Meg Thomson
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Millennials Are Creating a Demand for Sustainable Products, Including Hybrid and Electric Vehicles

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Photo: Pixaline

As an automotive journalist, I spend a decent portion of my day reading the news. I like to stay informed about current models, legislation taking effect, and industry trends on the horizon. And if you’ve paid any attention to automotive over the last few years, you probably know that electric vehicles are sparking a lot of buzz in the industry.

The environmental impact of cars isn’t going completely unnoticed. Automakers are already introducing hybrid and electric vehicles into their lineups, with some brands announcing fully-electric lineups as early as next year. However, the implementation of electric vehicles has been slow, to say the least. As countries around the world cloud with smog and harmful emissions, the automotive industry should be desperate to clear our airs by introducing more eco-friendly options. Unfortunately, the response to these harmful air conditions hasn’t exactly been swift. In fact, automotive lobbyists have pushed back against fuel-efficiency regulations. So what’s the holdup?

Electric vehicles play a unique role in the traditional business model. Under normal circumstances, a company creates a product — or a line of products — to satisfy a public need. Often, the public doesn’t recognize the need until it’s satisfied by a product. Henry Ford is famously misquoted as saying, “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they’d have said faster horses.” NPR’s automotive correspondent, Sonari Glinton, points to the introduction of electric vehicles as an outlier in the law of supply and demand: “It’s the only consumer product that I’ve heard of where the companies say build an interest first, and then we’ll sell them.” Consumers don’t need electric vehicles; at least, not yet.

So what makes automakers think electric vehicles will sell?

One word: millennials.

Millennials are known for pushing boundaries surrounding the established status quo. When surveyed by Nielsen, 73% of millennials said they’d be willing to spend a little bit more on a product if they knew it was coming from an eco-friendly brand, compared to just 66% of the general public. This includes both environmentally friendly products, manufacturing, and packaging. A company’s moral principles are important to millennials too, with 81% demanding companies include charitable work and positive values into their corporate culture, according to a study by Horizon Media.

A poll from the Clinton Global Initiative and Microsoft shows that 66% of millennials agree there is “solid evidence” supporting climate change. Of those millennials, 75% of them believe humans are to blame. Transportation is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, making it a logical place to start when rethinking our approach to the environment. As millennials age, they are becoming the primary market for new cars — and millennials have a reputation for reshaping the way we consume. An automaker with electric vehicles will likely have an edge over other brands when marketing to the millennial consumer base.

The auto industry may feel ahead of the curve in terms of demand for electric vehicles, but it’s far too late when it comes to repairing its environmental impact.

Sources: NPR, Forbes, Nielsen, MSNBC, The Washington Post, Environmental Protection Agency