A new study from UC Davis suggests that while car manufacturers are on a mission to convert to electric, consumers may be blissfully unaware they will be expected to buy these electric vehicles. The report quotes the following commitments from major car manufacturers:
- Toyota set a goal to sell more than 1 million electric vehicles by 2030; Volvo aims to beat Toyota by doing the same by 2025;
- VW’s goal is 25% of its vehicle sales will be electric by 2025; BMW’s goal for that year is 15% to 25%;
- Mercedes-Benz has allocated $11 billion and Volkswagen group around $40 billion dollars to the development of electric vehicles;
- Norway has called for all new cars sold there to be electric by 2025; France, the United Kingdom, and the State of California aim to achieve the same by 2040; and
- China has set a goal for 20% of new car sales to be electric by 2025.
However, actual sales are very slow. Plug-in vehicles (battery EV and plug-in hybrids combined) accounted for just 1.1% of US sales in 2017, and even in California just 5% of sales. Their survey results suggest that the number of Californian consumers considering an EV was basically unchanged since 2014. In fact, it appeared that those consumers were unaware of improvements in the public charging infrastructure, and the increase in the number of models available – both of which are essentially double their 2014 levels.
The conclusion that they draw is that Californians are unaware of the advances in electric vehicles. So why is that?
One possibility is that consumers are just not paying attention to the charging stations popping up in shopping mall parking lots. Not paying attention to all the Tesla, Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 electric vehicles on the roads (and others, but if you’re in California you’ll see lots of those three brands). At least in the larger metropolitan areas of the state, that seems unlikely.
Plug-in hybrids may be a little harder to notice since they typically look just like the regular ICE cars they are based on (although the green car pool permission stickers help). The likes of Toyota and Lexus have been selling regular hybrids, including the now iconic Prius, for years now. The plug-in versions are a more recent development, and perhaps the extra expense doesn’t make as much sense to drivers compared to a regular hybrid.
Another possibility, and one which was confirmed by our own experience trying to buy an EV, is that the dealers have been discouraging people from buying plug-in vehicles. I visited our Mercedes dealer twice when planning for our EV purchase. The first time, we were primarily considering a replacement for our ICE SUV that was coming off-lease, but while I was there I asked to test drive a new B250e. The salesperson was less than enthusiastic about the car during our test drive, and knew very little about its capabilities.
A few months later, when my roadster lease was up, I called them to ask about a used B Class they had listed on their website, and it took some persuasion to get them to move the car from a sister dealership to their one. When I took it out for a test drive, the salesperson admitted to me that he had been less than positive about EVs, and had been steering his customers away from them. More positively, he said that driving the vehicle over from the other dealership had changed his opinion.
From other sources, I have heard that dealers are cautious about them as well, mainly because they have traditionally offset the tight margin on the sale of the vehicle with ongoing servicing costs. Those costs are much lower on EVs with their simpler drive trains, and regenerative braking (which saves wear on the brake pads).
While it may be the case that the number of available plug-in vehicles has doubled since 2014, the battery EVs are somewhat unusual in their design, and the PHEVs are not an obvious choice when compared to an equivalent regular hybrid with a lower price.
That is changing in the next 18 months though. VW, Audi, Mercedes and Jaguar have announced long range battery vehicles launching that will provide consumers with multiple choices of the fastest selling vehicle style in the US market: the crossover/SUV.
Nissan have also toned down the design of the Leaf so it looks much more like a regular mid-size sedan. Hyundai, Kia and Honda all have BEVs in the market or coming soon as well, although Honda still seems to be behind the curve on making them look like regular cars with the Clarity range (available in hydrogen fuel cell, battery electric and plug-in hybrid versions) sporting unusual half-covered rear wheels.
With the new cars coming out, the marketing efforts will undoubtedly ramp up as well. With the exception of the Tesla vehicles, most of the EVs on sale since 2014 have been what most would categorize as compliance EVs. The next generation are more clearly mainstream EVs and we can expect the marketing efforts to reflect that shift.