Timing matters: The moderating role of time to purchase EV adoption

The Electric Vehicle (EV) market is booming, with passenger cars forecasted to present a compound annual growth rate of 19.93% between 2017 and 2023 (MRFR, 2017). Previous research on EV adoption has commonly focused on consumers’ subjective perceptions of the vehicle’s instrumental, environmental, and symbolic value (e.g., Degirmenci & Breitner, 2017; Noppers, Keizer, Bolderdijk, & Steg, 2014; Schuitema, Anable, Skippon, & Kinnear, 2013). However, it is unclear whether these subjective value perceptions similarly impact adoption across time, and specifically as the temporal distance to a planned vehicle purchase becomes more proximal. Construal level theory (Liberman & Trope, 1998) suggests that consumers will perceive a consumpion decision differently, and may even choose differently, when choosing for the close versus far future (i.e., psychological distance; Liberman, Trope, & Wakslak, 2007). Thus, the influence of perceived EV value on adoption intent may differ when the planned purchase decision is in the near versus far future. Using data from two other lab projects that span four U.S. cities, in line with psychological distance literature, we find that consumers’ attitudes toward EVs at temporal proximity become strongly influenced by low-construal, pragmatic considerations (e.g., cost per mile). However, consumers’ EV adoption intent is driven by seemingly higher-construal factors (i.e., symbolic value), even more so when temporally approaching the decision. It is possible that at closer temporal distance the symbolic value of the EV becomes more concrete and imaginable to the consumer, subsequently increasing its influence on a near-future adoption decision. Our results suggest that consumers temporally closer to purchasing a vehicle may be more attuned to the symbolic value of an EV—the ability to express personal identity, status, or prestige via vehicle ownership. Future research will build on these findings to (1) replicate these trends across different US cities, and (2) illuminate the process through which psychological distance differentially impacts EV attitudes and adoption intent.