A consortium of New England states has announced efforts to make it easier for states to spur the use of electric cars, such as putting in more charging stations. Meanwhile, carmakers are scratching their heads, trying to beef up sales that are stuck in neutral. Sales of the Chevy Volt are averaging about 22,000 per year, about the same as last year. The Nissan Leaf’s sales are comparable. All of which is not by any stretch going to help the Obama administration meet its stated goal of having one million EVs sold by 2015.
What’s wrong with this picture? I would argue that adding charging stations will definitely help, it’s not the number one thing that’s preventing EVs from taking off (or least speeding up a little). The main problem is that consumers don’t understand the value that electric cars offer them. The reason is simple: Nobody is telling it to them clearly.
Take the Chevy Volt. The website says it’s the “Best of Both Worlds.” So, gas and electric in one car. But that benefit is getting lost in the high cost of the initial purchase of the car. The Volt is listed on the site as available “for as low as $26,685.” That’s not low cost in relation to super efficient all-gasoline cars. By comparison, GM’s own Chevy Cruise costs about $17,000, and offers a snappy diesel that gets 46 mpg on the highway. GM is actively competing against itself, with the Cruise clearly winning. GM sold 231,000 Cruises in 2011 alone.
To connect with consumers, we need to focus on their real pain point when it comes to driving. And that’s the cost of gas. Gas prices have dropped recently to around $3 a gallon, but for U.S. consumers accustomed to driving often long distances, those costs add up.
To find out why buying an electric car makes sense, you have to work hard and dig for the answer. I found it buried in the copy of a brochure published by the Northeast Electric Vehicle Network. It states “The average cost of electricity in this region is 13 cents per kWh, which is the equivalent of driving with gasoline that costs about $1 per gallon.” Bingo! And if you’re driving in other parts of the country, like Oklahoma, your cost per kWh is likely far less than in the costly Northeast. The headline for selling electric cars to consumers should be more like this: “Ever want to go back to the days when gas cost less than a buck per gallon? Actually, you can.”
Put another way, an EV is a time machine that takes you back to 1979, the last time gas cost a buck per gallon in the U.S. The ad headline is: “It’s not a car. It’s a time machine.” Or, “Go back to the days when gas cost a buck per gallon, without having to wear bell bottoms or listen to John Denver.”
Carmakers are, in journalist terms, burying the lead – the one thing that would make people hop on the electric vehicle bandwagon. States can build all the charging stations they want but it won’t matter, because people won’t buy a car they think is more expensive. The good news is that, with the right marketing and branding, EVs can finally get some traction and pull ahead of their gas-powered competitors.