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How customers´inner motivation to regularly charge their car can be unleashed?

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are more and more criticized. The real fuel consumption and CO2emissions of these vehicles are heavily dependent on the actual usage behavior. Depending on how regularly the users charge their vehicle, emissions are many times higher than in the test cycles. How do you succeed in motivating customers to charge regularly? Which barriers have to be broken down and which drivers can be used to create incentives? An ongoing study with the BMW Group is investigating which psychological factors induce customers to charge regularly. By Flavio Kälin

Plug-in hybrids require sustainable usage

For many automobile manufacturers, electric mobility is the solution for lowering the CO2emissions caused by traffic. Electrically powered vehicles do locally not generate any CO2 and thus contribute substantially to reducing global CO2emissions. In addition to purely electric vehicles, automobile manufacturers also rely on partially electric vehicles, which are also connected to a power source, so-called plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV).

With strict guidelines, governments are increasingly forcing automotive companies to produce and sell low-carbon vehicles by setting an upper limit for the CO2emissions of the newly registered vehicle fleet. From 2021, for example, automobile manufacturers in Europe will have to comply with a CO2fleet consumption of 95 g per kilometer driven, otherwise there is a risk of high fines. Today’s calculation of CO2 emitted per vehicle is based on the WLTP test procedure, a standard procedure which is largely based on laboratory tests. However, these results ​​differ significantly from real consumption. In future, the actual real-world consumption might therefore be used instead, which depends on the driving and usage behavior of the end customer. In the case of PHEV, this actual consumption value can deviate considerably from the laboratory value. Depending on whether the vehicle is used with the electric or combustion engine, the CO2emissions are high or low.

New study shows the lack of sustainable usage behavior

In a new study, the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI and the non-profit research organization International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT)1 evaluated the data from over 100,000 PHEVs worldwide and came to clear results. The real fuel consumption and CO2emissions of PHEV are on average around two to four times higher than in test cycles, depending on whether the vehicle is used as a private or company car. In order to reduce the consumption of PHEV, users have to charge their vehicle as often as possible and drive in battery-powered mode. 

But customers do not necessarily charge due to the fact that the charging process is linked with additional work for the customer. At a minimum, the effort is simply connecting the charging cable to the vehicle in your own garage. In extreme cases, however, charging can mean locating a public charging station, driving there, being able to use it and having to pay for it. Charging is in any case associated with hurdles that have to be overcome (almost) every day when charging regularly. Therefore, it is to be investigated how the motivation for regular charging can be increased.

How does intrinsic motivation lead to charging?

Options for influencing behavior for regular charging consist in the use of extrinsic or intrinsic incentives. Extrinsic incentives could motivate the customer to charge in order to get a reward or avoid punishment. Such incentives can, under certain circumstances, achieve the desired effect, but they are cost-intensive and may restrict individual freedom because the customer is moved to the desired behavior from outside.

Especially in connection with sustainable behavior, previous research results in psychology and economics show that highlighting the intrinsic benefit has a stronger effect than extrinsic motivation e.g. in the form of financial incentives. The research project therefore wants to find out which psychological factors make up the intrinsic motivation for charging and how these can be activated.

Our research

The ongoing debate about the promotion of charging activity revolves heavily on pure rational factors to explain consumer behavior. This leads to the fact that the promotion of charging only happens through easier handling and extrinsic incentives. However, research has ideas and insights how psychological factors guide customers towards sustainable behavior. Such means based on psychological factors may be much more effective and cheaper to implement and so far largely unused. Therefore, the current research examines the potential of such an approach in the context of e-mobility in cooperation with the BMW Group.


Flavio Kälin,


Fraunhofer ISI & International Council on Clean Transportation (2020): “Real-world usage of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles – Fuel concumption, electric driving and co2 emissions”