As I sat through a presentation at last week’s “Nissan Futures” symposium in Singapore, my thoughts raced back to 1886, when German automotive engineer Karl Benz officially introduced to the world his Patent Motorwagen, widely considered to be the very first production car. Speaking in front of me was Vivek Vaidya, the senior vice-president for mobility at the market research firm Frost & Sullivan.
You see, Vaidya’s company had been commissioned by Japanese automaker Nissan to conduct a study on “the future of electric vehicles in Southeast Asia.” A total of 1,800 participants from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam had been surveyed, the main objective being to find out if they were ready to consider getting an electric vehicle for their next car.
To be clear, Nissan had two goals here: First, it wanted to know how big the present EV market in the region already is; second, it wanted to be seen as the car company spearheading the EV revolution, particularly in Asia.
The result? The survey found 37% of all respondents to be open to EVs, with the Philippines topping the six-nation group at 46%. Granted that these figures may mean little on the showroom floor — willingness doesn’t necessarily mean readiness — it’s still a big leap forward for EV advocates including Nissan, whose Leaf is currently the most popular (and most accessible) full-electric model on the planet.
Still, it’s a long way to go before we see 100% acceptance of electric vehicles among car users. Remember, we’re only talking here of “openness” — or the psychological possibility that one might consider owning an EV. Actually forking over cold cash to purchase one is another matter altogether. That only one in three motorists in Southeast Asia is willing to give EVs a try says a lot about the challenge of convincing people to abandon their gas-guzzling cars.
And this reminded me of Mr. Benz. Imagine him touring Germany as he tried to persuade his countrymen that the horseless carriage was the way to go — that it was in everyone’s best interest to ditch the stallion-drawn wagon. Think about the work he had to do before he had a breakthrough.
Human beings are creatures of habit. We have our comfort zones and regular routines. And we’re always wary of the unknown. Right now, our cars with internal-combustion engines are our comfort zone, and EVs are the great unknown. I’m willing to bet that less than a third of this newspaper’s readers are now prepared to entertain the prospect of EV ownership.
If you’re among those who are not yet ready to cross over to electric cars, allow me to ask you this question: What would it take you to finally accept fully electric vehicles?
My own answers to that question are simple: rising fuel costs and worsening air pollution. Cliché, I know. But those are the two major selling points of EVs. We can no longer ignore these two critical factors. If we don’t make the switch now, future generations won’t stand a chance.
Of course, there’s the matter of pricing. EVs are still much more expensive to produce compared to their conventionally powered counterparts. But that’s what Nissan and other car companies — present-day Karl Benzes all — are here for. They are working overtime to make electric cars more affordable and more practical.
In the meantime, our job is to keep an open mind. Electrified motoring is upon us. Let’s not douse the idea with gasoline.