Last week, Nissan held a symposium in Singapore to discuss the future of mobility in the fast-growing Asia and Oceania region. The fourth edition of Nissan Futures focused on areas of electrification, autonomous driving, connectivity and sustainable mobility.

Conversations at the three-day event centred on how new mobility solutions will be able to help tackle challenges such as pollution, urbanisation and congestion.

On the electrification front, interesting insights were gleaned about how consumers in ASEAN perceive the topic, despite the fact that EV penetration in the region has been soft. A study commissioned by Nissan (no doubt fuelled by the company’s intended push in this area over the next five years) and conducted by research house Frost & Sullivan in January shed light on demand for electric vehicles, motivating factors for buyers as well as barriers to adoption.

Data revealed by the survey, which sampled 1,800 respondents in six countries (Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines), revealed that consumers are aware of the tech and are not averse to it, but are approaching it with a cautious attitude due to the current lack of infrastructure and incentives.

Awareness of the different platforms within the electrification grouping is high, though the highest association of electric vehicles is with battery electric vehicles (BEVs), at 83%. Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam are most evolved in their understanding of pure electric vehicles.

This is less so in Thailand and Malaysia. It cited that the possibility was mainly due to the significant presence of plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) and full/parallel hybrids in both countries, skewing the perspective towards the latter.

Out of the 1,800 respondents, 37% – or one in three – revealed that they are open to considering an electric vehicle (EV) when they make their next purchase decision. Customers in the Philippines (46% of respondents), Thailand (44%) and Indonesia (41%) emerged as the most enthusiastic about electric cars. Malaysia was exactly at the average, at 37%.

Across the region, two out of three consumers identified safety standards as the most important motivating factor if they were to be looking to purchase an electric vehicle. Charging convenience was identified as the second-most important.

In Singapore, customers rate government incentives as a key motivator, while in Indonesia and Vietnam, environmental awareness is rated higher. In Malaysia and Thailand, lower operating costs of EVs is a more critical motivating factor than government incentives, according to the survey. Those in the younger age group are also more open to electric vehicles, the study revealed.

The issue of cleaner, sustainable energy was also covered, with 97% of respondents saying that their choice would take into consideration the source of the fuel source the power is derived from and whether it is renewable, though 81% did also say it wouldn’t really have an impact on the decision to go with an EV.

As for driving growth in electric cars, respondents said that incentives are definitely needed to influence a switch from conventional cars to electric vehicles. Lowering the cost of EVs via tax breaks is the biggest prompt needed for more people to consider electric cars, with three out of four (75%) citing a paramount need for this.

Other (non-financial) incentives that would motivate customers include installation of charging stations in apartment buildings (70%), priority lanes for EVs (56%) and free parking (53%).

Adoption barriers were also revealed in the study, and range anxiety – or the fear of running out of power – is the main drawback for the adoption of EVs. Consumers also said they were unsure about the safety standards these vehicles adhere to, and concerns remain over the lack of public and private charging infrastructure.

The last isn’t just limited to countries with a large expanse of territory. Interestingly, such issues also affect Singapore, long thought to be the easiest location for EVs to grow at the quickest rate because of its compactness – as was highlighted in discussions at the event, the lack of charging facilities in apartments is a big reason why take up or consideration has been slow in the republic.

Infrastructure rollout and EV adoption is often considered in chicken and egg terms, but it’s obvious that comprehensive charging facilities are needed not just in the public domain but close to home and at work, and for pure EVs, the means to carry out fast charging is a must.

Another latent point is that of proactive participation from the government – the prevailing view at the event was that demand can only be translated into a growth potential if the right incentives are there. Without this, EV demand isn’t expected to really take off, and so governments have a critical role to play in how things unfold.

Nissan regional VP Yutaka Sanada said that any real growth in electrification of mobility would require strong collaboration between public and private parties and a long-term approach tailored to each market’s unique situation, including governmental assistance. “Consumers in South-East Asia have indicated that governments have a critical role to play in the promotion of electric vehicles,” he said.

This view was echoed by Vivek Vaidya, senior VP of mobility at Frost & Sullivan. “Contrary to popular belief that the high cost of EVs is the impediment, the survey revealed that safety concerns and charging concerns run high on customers’ minds. If the industry and government can take away these barriers, the full potential of EVs can be reached,” he said.

The symposium also delved into aspects of future mobility, touching the surface of autonomous drive and connected cars. Development may be progressing along, but the idea of the first remains a distant dream, in this region at least.

The common consensus from panel discussions and sideline conversations is that autonomous drive is still very long way from a working reality in these parts, given the approach and mentality of drivers. Still, this is what’s driving the future, and though not just yet, there will come a day when self-driving will eventually rule.

The symposium also highlighted the new Nissan Leaf, where it was announced that the EV was set to be introduced in seven markets in Asia and Oceania this year. There was also a display of the Note e-Power, with its electrified hybrid powertrain.

The latter, with its range extender hybrid leanings, is being targeted by the company as a bridging solution in markets, essentially as a more accessible option to pure electrification. It’s something that we are likely to see in Malaysia – word is that there are plans to introduce e-Power here.

GALLERY: 2018 Nissan Leaf

GALLERY: Nissan Note e-Power