‘Known customers are vital to a mature electric vehicle market’

A decade ago, when I started developing the world’s first mass-market electric car, the Nissan Leaf, it was considered a curiosity. At the time, EVs were treated with equal measure of suspicion and conspiracy. Why? Basically because they were missing out on what they were, how they were made, and how they benefited motorists (and the planet). In fact, a rival auto executive said I was crazy about pioneering an electric car and took it to the Pacific with the cash I had invested in it. Fortunately, I did not take his advice.

Today, we are a well-known visitor. But by how much? There are currently around 395,000 battery-powered electric vehicles on UK roads. This is certainly a lot more than when I first started working on the Leaf, but it still has just registered, compared to the total 32.7 million passenger cars on the road. I have no doubt that this will change and in the near future, there will be more EVs than combustion engine cars. It is as inevitable as death and taxes. But in order to get to that point and truly mature the market, our drivers need a conscious audience.

Autonomous culture is prominent in the UK. Cars have become a part of popular culture since their advent and feature almost everywhere we look. From the James Bond film to the top gear on TV, we’ve learned about cars year after year, not through conscious initiative, but through mere osmosis. The ubiquitous presence of cars in our lives means that even the most inexperienced motorist knows the bare basics of traditional combustion engines. But in the case of EV we are not there yet. Far from it.

For non-EV owners, many misconceptions remain and this is undoubtedly disrupting the market. Basically these misconceptions focus on practicality, such as range and cost, but in the vicinity of more technical components, such as how an EV battery is made or the actual environmental impact. Consumers cannot be blamed for this. It is a complex subject and unless they have the proper resources to learn and develop their knowledge, they simply will not be able to.

I believe that equipping customers with knowledge and information is an important element of market maturity and cannot be ignored. It is the responsibility of all of us in the industry to help us reach a point of ‘EV illumination’ among motorists. This will not happen immediately, but over time we must give consumers the ability to be confident in their purchasing decisions.

For most of us, apart from property, a car is the biggest personal investment we make. But unlike buying a property or taking out a mortgage to do so, we have no checks and balances to make sure we make a wise, reasonable and informed decision. If you run a school, do you really need a Tesla Model X? Is a VW ID.3 practical if you regularly make 300 mile round trips?

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During the U.S. automotive boom of the late 50’s / 60’s, Congress introduced the ‘Monroe Sticker’, a label on every new car window showing the proposed retail price for the car and the accessories installed. I believe we need something similar for EV. A label that reflects the real-world range of vehicles in urban, highway and multi-terrain situations, both in hot and cold climates. It will also release the total carbon expended in the production and operation of the vehicle using sustainable or conventional energy. Finally, it will highlight the local content used in the production. An EV is not particularly environmentally friendly if it is shipped halfway around the world or is manufactured using a global supply chain that relies on aircraft cargo products!

Nearly three-quarters of Britons have never ridden an electric car, let alone a powered car, and such information is important to give customers the confidence to buy a new product for the first time.

I would encourage all drivers to think about taking a test drive or at least stopping at their local dealership to check out an EV and ask a few questions. By 2030, the only new cars available for purchase will be electric. It’s only eight years away. It’s time to dump her and move on.

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