Plug And Play

I’m feeling slightly more virtuous today. It’s not because I got up early and worked out (though I did). It’s not because I filed all my expense reports ( I have not). No, I am on the verge of making a move from the internal combustion engine to one more befitting the century we live in. 

Yes, I’m going to rock down through electric avenue. After three wonderful years with my rusty-trusty BMW, the endless trips to the gas station started to wear on me. So, too, did the complete lack of mod cons like a USB port or sat nav or rear sensors … it was time for me to grow up and enter the 21st century. 

As I navigated through my options though, I noticed one element that was conspicuously  missing. The salesmen I spoke to all extolled the merits of the new BMW, the fully loaded awesomeness of the Infiniti and the comfortable luxury of the Hyundai Genesis. But nowhere in any of this did I hear a single note about environmental performance. 

And I live in Southern California. 

So I probed the issue. “Do you have any hybrid options?” would elicit a response of “Oh, yeah, we have those somewhere.” And they would briefly talk about those, before returning to the finer points of the leather trim on the current model we were test-driving. 

Let’s step away from my story to look at the supply side of the marketing equation. 

State governments all over the country are tightening their rules to encourage production of more alternative energy vehicles. In fact, just recently the California Air Resources Board mandated that automakers must have Zero-Emission Vehicles  as an option in their fleet, if they want to sell in California. 

Back at the dealership parking lot in Southern California, none of this seemed visible. I tried to think about what felt wrong and then I got it: there was no excitement around ZEVs or alternative energy systems in general. If anything, you needed highly self-motivated consumers (like me) who would have to insist on seeing alternative options. 

If all you can find to say about your revolutionary new technology is that it saves you a little more money, well, someone isn’t doing their job. And if you are sitting back waiting for someone to come along and ask about it, you’re not starting any revolutions. 

Supply-side regulations can only do so much. Car-makers will be motivated to make more of these vehicles if they see strong consumer demand. And since that can make the world better, I propose three ways in which the auto-makers of the world can start to actively inspire fence-sitters to come in and ask for a test drive. 

Make it sexy. If the runaway success of Tesla has proved anything, it is that if you provide something that’s actually fun to look at and drive, people will buy it. But we don’t have to rely on the engineers and designers alone. Brand marketers can make your choice of shoe sound heroic. Surely we can find ways to make alternative energy customers -and cars- seem  more interesting, more passionate, more alive? Let’s stop pigeon-holing them as tree-huggers and econoboxes.  They are literally and symbolically the new energy for the world. 

Make it cool. New technology is cool. And much of our conversation today is about that. There’s nothing more gee-whiz than being able to power your car by plugging it into a socket in your house. Why are we not making a bigger deal of this? At least as big as the new widget on the latest smartphone? 

Make it social. This does not mean building a community of Prius or Fusion owners. That’s too late. What we need to do is build affinities with people who might be willing to consider, by reaching them through their evangelist friends and acquaintances. They are a breed apart. They should know that and feel the love.

I’m ready to start, right after I take possession of my Energi. I’ll report back on whether Ford is doing anything to utilize me in their marketing. Until then, breathe deeply and think green.

2 comments about "Plug And Play".
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  1. Chris Sharman from Sherry Matthews, January 8, 2014 at 2:03 p.m.

    As a Ford Fusion Energi owner - I am astounded at how little big car companies understand their customers. To your point about social - why o why is there not a share button on the navigation console? I have to take a picture with my phone and upload my 130 MPGe to my facebook page. Ford Sync missed the boat there...

  2. Kate Berg from Collective Bias, January 8, 2014 at 3:20 p.m.

    And electric isn't even "alt-energy'! It's just alt for cars. I agree. I think, though, that disruption this way comes and the Tesla has shown the way. Who needs a dealership when you could (maybe, just spit-balling here) test drive it at your nearest Best Buy and then order it online for delivery to your driveway?

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