July 29th, 2010 // 1:51 pm @ Shannon Arvizu
We are at a tipping-point in plug-in vehicle history. The action-packed Plug-In 2010 conference in San Jose this past week showed that the industry is primed for production. The technology is here, now is time to build demand.
Almost every plug-in car slated for market deployment was present, including the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus Electric, Electric Smart Fortwo, Plug-In Hybrid Prius, and Mitsubishi I-Miev. They made a commendable presence together on the exhibit floor.
The Plug-In Vehicle Network (that powerful confluence of major automakers, start-ups, utilities, advocacy groups, venture capitalists, and research organizations) came out in full force.The panels and plenary sessions were rich with up-to-date information on the status of the plug-in field.
But what did the Plug-In Network have to say about building demand for electric drive? I compiled a “cheat sheet” of 6 take-away points every organization in this field should consider to accelerate plug-in demand.
How to Drive Plug-In Demand
1- “Sell miles and convenience, not kilowatt hours.” Jason Wolf, from Better Place, spoke about the importance of “consumer-centric innovation.” People understand energy usage in terms of miles. Communicate vehicle energy consumption in plain terms that are readily digestible.
2- Market Pull Should Drive Charging Infrastructure. Robin Haycock, from ARUP, talked about the lessons learned from a U.K. study on plug-in drivers. Rather than make preemptive decisions about the appropriate design of a charging infrastructure, let the charging market be pulled by the first wave of early adopters. This will require tracking the real-world driving and charging patterns from initial market entrants to ensure that the infrastructure meets their actual (not presumed) needs.
3-Target “Trendy Young Professionals.” Haycock also discussed the lucrative consumer sector of “ambitious and well-paid singles and childless couples” that live in urban areas. This is the core plug-in market I have identified as well – educated and successful Gen X and Gen Y consumers known for their highly influential cultural status. Targeting this tech-savvy consumer base can have ripple effects throughout the market.
4- Clearly Communicate Purchase Incentives: Mark Perry of Nissan mentioned the need to clearly explain how consumer purchase incentives work and how those incentives vary by state. It is also important to communicate how purchase incentives work for home chargers. Be upfront and vocal about incentives to maximize consumer interest.
5- Encourage Range Confidence: Whether a plug-in vehicle has a range of 13 miles or 230 miles, it is important to develop range confidence amongst potential plug-in drivers. Any technology has parameters for use. Communicate those parameters without associating a value judgment. As Bob Graham of Southern California Edison mentioned, any “range anxiety” felt should only be a temporary condition until the user has assimilated to the parameters of their new car.
6-Learn from Past and Current Plug-In Drivers: We do not have to invent the wheel. As of today, there are over a thousand past and current plug-in drivers who have used their electric cars for their primary or secondary vehicle for a year or more. Graham tells us that these drivers can be a valuable resource for understanding actual driving and charging patterns. Culling information from this group can maximize the user experience of the next generation of plug-in drivers.
Together, these strategies can greatly facilitate plug-in consumer demand. I look forward to applying these lessons with cutting-edge organizations in this field to increase the bottom-line for electric drive.