Can Electric Vehicles go the distance? EV Audiences, Misinformation & Narratives in 2023

Can Electric Vehicles go the distance? EV Audiences, Misinformation & Narratives in 2023

  • Automotive

15th November 2023

As the world transitions towards a sustainable future, the buzz surrounding Electric Vehicles is not limited to their sleek designs and reduced carbon footprints. 

It's become deeply politicized, amongst both media and audiences. Navigating this landscape, where diverse audiences and narratives converge and split, poses a unique challenge for stakeholders in the electric vehicle (EV) industry, as well as governments, energy companies and all kinds of institutional bodies.

Marketing and comms professionals seeking to understand the dynamics and diverse perspectives surrounding EVs must therefore grapple with this intricate web of competing audiences and narratives - and it's only getting more complicated.

In March 2022, public interest in electric vehicles saw a steady uptick, driven by the impact of the Russian-Ukraine conflict and President Biden’s declaration to cut-off Russian oil. But informed audiences researching the topic also find that this region plays a significant role as a major supplier of essential materials for EVs. This spike therefore serves as not only a flashpoint, but also a microcosm of a conversation that's become thornier and more fractured since our last exploration of the topic. 

Using Pulsar TRAC, we examined 3 million+ posts and articles from the US, UK, and ANZ regions between Feb 28 - Oct 31st. This data encompasses various platforms, including social media like X (formerly known as Twitter), Facebook, Instagram and Reddit, as well as news sources and Google search. 

As the electric vehicle revolution propels a new wave of mining for raw materials, audiences grapple with crucial questions - questioning if it is genuinely the most eco-friendly path toward a greener future. Simultaneously, concerns arise about the readiness of the infrastructure to align with these ambitious environmental goals. Engaged audiences must now navigate a topic that is infiltrated by misinformation.

We conducted audience analysis in three main regions, segmenting communities based on shared interests. In the UK, US, and ANZ, we identified three key groups: Conservatives, Progressives, and Techies. We've grouped these communities for international analysis, allowing us to outline  differences in both geography and community. 

Using TRAC,  we can leverage AI to surface which narratives are impacting audiences the most, and how these mutate and coalesce over time .

Conservatives are critical, expressing skepticism about the EV industry and questioning the extent to which electric vehicles can truly reduce carbon emissions. They raise concerns about government incentives to promote EV adoption, which they believe may adversely affect traditional auto workers and the national grid supply. These critics also argue that EV production, including mining for essential minerals, raises environmental and labor-related issues.

Techies highly value the eco-friendly aspects of EVs while acknowledging the current shortcomings in charging infrastructure. These individuals actively exchange information about charging experiences, distances covered, and potential roadblocks to purchase. They view criticisms of EVs as scaremongering and advocate for cross-brand technology compatibility as a step toward a more viable EV ecosystem. Their perspective is that government intervention is crucial to establishing a more consistent charging network.

Progressives view the expansion and investment in the EV industry as a significant boon for the economy, job creation, and personal finances. However, they also recognize that EV policy and investment can become pawns in trade conflicts and geopolitical tensions. The key discussion among progressives centers on identifying the ultimate beneficiaries of substantial electric vehicle investments: are the gains primarily benefiting the EV brands, shareholders,  governments, everyday drivers, or the environment... and who loses out?

Exploring the top narratives across the EV conversation has unearthed a significant audience focus on materials, with minerals and materials playing a pivotal role in shaping how audiences perceive the EV market.

Lithium and cobalt take center stage in the materials sub-conversation. While all regional communities emphasize concerns about unethical labor practices, the US communities particularly spotlight the imperative for stronger national security. They delve into discussions on how government regulations may expose the country to potentially detrimental economic policies.

But all regions have their own national politics to traverse. The UK’s relations with the EU tend to have an impact on how audiences perceive the EV market.

Australian audiences, meanwhile, grapple with ethical trade challenges involving lithium-nickel negotiations with Indonesia. Concerns include reported deforestation from nickel mining, while advocates emphasize economic stimulation and job opportunities in developing nations.

While regional segmentation highlights political themes, community-based analysis -in which audiences are segmented by shared interests- offers a deeper perspective. Conservatives voice ethical concerns in mineral sourcing, while Techies embrace cutting-edge innovations like direct lithium extraction and mainstream use of sodium-ion batteries. Progressives focus on nickel, debating extraction methods; some critique for sustainability, while others applaud political initiatives for demand and national security, like the US-Africa partnership in nickel processing.

Platforms that allow for longer content threads and discussion, such as Reddit, provide a space where individuals can source knowledge from their peers. The irony that mining a finite resource is essential to a cleaner mode of transportation has not gone unnoticed amongst many on the platform. With sustainability concerns a main driver for EV take-up,  this is a significant drawback for would-be buyers.

EV sustainability purchasing behaviour

Naturally, these different narratives do not take place in a vacuum, but are closely tied to the reputation of the brands cast as protagonists in the space. One name, perhaps unsuprisingly, stands out—Tesla.

While Tesla garners frequent attention in EV  conversations due to its groundbreaking role, market success, and trailblazing innovations, Elon Musk’s outsized influence on Tesla’s public image is a hugely popular topic amongst audiences.

In our 2021 analysis of the EV market, Volkswagen and BMW held the 2nd and 3rd positions for brand share of voice in EV conversations; a 2023 update on the data reveals three brands have overtaken them: Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis. And, if previous SOV was largely linked to brands expanding capabilities and making future projections, these more recent changes are often driven by less positive factors 

Media coverage highlighting quarterly losses in legacy automakers' EV divisions can challenge the reputatation of both individual brands, and the sector as a whole. As a result, audiences are maneuvering through a complex landscape of conflicting headlines, prompting debates on what's fact and fiction, particularly on platforms like Reddit.

The electric vehicle industry is no stranger to the challenges of misinformation, which not only fuel the agendas of those disseminating false narratives but also confound potential buyers. Staying informed amidst the multitude of narratives surrounding the industry can be complex, but identifying the sub-narratives most susceptible to misinformation is key.

How EVs affect people's day-to-day lives, along with larger concerns like society, national security, China's role in moving from coal to renewables, and the environmental impact, are all areas open to discussion and misinformation. This type of content, when highly visible to audiences, has the potential to disrupt the market, leaving potential consumers cautious about their entry into the EV landscape.
As the EV conversation continues to transform, data-driven insights emerge as a vital compass, enabling industry stakeholders to steer through the dynamic currents of change and make informed decisions. With the ability to discern fact from fiction and anticipate the changing tides of the conversation, we can collectively accelerate the transition to a cleaner, more sustainable future, keeping industry players' EV journeys running smoothly.

This analysis was conducted with Pulsar TRAC. Understanding how different audiences talk about brands, narratives, events and issues over time can bring powerful and unique insights to your marketing research, planning, creative and messaging.

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This article was created using data from TRAC