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Europcar sees growing divide between drivers and cars

Europcar sees growing divide between drivers and cars

Europcar, the leader in car hire services in Europe, has today released the key findings of the fourth edition of the Europcar Transportation and Mobility Observatory conducted in partnership with polling institute Ipsos. The survey, which seeks to identify new trends in European mobility, is based on responses from more than 6,000 drivers, age 18 and over, in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the UK.

Among highlights of the 2011 edition, the vast majority of Europeans have significantly changed their driving habits in the past year, primarily for cost reasons but also to protect the environment. Their love affair with their car is also waning, as the freedom their car procures them is increasingly outweighed by the expense and impracticality of car ownership. Indeed, an increasing number of drivers have considered or are considering doing away with their car. Especially in urban areas, alternative solutions such as public transportation, car pooling and even cycling are making inroads. Meanwhile, cars available in self service, and features such as geo-location technology to find the vehicle in the street and payment by the minute or hour, are making rental an increasingly attractive option.

Commenting on the survey findings, Philippe Guillemot, Chief Executive Officer of Europcar Groupe, said: “The economic crisis has changed habits and created a need for smart solutions. As European consumers rethink their priorities and draw on an increasingly broad palette of services, their mobility choices are becoming lifestyle choices. The advent of new rental features, such as finding a vehicle by cellphone and payment by the minute, caters to this trend and we see an era of mobility on demand emerging. As the European leader in our industry, Europcar is essentially enabling this lifestyle change and we will continue to innovate to provide our customers with ever more simple, convenient and affordable mobility, today and in the future.”

From changing driving habits to giving up the car?

Analysis of Bruno Marzloff, sociologist and coordinator of Chronos*, a European think tank on new mobility.


“The car will continue to be used for most travel needs for the coming years. Still, behind this usage lies a profound change in attitudes and new trends are emerging.

The car is becoming a utility, a service which is part of a broader system of mobility options. The way to get from one place to another now reflects the traveler’s ability to leverage different means of transportation (train, walking, bus, bicycle) and optimize use of the car (rental, car-pooling, car-sharing). In the future, the traveler will aim for “mastered mobility”: even if the itinerary is increasingly complex, he or she will want to be able to complete it within the expected budget and timeframe.

Players in mobility face three main challenges. The first is the ability to withdraw from traditional models to consider that the customer is “shared”: part of the driver’s travel takes place before and after the time in the car. The second challenge is to guarantee seamless mobility and facilitate the traveler’s transition from one means of transportation to another. The third challenge lies in the regulation of sustainable mobility by improving cars’ occupation and usage rates.”

Spotlight on the UK

Changes in driving habits among British drivers have increased, this year reaching the Europe-wide level

This year, a larger number of British drivers changed their driving behaviour for cost reasons (+5 points vs. 2010) to put the UK in line with the European average (91%).

While they are strongly attached to their car, British drivers remain in line with Europeans overall when it comes to considering giving up car ownership for economic reasons

More than 4 out of 10 British drivers are willing to consider the idea of giving up their car. The British see their level of expenditure as among the lowest in Europe and the cost seems reasonable to them. However, this year, they are among those most likely to say that owning a car is expensive (88%, +4 points since 2010, vs 83% in Europe). They would give up their car to save money (86%) and because of the increase in expenditure (84%, +5 points vs 2010).

Car hire appears as an attractive alternative but must be compatible with needs

As was the case last year, nearly 1 out of 2 Britons who could give up their car would think of car hire as an alternative. Those not considering rental see the cost as too high (for 75%) and the service as not practical (48%). The UK shows definite interest in solutions making it possible to facilitate car hire.

European results in detail

Looking at the overall survey results in detail, 91% of European drivers said they had changed the way they drive in the past year for cost reasons, up 1.5 points from 2010. The changes include driving more slowly and using their car less often for short or long trips. Like last year, Portuguese, French and Spanish drivers led the way in this area (at 95%, 94% and 93%, respectively) while German and Belgian drivers were the least likely to change their ways (at 89% and 86%, respectively).

Portuguese and French drivers also led in changing their ways for environmental reasons (at 89% and 87%, respectively); the UK trailed in this area at 76%. Overall, 82% of European drivers said they had changed the way they drive for ecological reasons.

In the wake of the economic crisis, an increasing number of Europeans consider the cost of car ownership to be expensive, with 36% responding “absolutely” in 2011, compared with 33% in 2010. The UK topped the list in this area, with 88% of British drivers saying it costs a lot to own a car.

Indeed, 43% of European drivers said they have considered or could consider giving up their car (or one of their household’s cars), up 4 points from 2010 and 7 points from 2008. Of these, 84% mentioned financial reasons as the motivation—a 3-point increase from last year – while 50% mentioned ecological reasons.

Spain overtook Italy to top the list of respondents considering this radical move while Belgian drivers were least likely to consider this option. Among German drivers, 37% said they could consider giving up one of their cars in 2011, a 9-point jump from the 2010 level.

In urban areas with populations of more than 200,000, 47% of drivers have considered or could consider giving up at least one of their household cars in the next 12 months. This trend is particularly strong among drivers under the age of 35 or in upper socio-professional categories. Italy tops the list here with 55% of respondents, followed by Spain (52%), France (46%), the UK (46%), Germany (41%), Portugal (39%) and Belgium (29%).

A growing divide between driver and car.

The Observatory confirmed that the economic crisis has led drivers to seriously rethink their relationship with their car. In 2011, 56% of respondents “completely agree” that a car allows them to be free and independent, down from 58% last year and 62% in 2009.

Similarly, fewer claim to like having their own car: 88% on average in 2011, down from 90% in 2010 and 93% in 2009. The sentiment among Spanish drivers dropped 5 points, from 93% in 2009 to 88% in 2011, while the UK dropped 3 points to 93%. In Portugal, the proportion went from 81% “completely agree” in 2009 to 68% in 2011. In fact, only France and Italy were roughly stable in the two-year period, at 54% and 39-40%”completely agree” respectively. 

While car hire remains an attractive alternative to ownership, cars available in “self-service” are poised for success in urban areas

What alternative means of transportation would Europeans use if they don’t drive their cars? The survey reveals that 84% of respondents would turn to public transportation (bus, subway, tram), with Spanish drivers showing particular interest in this area (88%). For individual motorized transportation, car hire was the most popular alternative at 50%—and even 61% in Spain—followed by car pooling (49%), two-wheeled motor vehicles (36%), and cars available in self service (35%). Cycling was also popular, with 84% of Germans and 77% of the Belgians saying they would turn to a bicycle for their transportation needs when feasible.

Car hire is seen as a good way to adapt the vehicle to specific needs by 46% of drivers in Europe overall, 50% in Germany and Spain, and even 53% in Portugal. If 41% of Europeans consider rental to be a practical service, that figure rises to 55% in Spain. For 37% of Europeans, rental is more ecological than ownership (41% in Italy) and 35% see it as more economical than ownership (42% each in Italy and Spain).

The survey revealed that new services to make the rental process even more practical, such as booking and finding the nearest rental car by mobile phone, and payment by the hour or even minute, would make some 57% of Europeans overall and 61% of urban residents even more likely to rent a car.

*Chronos is a research firm specialising in sociology and innovation, and focusing on four main areas: mobility, territories, digital and daily life.

Survey Methodology

IPSOS conducted the survey via Internet in March 2011, among 6122 car owners constituting a representative sample in terms of age, gender and region of each country: Belgium (509 respondents), France (1022), Germany (1029), Italy (1019), Portugal (509), Spain (1004) and UK (1030).

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