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Global Study Reveals Shift in Consumer Perception of Sustainable Mobility

A “sustainable vehicle” is no longer defined just by drive-train technology, but also by the CO2 footprint in production and the use of easily recyclable materials.

Stephen Moore

May 30, 2023

5 Min Read
electric car with forest reflection on glass surfaces
Scharfsinn86/iStock via Getty Images

A new global survey by Asahi Kasei reveals major differences among the world's four largest automotive markets in terms of brand loyalty, understanding of sustainability, and acceptance of purely battery-powered and self-driving cars.

In November 2022, Japanese technology company Asahi Kasei and Cologne, Germany–based market research institute Skopos conducted their fourth Automotive Interior Survey in the four most important automotive markets — Germany, China, the United States, and Japan. One thousand vehicle users with different income levels in each market answered questions about their purchasing behavior and understanding of automotive sustainability as well as acceptance and usage scenarios for autonomous vehicles.

Consumers want sustainability and value-chain transparency

Even with the transformation to a zero-emission vehicle, the mission of achieving sustainable mobility is far from complete. The survey results show a “sustainable vehicle” is no longer just defined by the drive-train technology, but also by the CO2 footprint in production, the use of easily recyclable materials, and even the decarbonization of vehicle manufacturers and their suppliers. In short, sustainability and transparency along the entire value chain are playing an increasingly prominent role from the customer's perspective.

Heiko Rother, general manager of Business Development Automotive at Asahi Kasei Europe, commented: "The topic of sustainability is becoming increasingly complex and poses enormous challenges for the automotive industry. With our expertise in green hydrogen and CO2- and bio-based materials, as well as the use of recyclates and recycling technologies, we want to achieve the goal of sustainable mobility together with our partners."

Global erosion in brand loyalty

The results of the new survey show respondents in all four regions prefer to continue owning a car in the future. One in two respondents in Germany and the United States can imagine purchasing a new car; this proportion is significantly higher in China (79%) and Japan (62%). Not owning a car or using car-sharing services only is not yet an option for respondents in Germany (11%), the United States (3%), and Japan (4%).

In Germany, the United States, and Japan, as in recent years, one in two vehicle users would choose a model from another brand when buying their next car. In China, 82% of respondents said they would choose a car from another manufacturer. By comparison, in 2020 only 41% could imagine switching brands. The rapidly growing range of domestic brands in the world's largest car market will further intensify competition for customers' favor in the coming years. In addition, differentiation via price, drive-train technology, as well as interior equipment and functions is becoming increasingly important.

Michael Franchy, director of North American Mobility for Asahi Kasei America, stated: “To address this challenge, OEMs need to partner with suppliers, who have expertise across interior, exterior, and electrification, which will allow them to shorten development times and bring new features and functions to market quicker.”

Range and charging time key factors in EV acceptance

In China, 58% of respondents said they would consider buying a purely battery-powered electric car. In Germany, only 29% choose this option; in the United States, 21%; and in Japan, 18%. Among potential EV buyers in all regions, range and charging time are important factors in the purchasing decision. Thirty-nine percent of potential EV buyers in Germany also look at CO2 emissions during vehicle production. This shows the issue of sustainability is becoming a more important and more complex part of the purchasing decision process.

Self-driving vehicles face rocky road in US, Germany

In the new survey, Asahi Kasei placed a special focus on the topic of autonomous driving. The results show that in Germany and the United States, more than one in two respondents currently reject the use of fully autonomous cars. In Asia, on the other hand, survey participants are much more open to the new technology: In China, only 10% of all respondents are against its use, while in Japan, 22% are anti autonomy. In both countries, one in two respondents can even imagine buying a fully autonomous vehicle. Chinese manufacturers have caught up rapidly in electromobility in recent years. Customer affinity for new technologies favors rapid market penetration of innovations and might contribute to China taking a leading role in the field of autonomous driving, as well.

As is already the case with conventional vehicles, easy-to-clean textiles and surfaces as well as easily adjustable seats are very important to respondents in all regions and regardless of vehicle type. Individualized interior lighting and a function for darkening the windows help with reading and relaxing.

Even in fully autonomous vehicles, a large proportion of vehicle users in Germany, the United States, and China prefer to have a steering wheel and brake pedal for optional manual control. In Japan, one in two expressed that preference. In Germany and the United States, in particular, this option can help increase acceptance of autonomous vehicles.

Rother concluded: "Individual mobility and the car will continue to play a key role in people's lives worldwide. Preferences in terms of usage scenarios and equipment indicate what the interior of increasingly autonomous vehicles may look like. This makes it more crucial than ever to focus on customers — their wishes and the driving experience — when developing new materials and technologies."

About the Author(s)

Stephen Moore

Stephen has been with PlasticsToday and its preceding publications Modern Plastics and Injection Molding since 1992, throughout this time based in the Asia Pacific region, including stints in Japan, Australia and his current location Singapore. His current beat focuses on automotive. Stephen is an avid folding bicycle rider, often taking is bike on overseas business trips, and proud dachshund owner.

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