What Drives Electric Car Sales? Poor Air Quality, Not Gas Prices, Environmental Reasons

There was a time not so long ago when it was assumed by the wider population that those who purchased a plug-in hybrid or electric car were affluent middle-aged vegetarians keen to reduce our dependency on foreign oil, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the effects of manmade climate change.

Jean-Pierre Diernaz

And while we’ll admit some plug-in owners, especially early-adopters who made their decision to switch to an electric car years ago, may fit that stereotype, the majority of new car buyers switching to plug-in cars today are doing so for other reasons.

At the top of the list, says Japanese automaker Nissan, isn’t gas prices or environmental concerns. It’s air pollution.

At Nissan’s recent launch event for the 7-seat Nissan e-NV200 Evalia minivan in Paris, France, Jean-Pierre Diernaz, Nissan’s Director of Electric Vehicles for Europe, said that while environmental concerns, high gasoline prices and total cost of ownership still influence some buyers to make the switch to electric, air quality is the number one driving factor for customers making an electric car purchase.

The reason he gave is simple.Air pollution affect our everyday lives.  Gas prices only affect our bank balance and while the majority of buyers will choose a more environmental car to be responsible, improving the quality of life for the people we care most about — our families — is paramount.

He cited an event last year in which Paris was forced to ban many motorists from even driving on the nation’s roads for three days as air pollution levels reached the kind of levels only usually seen in cities like Shanghai and Beijing.

Smog in Paris is a Major Issue. (Photo Copyright AFP)

Smog in Paris is a Major Issue. (Photo Copyright AFP)

During that time, he said, air pollution became so high that school children were banned from playing sports outside amidst fears that the extra air pollution would prove fatal.

For those three days, enquiries at Paris Nissan dealerships for the Nissan LEAF rose dramatically, as concerned parents — possibly frustrated too that their children could not play outside — looked for a way they could help solve the crisis.

We’re guessing others called thinking that should car bans become a regular occurrence in the French capital to ensure a good air quality for all, those with electric cars would be exempt from the ban and free to travel when they pleased.

With the world’s megacities increasing in size year by year and more of the world’s population living in large urban centres than ever before, Diernaz explained, more people would be affected by poor air quality.

It’s hardly new, either. California’s Air Resources Board, tasked with keeping air quality high in the state of California, was formed in 1967 to help California keep its air clear and its citizens healthy. Since then, CARB has worked hard to continually refine and lower air pollution in the Golden State through tough tailpipe emissions requirements and restrictions on industrial plant emissions.

Already, the World Health Organisation calculates, around 7 million people die around the world every year due to poor air pollution. As cities swell, so too will the number of people dying as a result of respiratory diseases brought about by thick, chocking toxic smog.

That means more people than ever before will be able to make a tangible link between greenhouse gasses, particulate emissions, smog and air quality. More people than ever before will realise that driving a greener, cleaner vehicle — or perhaps getting rid of their car altogether — is the way that they can help make their city a nicer place to live.

And while air pollution does eventually lead to climate change, it seems that keeping things a little more immediate and tangible is the way to get car buyers to make the switch.

Do you agree? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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  • 100% agree Nikki! This was the premise of the UK BEV start-up Modec. Air quality trumps carbon reduction as it is literally ‘in your face’- and down your throat! Clean Air London and other such advocates for change have highlighted this for many years too – and the astonishingly powerful viral video ‘Under The Dome’ by Chai Jing amply illustrated the challenge the Chinese face. Closer to home, I avoid travelling down Oxford Street at all costs – the most polluted street in Britain sadly… A combination of cost and concience will accelerate EV adoption in the metro zones much as Msr Diernaz suggests.

  • It’s sad that things have to get so bad before Humans take action. Are we really that stupid?

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