Pure electric driving pleasure: the electric car in our comfort society

The car has become an essential part of our transportation system – it gives us the flexibility and the possibility to go anywhere, anytime. Most people in Norway have a car, and almost feel as if they can´t make it through the day without it. However, the car is also a threat to our environment, responsible for 1/3 of Norway’s CO2-emissions. What impact does this have on Norwegian car users?

In January 2013, I was an intern at Transnova for three weeks, and am now writing my thesis in collaboration with them – about the electric car in our comfort society. Transnova is a governmental agency that provide grants to different projects to reduce CO2-emissions from the transportation sector. I find this very important, and in my thesis I focus on user experiences – their needs and thoughts about cars in general, and electric cars in particular. A lot of people in Norway use electric cars, and increasing their use even further has been proposed as a means of reducing emissions from private transportation. But is there a gap between the electric driving experience and the experience of comfortable transport?

Norway has the highest number of private electric cars per capita in the world. Why and how has the electric car become such a success story in Norway? First of all, there is a willingness in the political arena for supporting low-emission technologies, and the Norwegian government has given the electric car a lot of advantages compared to the petrol car. These advantages include no sales tax or duty on purchase, free parking in municipal car parks, free use of bus lanes in cities and exemption from tolls & congestion charges. These incentives will continue until at least 2017, or until there are 50,000 electric cars on the roads (there are currently approximately 23,000). What will happen to the electric car in the future? It is very important not to forget the users: what do users mean by the term ”comfort” when it comes to transportation? I wanted to find out.

My research data was gathered from 15 interviews – 8 with electric car owners (most of them had the family car Nissan Leaf) and 7 with people driving petrol cars. Most of the electric car owners had a petrol car as well, but they tried to use this only when necessary. All the electric car drivers told me their electric car felt more comfortable than their present – or earlier – petrol car. They described their electric car as a safe, environmentally friendly, economic, aesthetically pleasing and exciting technology with great driving characteristics. The petrol car drivers – on the other hand – felt guilty about the environment when they used their cars and said that this guilt diminished their enjoyment from driving.

The political incentives designed to encourage electric car usage were important in the beginning – when drivers first made the decision to go electric. However, as they became accustomed to using their electric car the relative importance of these incentives was reduced. Instead, users valued electric vehicles in terms of both the material and technical equipment, and also the rewarding feeling of being more environmentally friendly. The research found that environmental awareness and comfort were able to act in synergy to create a more pleasurable driving experience. Both electric and petrol car users valued cultural, internal and environmental values as being important in their vehicle choice. If we wish to increase the uptake of electric vehicles as much as possible, it is important that policies appeal to these values as well as the economic incentives that have been used so far.

At Technoport 2014, Transnova will participate in a Share the Problem workshop on the afternoon of Mon 28th April.

The workshop will design a conceptual “point and explain” prototype of the electric vehicle that disregards the conventional automobile as an aspirational model. Register for Technoport 2014 now to participate in the session and attend other workshops and talks from internationally renowned speakers on technology and innovation.

Image credit: Transnova