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Consumer lifestyle and response to low-carbon technologies: Semi-structured interviews with plug-in electric vehicle owners in British Columbia, Canada

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Lifestyles can play an important role in shaping consumer behaviour in regard to novel low-carbon technologies. In this study, I utilize a conceptual framework from lifestyle theory, which defines lifestyle as engagement in several related practices that inform and convey self-identity. I apply this theory to the case of plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) technologies by conducting 17 interviews with PEV-owning households in Greater Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada). I use content analysis to characterize the 17 participants based on engagement in technology-oriented or pro-environmental lifestyles, and group them into four segments: Tech Enthusiasts, Low-tech Greens, High-tech Greens, and Other. The six participants in the Other segment did not engage in either lifestyle and were thus driven primarily by other motives. Some patterns of behaviour with the technologies are fairly consistent across the sample and across lifestyle segments, as most participants: express greater interest in battery electric vehicles (8 of 17) than plug-in hybrids (1 of 17), report driving more after purchasing a PEV (12 of 17), and express high levels of interest in utility controlled charging programs (13 of 17). A range of motivations appeared to influence participants’ behaviours, including “practicality”, “embracing technology”, “environmental protection”, and “supporting innovative companies”. Such motivations tended to correspond with participants’ lifestyle engagement: participants in pro-environmental segments (Low-tech Greens and High-tech Greens) emphasized environmental attributes, participants in pro-technology segments (Tech Enthusiasts and High-tech Greens) emphasized technology and innovation, while “Other” participants emphasized more tangible functional attributes, such as affordability and practicality. Together, these findings suggest that policymakers and researchers should consider the variety of motivations that may influence consumer interest in, purchase, and use of low-carbon technologies, which may relate to a variety of benefits such as cost, environment and technology.
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