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It is almost universally accepted now that rapid economic development and progress have had a very damaging effect on the environment. There is also increasing acceptance that sustainable development measures must be implemented to limit such consequences. A leading cause of environmental degradation is pollution emanating from vehicles using fossil fuel. The effect of car pollutants on the environment is instant and long term; car exhausts release a variety of harmful gases and solid matter, contributing to global warming and threatening human health and the environment. Due to pressing environmental concerns today, electric vehicles are being viewed as a feasible alternative by car producers. Currently, several leading automobile manufacturers are producing compact electric vehicles suited to short distance driving.

There is no doubt that a significant number of people at least consider buying electric cars, the fact is that very few actually buy them. Such behaviour of consumers has been observed not only in case of electric cars, but also several other green or environmentally friendly products. The key drivers in both cases however, seem to be similar – price, doubt over quality and performance of the product, lack of knowledge or awareness, unwillingness to make an uncertain buy, etc. Specifically with respect to electric cars, reasons discouraging purchase include price, battery problems, recharging time, speed and range. That being said, continuous advancements are being made towards overcoming several of these shortcomings. People purchasing electric cars nevertheless, are driven by environmental concerns along with the belief and the will to make a difference. For some, rising oil prices is also a reason to consider buying an environmentally friendly car.

Actually, environmentally friendly purchasing behaviour reflects a behaviour that has intricate ethical decision making aspects. It is a kind of socially responsible behaviour which shows that the consumer actively considers the civic outcomes and repercussions of what he or she chooses to buy. This also means that the consumer displaying such behaviour tries to effect a change in society through action. Overtime, several global companies have increased the production of green goods, and apparently, a greater number of people also seem willing to buy such products, but several (if not most), willing consumers don’t appear to actually buy the products. It is also to be borne in mind that buying a car is very different from buying, say, a soap or bulb; considerations and parameters when buying a vehicle are going to be different.

In the context of electrical cars, probably more people would make buys if environmental, social and economic benefits of doing so were clear to them. Key drivers could be government encouragement (in the form of subsidies and tax incentives), and strong self-identity and social approval associated with the buy. While the Government of India has confirmed subsidies for electrical vehicles in the country through the FAME II scheme, greater push towards pro electrical cars information dissemination is required in the form of promotional campaigns.

We must understand that ‘going green’ is not an activity, it is a mind-set. Regulations along with government and private initiatives and campaigns would help yes, but to an extent. Desired changes would take place and last only when the mind of the society becomes green, and green practices become instinctive and voluntary. Having said that, the fact remains that while environmental concerns beget interest in electric vehicles, acceptance thereof as the first choice would depend on long term benefits and advantages provided against vehicles that use fossil fuel. Long term lifecycle costs are a major concern for consumers.

While electric vehicles have seen a rise in adoption across the globe, more research and investment are needed before we see an all-electric transportation system become a part of our daily lives. This is also true that some countries would transition sooner and others later.  As far as India is concerned, there seems to be positive sentiment towards electric vehicles. Hopefully, what needs to be done in terms of investment and infrastructure development would be done, and the transition to a greener way of life would be smooth and successful.

- Dr Yatish Joshi, Assistant Professor, FLAME University

*Opinions expressed in this article are personal.