Positive views reign but is that enough for consumers to make the switch?

Electric vehicles are undoubtedly the future of mobility and as the world gathered for the United Nations COP26 climate conference in early November, green mobility was in focus. The automotive industry – like most other industries – is grappling with the role it plays in creating a more sustainable planet and cleaning up Southeast Asia’s roads will be part of the battle. Transport in Southeast Asia (SEA) is responsible for 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 23% of carbon dioxide. Yet, as the region’s economies tackle growth in a sustainable manner, it looks at greening its roads, making sustainable transportation a key focus. Regulators and industry players alike recognise the opportunity that the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) presents for their economies to simultaneously advance their goals for economic growth and sustainable development.

While Southeast Asia is the fifth-largest automotive market in the world, the proportion of EVs, though, is still insignificant. With consumer adoption a critical contributor for the EV market to flourish, we wanted to better understand the contributing factors that would encourage or deter SEA consumers in their next vehicle purchase and their views on electric vehicles. So, in Milieu Insight’s recent study, we surveyed n=1,000 consumers of legal driving age across six countries (n=6,000 overall) to understand their views and sentiments toward electric cars.

Our survey found that the majority in Southeast Asia have positive impressions towards electric cars and the leading reason for consideration across each country is the environmental friendliness, with experts agreeing that electric vehicles create a lower carbon footprint over the course of their lifetime than traditional, internal combustion engines.


Willingness to purchase an electric car on the next purchase

56% in both Thailand and Singapore, and just over half in Vietnam (51%) would consider an electric car (i.e. BEV, PHEV) for their next purchase. Consideration to purchase an EV is slightly lower in the Philippines and Indonesia at 47%, and lowest in Malaysia at just 39%.


Why do some reject EV’s?

For respondents who indicated that they would not consider purchasing an electric car, we wanted to further understand why. In Singapore, 71% said there were too few charging stations, which was also the leading reason in Thailand (59%) and Vietnam (57%). In Malaysia, price was flagged as the leading reason, at 56%, followed closely by a lack of charging stations at 55%. Price was also the leading concern in Indonesia (47%). In the Philippines, the top concern was the long recharge time, at 50%. For policymakers, addressing the charging stations issue may be an obvious next step, as it is clear that a widely accessible and comprehensive charging network is essential for convenience and to reduce range anxiety.


We reached out to Siddhant Gupta, VP Global Energy at Hexagon, for his thoughts on the survey results. He explained that a key challenge for him is the limited number of recharging stations. “Most people in major cities in the region live in vertical housing, so many of them would worry about accessibility to a dedicated EV charging point in the carparks of their high-rise apartment or even at public carparks. If the adoption rates for EV ownership rise, the localized grid today would not have the capacity to support multiple cars at the same time without grid upgrades – and these upgrades can be expensive.

Gupta added, “Governments in Southeast Asia need to think about two main topics – making charging infrastructure available (overcoming grid constraints and increasing the count of the chargers at various locations) and making sure the Grid energy is green, or at least on a roadmap of getting greener soon. Nothing would annoy a sustainability driver more than to buy an EV and charge it with electrons coming from coal power plants.”

Tipping point for the switch

We also asked the respondents what would be the primary trigger that would convince them to consider transitioning to an EV. The top factor in Singapore was incentives such as tax rebates at 63%. This does not come as a surprise as Singapore is known as one of the world’s most expensive places to own a car, with layers of taxes meant to control vehicles on the road. Reaching a point when electric cars work as well as or better than combustion engines or hybrid cars was the leading factor in Thailand (27%), Malaysia (23%), Indonesia (31%), and the Philippines (25%). Vietnam was the outlier, with the leading trigger being when there is visible climate deterioration (35%).

This question was asked to respondents who indicated they currently drive a combustible petrol or hybrid car, and who have selected that they currently would not consider an electric car.


Dr Sanjay Kuttan, Council member of Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore, recommends that for anyone considering costs involved to buy an electric car, “EV purchasing decisions should not be based on the “cost of purchase” but the “total cost of ownership”, on the back of accessibility to infrastructure and the quality of electrons from the grid. There are significant savings when considering maintenance cost and energy cost/km travelled.”

Gupta is optimistic in his outlook, “There will be a big change soon in the opinion of buyers once more EVs in each category of buyer profile are launched. Hopefully, there will be more affordable options and consumers are better able to understand the total cost of ownership of electric cars. Buyers will see the benefits of lower fuel and maintenance costs and start to factor that in their buying decisions.”

Looking beyond full ownership of electric cars, we checked in with Goldbell Group who have just completed their acquisition of BlueSG, Singapore’s largest EV car sharing service. Kelvin Tay, Managing Director of Future Mobility shared his optimism, “We see an acceleration of the demand in electric car sharing prompted by the global rise in fuel price. With the results in this survey proving that the majority in Southeast Asia have positive impressions towards going electric, BlueSG provides an alternative option for private EV car ownership and ride-sharing, offering consumers the opportunity to switch to EV car-sharing.’’

There are also larger issues to consider in the near future such as how energy is generated to make EVs truly emission-free, especially with Southeast Asia being a region where coal-fired generation is quickly expanding. Also, with every country having their own views and strategy for adopting electric vehicles, Southeast Asian regulators and governments will have to face the challenge of sharpening their policies to spur mass adoption in the near future.

Methodology

This survey was conducted with N=1000 respondents each from Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and The Philippines with respondents of legal driving age and above (18+ for SG, TH, VN, 19+ for MY, ID, PH). Margin of error is +/-3 percent with a 95 percent confidence level.