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With the potential to be as big a change in personal transport since the gentrification of the horse, low carbon electric vehicles present a major shift in the perception of the car and how it impacts on the environment, and on daily life.
As part of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences' Technology Strategy Board-supported Mini-E project looking at electric vehicles and charging technologies, the Department of Psychology was brought in by BMW to help fully understand and study the social and psychological aspects of driving electric cars, working in collaboration with colleagues at Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany.
The success of this study led to the Psychology group receiving funding from the Technology Strategy Board to study the psychological impact of driving this type of vehicle as a part of their much larger Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Demonstrator programme. This programme involved 349 vehicles from 19 manufacturers, including; BMW, Mercedes Smart, Tata, Ford, Mitsubishi, Jaguar Land Rover, Toyota, Peugeot and Nissan.
With responsibility for designing the research methods, analysing data and sharing information related to drivers' expectations and experiences, the group from Oxford Brookes University undertook questionnaires and interviews which were completed by trial participants before, during and after the trial, which facilitated an examination of overall adaptation to the driving experience, specific assessment of changes in drivers' expectations and experiences regarding range and charging and identification of factors that enhance the likelihood of an electric vehicle purchase.
This research provided the first insight into the expectations and experiences of private and fleet drivers of EVs throughout the UK, revealing that drivers were impressed by the acceleration capacity, the level of fun experienced in driving the vehicles and that getting used to the new driving style and controls was quicker and easier than expected, but that range estimation was not as easy to judge as had been expected.