you are not driving a plug-in car, you have a mental glitch." While many of the PEV-driving readers of this blog may agree with that tactless statement, that is NOT what I am trying to say.

Rather, this is an examination of many of the perception obstacles that PEVs must overcome before they can be mass market vehicles. This information is intended to be useful to anyone advocating or marketing plug-in vehicles.