Tesla is miles ahead of the competition when it comes to the brands Americans associate with electric vehicles, largely reflecting the pioneering automaker’s ability to captivate the public imagination with its innovative technology and vision, according to a recent nationwide survey conducted by TechnoMetrica. However, while Tesla has a commanding hold on the hearts and minds of consumers, particularly more affluent Americans, our study suggests that established car manufacturers are well-positioned to convince mainstream buyers to leap into the EV market.
Brand Awareness by the Numbers
When asked to identify the brand that first comes to their mind when thinking about electric vehicles, nearly half (47 percent) of consumers surveyed cited Tesla. Running in a distant second place was Toyota, which was named by 13 percent of consumers. Meanwhile, Chevrolet and Honda each garnered a top-of-mind awareness share of 3 percent. Rounding out the top five were Ford and Nissan, each of which was recalled by 2 percent of survey respondents.
Besides measuring top-of-mind brand awareness, TechnoMetrica also asked consumers to name any other brands they associate with electric vehicles. By combining these responses with the top-of-mind awareness results, we computed the overall EV brand awareness for each automotive brand. Tesla holds the highest overall awareness of any brand, at 59 percent. Toyota follows at a distance with 28 percent of overall awareness. Just over one in five (22 percent) consumers associated Chevrolet with electric vehicles, while 12 percent named Ford. Meanwhile, Nissan and Honda each hold an overall EV brand awareness score of 11 percent.
Tesla’s strong presence in the minds of consumers reflects its growing dominance in the U.S. EV market. Between January and November 2019, Tesla accounted for 77 percent of total electric vehicle sales in the U.S., according to an analysis by CleanTechnica. The automaker’s commanding hold on the market has largely been fueled by its more affordable Model 3 vehicle, which alone represents an estimated 63 percent of 2019 U.S. EV sales. If you exclude sales of Tesla Model 3, all-electric vehicle sales were down approximately 20 percent in 2019, as per Forbes.
Trojan Horse of the Luxury Market
Tesla has also made significant in-roads in the overall luxury vehicle market, pointing to the automaker’s ability to successfully position itself as a premium luxury brand rather than merely a maker of electric vehicles. The Model 3 was the best-selling vehicle in the small and mid-size luxury car segment during the third quarter of 2019, with a total of 43,000 deliveries in the U.S., miles ahead of the second-place model, the Lexus ES, which reported quarterly sales of 13,916 units, according to estimates from CleanTechnica.
However, while Tesla has lured a large share of luxury buyers to the EV market, giving other luxury brands such as BMW, Mercedes, and Audi run for their money, our study suggests that the electric car maker has yet to capture non-affluent consumers, providing plenty of room for established automakers to compete for and win a sizeable share of the EV mass market.
Under the Hood: Race for the Mass Market is Up for Grabs
Our survey finds that awareness of Tesla is largely concentrated among the wealthiest Americans, while lower-income households report significantly lower recognition of the brand. Nearly 6 in 10 (58 percent) households earning more than $75K a year named Tesla when asked about the EV brand that first comes to their mind, compared with 43 percent of those making between $50K and $75K, 35 percent of $30K to $50K income-earners, and 28 percent of households with incomes below $30K a year.
Also, lower-income households were far less likely to recall any brand off the top of their minds. Close to half (48 percent) of households earning less than $30K a year were unable to recall an EV brand, along with 36 percent of those making between $30K and $50K and 21 percent of the $50K to $75K income cohort. Meanwhile, just 12 percent of households with incomes of $75K or more were unable to name a brand.
The lower levels of awareness among non-affluent consumers likely reflect resistance to electric vehicles due to their perceived high costs and luxury status. Thus, by positioning their electric vehicles as affordable alternatives to Tesla, established automakers will be primed to win over the hearts and minds of the everyday vehicle buyer.
A Pathway to Quick Success
Established automakers also have a huge opportunity to make in-roads with another key demographic group: women. Our study shows a significant gender gap when it comes to EV brand awareness, particularly with regards to Tesla. The Silicon Valley automaker garners 57 percent top-of-mind awareness among men, compared with just 39 percent among women. Further, 29 percent of women were unable to associate a brand with electric vehicles, as opposed to 15 percent of men. Women represent a critical market for automakers, playing a leading role in the vast majority of vehicle purchases in the U.S. Thus, a smart automaker might use this insight and develop marketing campaigns that appeal to women to succeed in the EV mass market.
Time for Legacy Players to Step Up their Game
Established automakers enjoy some key advantages over Tesla that could make it easier for them to win the race for control of the mainstream EV market. For instance, Tesla lacks the vast dealership and service networks that legacy brands have built over time. Also, established brands have a greater capability to mass-produce large quantities of electric vehicles at a lower cost. Meanwhile, Tesla has had its share of production problems, particularly with regards to its Model 3 vehicle.
In summary, while Tesla currently holds command of the budding EV market, established automakers have a strong opportunity to win over a large share of mainstream consumers, many of whom still lack sufficient awareness of electric vehicles. However, as our study indicates, for automakers to gain a foothold in the EV mass market, they cannot rely solely on the power of brand or legacy but must make concerted efforts to present their EVs as suitable and affordable alternatives to Tesla.
TechnoMetrica conducted a national telephone survey of 876 U.S. drivers between October 24th and October 31st, 2019, using both landlines and cell phones. The survey carries a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.