Has Tesla influenced consumer perceptions of electric vehicles? Insights from a survey of Canadian car buyers

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The reduction of greenhouse gases (GHGs) is vital for the mitigation of negative climate change impacts. Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) could serve as a key element to reduce GHGs. Therefore, an increased uptake in the adoption of BEVs is vital if we are going to meet our climate goals. In this research, I explore consumer awareness and perceptions of brands that produce BEVs, including incumbent automakers, as well as Tesla, a relatively new BEV-focused automaker. Among the broad literature of consumer research on battery electric vehicles (BEVs), little weight is placed on the role of automaker brand. Drawing from marketing literature, I note that consumers might prefer the automotive brands that they are familiar with, due to brand loyalty. Alternatively, they might prefer Tesla for being more innovative, affording it a pioneer advantage. I study the role of brand using survey data collected from a representative sample of 2,123 Canadian new vehicle-buyers in 2017. Findings reveal that respondents most frequently associate BEVs with Tesla (27% of respondents), Toyota (27%), Chevrolet (26%), and Nissan (13%). More than two-thirds of respondents are familiar with Tesla, and 40% select Tesla as a brand representing the “future of BEVs”. In contrast, when asked which brand they would refer to buy a BEV from, responses are more evenly spread across a variety of brands, with more selecting Honda (31%) and Toyota (30%). Of the Tesla-familiar respondents, most reference that Tesla has influenced them to perceive BEVs in positive ways, such as being more innovative, stylish, and environmentally beneficial. Similarly, respondents associate Tesla with images of being more powerful, attractive, and trendy, relative to BEVs in general. These findings could be associated with intent to purchase a BEV considering that 51% of the Tesla familiar respondents indicated that Tesla was increasing their interest to purchase a BEV. These exploratory findings suggest that Tesla has contributed to shaping consumer perceptions of BEVs.
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