The transition to electric vehicles is an important strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from passenger cars. Modelling future pathways helps identify critical drivers and uncertainties. Global integrated assessment models (IAMs) have been used extensively to analyse climate mitigation policy. IAMs emphasise technological change processes but are largely silent on important social and behavioural dimensions to future technological transitions.
Here, we develop a novel conceptual framing and empirical evidence base on social learning processes relevant for vehicle adoption. We then implement this formulation of social learning in IMAGE, a widely-used global IAM. We apply this new modelling approach to analyse how technological learning and social learning interact to influence electric vehicle transition dynamics. We find that technological learning and social learning processes can be mutually reinforcing. Increased electric vehicle market shares can induce technological learning which reduces technology costs while social learning stimulates diffusion from early adopters to more risk-averse adopter groups. In this way, both types of learning process interact to stimulate each other. In the absence of social learning, however, the perceived risks of electric vehicle adoption among later-adopting groups remains prohibitively high. In the absence of technological learning, electric vehicles remain relatively expensive and therefore is only an attractive choice for early adopters. This first-of-its-kind model formulation of both social and technological learning is a significant contribution to improving the behavioural realism of global IAMs. Applying this new modelling approach emphasises the importance of market heterogeneity, real-world consumer decision-making, and social dynamics as well as technology parameters, to understand climate mitigation potentials.