Car & Driver's Bedard Got It Wrong
Editor's Note: Darell Dickey's letter to the editors of Car & Driver is in response to a column in the January 2004 edition of the magazine.
Car and Driver Magazine
2002 Hogback Road
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105
Dear Mr. Bedard:
Let me begin by correcting the final statement of your January 2004 Article: The buyers have spoken: Forget electric cars: Battery electric cars are simply not going to happen for a very sensible reason: Customers are repeatedly told that they don't want them."
Your article concludes that customers do not want Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) because so few have been sold even after the automakers seemingly spent billions of dollars trying to create a market for them. I propose that customers are not buying BEVs because the general car-buying population has been shielded from the benefits of BEVs, while being simultaneously bombarded with the message of your article: Buyers don't want BEVs! Since BEVs have not been marketed as a positive commodity, it is clear to me that customers have not yet had the chance to know that they want them.
I am intimately familiar with EV marketing, as I have both leased and purchased a "production" BEV. I currently own a Rav4EV. I can confidently tell you that the conclusions you draw in your article are flawed. Following are some EV marketing experiences from one of the "real customers [who] put down [his] own cash." In your own words, I am somebody "you'd better listen [to]":
I tried to lease an EV1 the first year they were offered. The dealer network could not locate for me a single one of the "EV1s stacked up in inventory" that you mention. I am still on the EV1 waiting list that GM says never existed. Additionally, you neglected to mention in your article that every BEV offered to the public has been placed (purchased or leased). "Production" BEV programs have ended on the supply side, NOT on the demand side as you conclude. In the case of the Rav4EV, Toyota expected the retail program to span two years. However, after eight months, all 400 Rav4EVs that Toyota made for the retail program had been sold and buyers stacked up on dealers' waiting lists. Toyota did not make more vehicles to fill the demand. Toyota ended the program 16 months early, citing of all things, "lack of demand."
The benefits of BEVs (powerful acceleration, quiet operation, no trips to the gasoline station, no oil changes, no tune-ups, no transmission) have never been advertised. Your article exemplifies the negatives and half-truths to which the public is repeatedly exposed.
The cost to GM that you report for the entire EV1 program is roughly equivalent to what GM spends for a simple face-lift of an existing car model. Your "something north of $1.5 billion" is also 30% higher than GM's own inflated accounting of the program, and both amounts fail to consider the amortization of the EV1 technology that is now used to improve most gasoline vehicles that GM currently offers.
I purchased my Rav4EV from one of the "25 specially trained dealers around the state." This dealer knew nothing of the technology or the vehicles, showed no interest in selling the vehicle to me, and had no Rav4EV for me to test-drive.
Although Toyota produced a minimal marketing campaign for the Rav4EV, it was ineffective, untimely, not informative and certainly not "plenty" as you state.
I did not see an advertisement for a Rav4EV before my purchase, though at the 2003 CARB hearings, Toyota informed the attendees that drivers like me were "targeted" by Toyota's marketing effort.
In searching for a Rav4EV dealer, I called the Toyota customer service hotline to ask which dealers carried the car. The service representative was unable to identify any of "25 specially trained dealers."
Had I not been an EV driver previous to my Rav4EV purchase, I would not have known that the Rav4EV was being offered to the public. Your article emphasizes Toyota's "very careful study" that showed 19 of 87 respondents bought a "Rav4EV to replace an EV they had been driving previously." You conclude that only an impossibly small EV-loving segment of buyers desire these vehicles, yet being an EV enthusiast was a requirement to learn how and where to obtain one of these vehicles.
Since my purchase, I have seen copies of Rav4EV ads that were dated before the program began. The ads failed to mention where, when or how to purchase the vehicle. One ad contained an incorrect URL as the only form of contact. The ads did not mention any benefit of EV ownership beyond HOV lane usage.
I used the "professional installing company [that] was ready to go" for the installation of my charger. The process took over a month. In a vain attempt to speed up the process, I hand-delivered and faxed documents to the appropriate offices before they were requested. Afterwards, I discovered that one month for the charger installation process is considered fast.
You failed to mention in your article any of the Rav4EV purchase disincentives that Toyota offered.
- Only two colors choices (only one of which was initially available).
- Only one trim level, with no options available.
- Available to the public for only eight months.
- Purchase process required the buyer to install a charger before the vehicle delivery process could even begin.
- Dealers were directed to require buyers to live within 50 miles of one of the 25 official dealers.
NO conclusions of market size or demand can be made accurately until a BEV is effectively marketed. That has yet to happen.
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