Publication Detail

Symbolism in Early Markets for Hybrid Electric Vehicles


Research Report

Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS), Electric Vehicle Research Center

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Suggested Citation:
Heffner, Reid R., Kenneth S. Kurani, Thomas S. Turrentine (2007) Symbolism in Early Markets for Hybrid Electric Vehicles. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-07-01

This study explores the symbolic meanings for hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) being appropriated and communicated by the vehicles’ owners. As symbolic meanings are shown to be important to HEV purchase and use, understanding both the meanings and the social processes in the construction of these meanings is essential for policy makers and others hoping to promote “green” vehicles. HEVs embody new combinations of meanings in the vehicle market. Many observers who fail to recognize this struggle to explain why some people want HEVs. They may characterize HEV buyers as naïve about calculating payback on fuel economy, or call HEVs “a badge of honor” or status symbol. This research breaks through such simplistic categorizations. Through the telling and analysis of HEV buyers’ own stories this research takes a robust approach to understanding the creation and spread of new meanings and development of markets. Household buyers of the first generation of HEVs told these stories in semi-structured home interviews. Their stories are analyzed by drawing upon semiotics to explore the formation and structure of meanings. In particular, the study explores how widely recognized social (denotative) meanings are connected to more personal (connotative) meanings.

Keywords: consumer, hybrid electric vehicle, market, narrative, semiotics, symbols