Now in its eighth year, L.E.K. Consulting’s 2023 study of global mobility trends shows a world returning to travel, though levels are yet to match pre-pandemic highs. While the penetration of transport modes appears to have mostly recovered to pre-COVID levels, lifting the lid on suppressed levels of travel, the key question remains, is this sustainable in the face of changing attitudes and new technologies?

Green and healthy are important, with green modes of transport such as electric vehicles (EVs), micro mobility, and healthy options such as cycling and walking, being key winners.

Importantly, there has been a significant shift in barriers to EV adoption, as cost continues to decrease, and technology continues to improve. A good example is that top-of-the- range EVs available today have range specifications that meet the needs of 70%-80% of respondents. This change sees cost no longer the number one barrier to EV adoption in UK, US, and AUS, for the first time since we launched the study. Replacing price worries are anxieties around access to charging and battery life/replacement.

Despite recent sales blips, lower cost EVs entering the market and improvements in charging networks point towards the potential for a near-term acceleration in EV adoption. We set out to better understand the consumers who can drive this trend.

We identified three self-reported categories of mobility personalities: ‘Mobility Traditionalists’, ‘Environmental Techies’, and ‘Neutral’. Each have different attitudes to travel, likelihood of EV adoption, perceived barriers to adoption, and key purchasing criteria. A fluent understanding of the nuances of these mobility personalities will be key to creating a thoughtful EV strategy, and navigating the ever-changing EV landscape.

Our study reveals plenty of reasons to be cheerful, with respondents overall appearing more optimistic about the future than pessimistic, a strong suggestion that they are happy with the current pace of mobility innovation and enjoying positive exposure to EVs and ride- sharing. A future with personal BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles), autonomous taxis, and eVTOLs (electric Vertical Take-off and Landing) was considered the most likely scenario for 2040. With most of those surveyed rejecting the idea of a future of less affordable private vehicle ownership and a reliance on micro-mobility and autonomous fleets. But not all demographics are created equal, and it’s 25–45-year-olds in the West that are most likely to be pessimistic about the future.

Key mobility issues are changing

The main issues affecting mobility have changed in recent years. 2019 saw increasing environmental concern, new regulation, and an interest in renewable energy and shared mobility on the rise. But the 2020 Covid pandemic decreased mobility and the start of the energy transition journey – fuelled by a growing recognition of the environmental issues we face on a global basis – brought further change.

2021 saw EVs beginning to gain prominence, but 2022 brought the cost-of-living-crisis, putting the brakes on EV purchase for many, but not stopping the rapid evolution of EV infrastructure.

Fast forward to 2023 and the world has returned to travel and EV concerns are shifting. The year saw ambitious new mobility projects test their mettle, such as Lime becoming the very first micro-mobility company to post a profit in January, and the $65.6m funds raised in December by TIER on their merger with Dott. A glance at the chart below demonstrates just some of the activity that has pushed mobility forward (see Figure 1).

Shifting attitudes to travel

2023 proved to be a year of increased mobility in most transport modes and across the majority of countries surveyed. While driving petrol and diesel cars for personal use is in moderate decline across most geographies, local public transportation such as bus and underground/subways is on the rise (see Figure 2). An examination of changes in the uptake of taxis and ride hailing show much variation from country to country.

One factor driving this change is the continuing gradual return to the office, with all countries working from home less in 2022 and 2023 except for Germany and China. However, only the US has experienced a return to pre-pandemic levels of travel, with pressure on cost of living, along with a persistence in working from home behaviours the likely driver in other countries. Interest in environmentally friendly transport remained strong in 2023, increasing from 2022 in all countries surveyed except the US and UK and Spain and China leading the field. Negative sentiment around car ownership had been a trend in the US and this has slightly unwound, a likely result of the return to work, along with a growing prevalence of EVs.

Across the countries involved in our study the use of green modes of transport have increased in the past year. These include electric cars and vans, electric scooters and bicycles either as part of a share scheme or personally owned. Walking is on the rise too, particularly in Australia, as well as the US and UK.

In the US the slow return to the office is continuing to impact both personal vehicle and public transport usage, with data falling short of pre-pandemic levels. But all other forms of transport, from air travel to ride hailing appear to have surpasses pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, in Europe our data from 2023 shows take up levels equal to or greater than pre-pandemic levels for all modes of transport.

Likely explanations for the robust usage figures for some key modes of transport can be found in both the changing cost of mobility, and a growing interest among individuals around reducing personal environmental impact – an encouraging shift from sentiment to behaviour.

Making the change to EV

EV adoption is an important bellwether for mobility trends, and our latest study looked at the number of people expecting to purchase vehicles in the next three years and identified a percentage of those planning for this to be an electric vehicle. While 15-25% of respondents have their sights set on an EV in most countries, China leads the field with levels more than double this (see Figure 3).

Among existing EV owners, our study shows that between 70% and 90% are likely to repurchase an EV when a replacement is called for. Germany has the strongest level, closely followed by France and then China. Overall, this points towards a positive ownership experience for those who have embraced the electric car trend (see Figure 4).

Understanding consumer mindsets

Understanding attitudes to EVs is an important part of our work. To help gauge these we created three mobility personalities based on views towards the environment, technology, and driving (see Figure 5).

Environmental Techies are interested in protecting the environment and are usually early adopters of nascent technologies. 65%-70% are more willing to put their money where their mouth is and pay an EV premium – more than both traditionalists at 45%-36%, and neutrals at around 50%. The differences between the US and Europe make for interesting comparison, with Spain home to the largest percentage willing to pay a significant premium.

Mobility Traditionalists love driving for fun and enjoy the sound and smell of conventional internal combustion engines. The US and Australia are home to the largest number of traditionalists, with Germany and China showing the lowest number. They tend to be more price-sensitive than either Environmental Techies or Neutrals and are more enthusiastic about all the other key purchasing criteria than the other groups.

Neutrals lack the passion of the other two groups. They think they care about the environment and enjoy technology, but don’t feel too strongly either way.

EV adoption concerns under the microscope

Total varying cost of ownership does impact this decision making, but our analysis suggests that for some vehicle categories, we could approach price parity in the near term.

Usage concerns are major factors too, with perceived issues such as range, lack of charging stations, and poor battery life remaining, and new concerns emerging around uncertain resale value and battery replacement costs making their presence felt (see Figure 6).

We found that the top five concerns are shared across all three respondent types, thought the order varies from group to group (see Figure 7).

The industry is doing much to assuage the concerns of consumers, with range improving to a point where it meets the stated requirements of most consumers and potentially removing an important barrier to EV uptake.

When it comes to charging, the focus is on the twin issues of cost and safety for consumers, with concern about the size of home energy bills and the cost to install home- charging facilities leading across Europe and North America, while in China consumers report anxiety about fire risks as a barrier to EV ownership.

A small percentage of between three and four percent worldwide would purchase a hybrid vehicle (HEV) ahead of an EV. For those surveyed the familiar issues of purchase cost, battery life, and battery replacement cost are all barriers to HEV uptake (see Figure 8).

Looking to the future

While our work brings clarity to the near future of mobility, we have identified four broad themes that have the potential to bring new upheaval.

  • Environmental: The rapid shift to renewable energy continues as oil reserves face running dry. But access to the rare earths needed for battery production is a growing issue too.
  • Economic: Supply chain fragility has had a significant impact across many economies, with stagnating populations adding to many countries’ woes. Asia’s rise signals an important shift in the world’s economic hierarchy.
  • Technological: Growing digitalisation and the rapid acceleration of both AI and battery technologies are important factors to watch. And issues with the production of microchips have already impacted many sectors.
  • Political: Decarbonisation regulation is growing worldwide, but the balance of global wealth and power is shifting, bringing increasingly polarised societies and accelerating levels of conflict.

To help gauge consumer reaction to our rapidly changing future, we looked ahead to 2040 and designed three potential mobility scenarios: Collapsed future; Continue on Trend; and Growth Future. It’s the last scenario that most respondents optimistically predict at around 50%. China leads the pack at 54%, while other countries surveyed settled at between 41% and 46% (see Figure 9).

Overall, our respondents preferred future mobility scenarios that are good for the environment and high-tech. But they want these to be based on proven technologies and to not restrict their convenience of movement – a clear case of wanting to have your cake and eat it (see Figure 10).

As expected, issues around inconvenience, up-front costs, and lack of track record for technologies drove the most negative reactions to the Continue on Trend scenario. And it’s the 25-45 demographic in the West who are most pessimistic in general but keenest on EVs and ride sharing as potential solutions to future mobility issues (see Figure 11).

How L.E.K. can help

Our eight-year global study of emerging mobility trends offers unrivalled insight into this rapidly shifting sector. Our insights and experience are helping mobility companies, and their investors better understand the changing regulation and evolving consumer sentiment that are shaping future mobility. To hear more about our latest Annual Global Mobility Study, register for our webinar, or to tell us about your mobility sector ambitions, please contact Becrom Basu.

About the study

L.E.K. Consulting has collaborated with Vision Mobility and CuriosityCX on the 8th Annual Global Mobility Study. Building on prior years, this year’s sample includes 3,163 respondents across the US (31k), Canada (10k), UK (7k), France (7k), Spain (7k), Germany (8k), China (5k) and Australia (7k).

We would like to thank James Carter, Founder, Vision Mobility and Dave Fish, CEO, CuriosityCX for their support in producing this annual study.

L.E.K. Consulting is a registered trademark of L.E.K. Consulting. All other products and brands mentioned in this document are properties of their respective owners. © 2024 L.E.K. Consulting

Questions about our latest thinking?

Related Insights