Publication Detail

Symbolism, Signs, and Accounts of Electric Vehicles in California


Journal Article

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

Suggested Citation:
Kurani, Kenneth S., Nicolette Caperello, Jennifer TyreeHageman, Jamie Davies (2018) Symbolism, Signs, and Accounts of Electric Vehicles in California. Energy Research & Social Science 46, 345 - 355

Conceptual frameworks regarding the spread of new ideas and products through a relevant social group posit communication is necessary between those few group members who are first to act upon the new idea or product and the many more potential later actors. In the case of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs), achieving potential social goals regarding human health, climate, air quality and energy requires many more households become PEV owners and users than have so far. Workshops were convened with PEV owners and owners of internal combustion engine and hybrid vehicles (collectively, non-PEVs) in three regions throughout California representing different levels of PEV sales and charging infrastructure deployment. Participants guided the creation of their workshop’s agenda: non-PEV owners stated their questions about PEVs; PEV owners added more they wanted to tell about PEVs and about themselves becoming and being PEV owners. In the subsequent conversations, PEV owners constructed “accounts”—both in the sense of (informally) tallying the costs of buying a PEV and in the sense of telling a story of their lives with PEVs. Their storytelling conveyed the signs of PEVs: how PEVs, charging infrastructure, and incentives are (to PEV owners) an obvious suite of symbols and what those symbols mean (to PEV owners). In effect, the PEV owners teach the owners of non-PEVs a new symbol system and in doing so enhance the non-PEV owners’ ability to see, hear, and interpret the signs of PEVs. Routinely, but not universally, among the non-PEV owners learning the symbol system of PEVs produces more positive evaluations of PEVs.

Keywords: Narrative; Account; Electric vehicle; Workshop; Symbols