Nearly two-thirds of consumers are "sustainability-minded drivers," rating themselves as very or extremely environmentally concerned, which will require automakers to evolve their offerings to meet increased demand for automotive sustainability, according to a report by Accenture, Busting Automotive Sustainability Myths.
A key finding: Sustainability is no longer a secondary concern for car buyers and drivers.
Not only are 64% of the respondents sustainability-minded drivers, but most prefer that their next vehicle be a new-energy vehicle (NEV) — i.e., battery electric, hybrid electric, natural gas, plug-in hybrid electric, flexible fuel or fuel cell electric. They don't want new vehicles with internal combustion engines.
And it's not just sustainability-minded drivers who would prefer a NEV for their next vehicle, as more than half (53%) of less-sustainability-minded drivers also say they would prefer NEVs.
The report also showed that no brand is perceived as the undisputed leader for the best sustainability concept globally. In fact, nearly as many drivers believe that BMW or Audi has the best sustainability concept (11% each) as believe that Tesla does (12%). In many cases, respondents were more likely to pick automakers based in their home markets as having one of the best sustainability concepts — so Americans lean toward Teslas and Europeans toward BMWs and Audis, for example. Even in service and repairs, more than one-quarter (28%) of sustainability-minded drivers don't have a clear preference for a brand with the best sustainability concept.
"Despite popular belief, the race for becoming — and being seen as — a sustainable car brand isn't over yet," said Axel Schmidt, a senior managing director at Accenture who leads its Automotive industry practice globally. "The market for electric vehicles was the only significantly growing segment in 2020. Drivers are ready for sustainable mobility, but there are still some hurdles, starting from the charging infrastructure to the still relatively high price per kWh."
In Sustainability, Brand Takes a Back Seat
Sustainability-minded drivers are not committed to a particular brand. In fact, 97% of them would change brands for a more-sustainable vehicle, and 99% would do so for greater sustainability in service and repairs.
The report notes that automakers that fail to compete for the hearts and minds of sustainability-minded drivers — i.e., by not making the necessary sustainability investments — will lose customers to competitors that have shown a stronger focus on and commitment to sustainability.
"Drivers are increasingly challenging long held beliefs amongst many top executives and marketeers in the automotive industry that consumers would never be willing to pay a premium for sustainability," said Peter Lacy, chief responsibility officer and global sustainability services lead at Accenture. "In one of the most disrupted industries globally — in the face of connected technologies, electrification of transport and autonomous vehicles — embracing and helping sustainability minded-drivers translate their values into their purchases is and will be a major competitive battlefield for the future."
Drivers Will Pay a Premium for Sustainability
Among the many automotive myths the report busts is that most drivers are very price-sensitive and won't pay more for greater sustainability. The report finds that sustainability-minded drivers are not only willing to switch to NEVs but would pay a higher price for a "sustainable vehicle." For instance, 30% of sustainability-minded drivers are willing to pay 1% to 5% more for a sustainable vehicle, with an additional 60+% willing to pay at least 6% more — including 4% who, surprisingly, say they would pay 25% more.
Sustainability-minded drivers are also willing to accept certain other trade-offs for a sustainable vehicle, with more than six in 10 willing to accept a car with a less-attractive, more-functional design (63%) or a car with reduced performance (62%). In other words, sustainability-minded drivers are willing to accept trade-offs on factors that many in the automotive industry believe are critical, non-negotiable purchase criteria.
Methodology: The report is based on a survey of 8,500 consumers from the US, China, and 8 countries in Europe.