Electric Cars an Aspirational Middle Class Status Symbol To Keep Up With The Joneses’ Says UK Survey

Keeping up with the Joneses — the continual war between neighbours to appear more socially mobile than each other — is a phenomenon that most people have witnessed at some point in their lives. From buying the latest gadget to using the best tools, eating at the best restaurants or visiting the latest hip coffee house, the practice of scoring social points over one’s neighbours, work colleagues or siblings is alive and well in modern society.

Among middle-class buyers, plug-in cars are seen as an aspirational status symbol, says Go Ultra Low

Among middle-class buyers, plug-in cars are seen as an aspirational status symbol, says Go Ultra Low

As one of the most valuable purchases associated with any household, cars have long been one of the biggest pawns in the status war between neighbours, with prized brands like Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW used to prove that one neighbour has a better social standing than the rest.

But according to a recent report commissioned by the Go Ultra Low — an advocacy and education campaign funded jointly by the automotive industry and the UK Government — plug-in cars are now considered essential aids to proving that you’re better than the Joneses.

Go Ultra Low commissioned Censuswide — a company focusing in quick surveys for PR purposes — to question 1,000 middle-class adults in the UK as well as 200 middle-class adults with the surname Jones to find out their opinions on the latest generation of plug-in and low-emission vehicles.

Of those questioned, 67 percent of the wider group and 77 percent of Joneses questioned said that buying an alternatively-fuelled vehicle was a purchase consideration for them. In addition to being a valuable status symbol, the study said many questioned said that the low cost of running a plug-in vehicle would be a strong motivator in their decision-making process.

“Our research shows that, after purchase price, the top things motorists look for in a new car are affordable running costs, comfort, space and style. The huge variety of electric vehicles now on the market is changing motorists’ concept of desirability,” said Hetal Shah, Head of Go Ultra Low. “The majority of consumers surveyed aspire to the new breed of quiet, refined technology-packed plug-in vehicles. We’re confident that this year alone we’ll see thousands more motorists up and down Britain plugging-in to this growing trend.”

Are the British middle class flocking to plug-in cars to give them a social leg-up on their neighbours?

Are the British middle class flocking to plug-in cars to give them a social leg-up on their neighbours?

With cars like the BMW i3 and i8, Audi A-3 Sportback e-Tron, Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric and of course Tesla Model S now on the market, there are also plenty of different high-value, aspirational brands for buyers to choose from.

It’s at this point however that we should point out that the sample size — just 1,200 people — isn’t exactly all that large. It’s also worth noting that while the survey investigated the standard ABC1 demographic — a group that purports to represent more than half the UK population ranging from upper middle class people with high-end managerial or professional jobs, those with intermediate managerial role and those with supervisory or junior roles — it doesn’t break out those three demographics into smaller groups.

“These cars are aspirational not due to their price, but due to middle class acknowledgement of the importance of environmental matters, value for money, new technology, etc.” said a spokesperson on behalf of Go Ultra Low, after we asked for further clarification on the survey’s methodologies.

At the time of writing, those methodologies haven’t been available.

That means it’s hard to tell which of the respondents fitted into each of the subcategories — nor does it indicate family income or daily travel needs — which in turn makes us wonder how useful this particular study is beyond the uses of the group which commissioned it in the first place.

That’s not to say we’re disputing the results. Anecdotal evidence from driving in and around Bristol, UK shows a dramatic increase in the number of plug-in vehicles on the roads today compared to several months ago, with Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrids occupying the most commonly-seen spot ahead of the BMW i3, Tesla Model S and Nissan LEAF.

We will say however, that we feel pointing out electric cars as a status symbol for the middle class is a little disingenuous for an organisation focused on encouraging more people to buy an electric car due to their low running costs.

We’d argue that choosing to buy an electric car or plug-in hybrid for cost or environmental benefits rather than the motivator to appear better than one’s neighbours would be a far more positive message to send to society as a whole.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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  • jeffsongster

    Seems to me that this is almost entirely Mr Musk’s fault. He and the Teslans ( what is the proper name of a bunch of Tesla people?) can be proud of grandly elevating the status of the electric car. Nissan and Mitsubishi are doing a fair job of making them financially accessible to the middle class and the used EV market is starting to make them accessible to everyone.

  • RickFromMn

    I hadn’t thought about people buying an electric car as a status symbol.

    I assumed, if a person got an electric car and gave rides or even let neighbors drive the electric car, the neighbors would be sold on the electric car.

    I assumed, if a person told the neighbors how much an electric car costs to operate and maintain, the neighbors would be sold on the electric car.

    To me, an electric car would not be a status symbol. It would be a better choice that sells itself.