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Interpersonal Influence within Car Buyers’ Social Networks: Five Perspectives on Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle Demonstration Participants

  • Author(s): Axsen, Jonn
  • Kurani, Kenneth S.
  • et al.
Abstract

To explore the role of social interactions in individuals’ assessments of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), this study analyzes over 190 social (interpersonal) interactions elicited in interviews with 31 individuals in eight different social networks centered on households in the Sacramento, California region. Results are framed within five theoretical perspectives on social influence: contagion, conformity, dissemination, translation, and reflexivity. Responses within networks centered on participants in a study of consumer response to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) suggest that interpersonal interactions do shape consumers assessments of PHEVs, and likely electric-drive vehicles generally. Characterizing how social interactions influence vehicle assessments and adoption behaviors, contagion (including diffusion of innovations), conformity, and dissemination provide useful concepts, but translation and reflexivity better provide the language and theoretical depth required to integrate the various motives and perceptions observed. Through translation and reflexivity, preliminary analysis suggests that certain types of households and social network may be more amenable to developing new, pro-societal interpretations of vehicle technology—particularly those households that: i) are in a liminal state in their lifestyle practices, ii) already have a basic understanding of functional aspects of PHEV technology, and iii) find supportive pro-societal values within their social network. This exploratory, qualitative study demonstrates that social interactions are important and their study benefits from the development and use of behaviorally realistic theoretical frameworks to advance transportation and energy policies that rely on the widespread uptake of new technologies.

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