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Let's Promote Electric Cars Via Crowd-Sharing

By Helene Servillion

Helene Servillion reports from the 2013 EDTA conference where panelists discuss why sales are slow and asks, Is clean, efficient, cute and sustainable working for electric cars?

Promoting and designing sexy, cool and fast cars is how automotive companies have successfully sold gas cars for the past century. Over 200,000 EVs and PEVs have been sold 2013. Numbers are good, but not great. Is clean, efficient, cute and sustainable working for electric cars?

One of the biggest difficulties for the electric drive industry is not making break-through technology, its educating consumers and driving awareness. From June 10-12, the Electric Drive Transportation (EDTA) conference brought together about 300 delegates, car companies, policy, advocates and academic leaders to Washington D.C. to discuss the latest innovations and the state of the Electric Vehicle industry. Marketing, educating and creating consumer awareness about EVs in the US is not cheap - consumers and audiences differ regionally, creating a need for targeted marketing based on location. The US is a car-centric country filled with people who have learned to embrace gas cars for the past century and changing behavior of the majority is not an easy task. So what is it going to take?

At the EDTA conference the GoElectricDrive (GED) foundation hosted a seminar called Accelerate the Good: a nationwide communications campaign headed by a coalition of diverse stakeholders such as General Motors, Pacific Gas and Electric, Wells Fargo and Johnson Controls just to name a few, to educate and inspire consumers to go electric. Their goal is to create a campaign that uses a grassroots and grasstops approach strategies – creating targeted marketing on a local level and utilizing the power of mainstream media, sports, music, opinion leaders and influencers. To date, GED has raised $1.5 million for this campaign; they hope to raise $22 million annually for the next 3-5 years – that is a solid $110 promotional campaign. The budget includes supporting staff, website, media buys, PR, polling and metrics, etc. Is it all worth it? Only time will tell.

With limited marketing budgets and auto companies trying to promote various types of EVs and PEVs, consumers may just be hearing noise – and may be looking for a powerful, credible and consistent voice explaining what an EV is and how it differs from gas cars. Each car company markets for their own benefit, but maybe its time to come together to amplify the industry’s voice. The hard part is educating consumers, many people know that EVs exist but do they really know about the technology and benefits. Efforts like the GED campaign is what the industry needs – it creates a better playing field for car companies to launch meaningful marketing campaigns, ones that do not have to focus on what an EV is, but rather what makes their EV better than the rest.

Marketing to the Mass Consumer

The closing session of the conference featured a panel discussion between EDTA President Brian Wynne [pictured above addressing the conference] and Journalists Dan Neil, Automotive Columnist for The Wall Street Journal and Jim Motavalli, Environmental Writer & Speaker on how to tell the industry’s story to the media and consumers. Making an environmental case to sell EVs is not going to cut it, “the messaging has to be stronger…the faster we can make EVs, the faster we can sell them”, stated Neil with support from Motavalli. Tesla is winning the PR race because their EVs are sexy, fast and owners are enthusiastic to show off and spread the word about their electric car. Tesla’s success begs the questions to whether other car companies should turn to a stick with what has worked in the past design and marketing strategy.

Marketing proves as a powerful solution to sell a product and sometimes it is just about price for some consumers who are simply looking for an efficient vehicle to take them from A to B. According to the US Department Of Energy car battery costs have decreased by 50% in the last 4 years and hopefully will decrease by 80% by 2022. As time goes by and technology evolves EVs will be as affordable as gas cars – a goal that Obama is working towards with his EV Everywhere campaign. However, America’s car culture may not be the same as it once was. A study conducted by the policy and communications consulting firm Hamilton Place Strategies states that in 2023, the average amount of debt college students leave school with will equal what the median graduate will earn in just a year, dramatically affect the millennial generation’s car buying habits. Yes we millennials love our smart phones, but maybe it is because we can actually afford one.

Getting people on the product

With industry players collaborating to educate consumers about EVs and investing in a plethora of marketing efforts, will people start flocking to dealerships to test drive one? Aside from testing a vehicle at a dealership, ride and drive, or having the fortune of having an EV-owning relative that lets your borrow their ride from time to time, where else can consumers test drive and experience an EV?

Mayor Greg Ballard of Indianapolis is launching the US’s largest all electric car-share program with French company Bolloré, which also supplies electric cars [pictured on masthead] to Paris' Autolib. Bollore invested $35 million to this program, which will feature 500 EVs, 1,200 charging stations at 200 car-share locations. Car-shares provide a great opportunity for the average and not so typical EV consumer to get a real-world experience of driving an electric car versus driving on a planned route. Time will only tell how bike-share programs implemented across major cities will reform bike culture in the US – the same can be assumed for EVs. The evolution of the EV industry will not happen over night, it requires the industry collaboration, relentless effort to educate consumers and strong support from policy makers to make it possible.

Times Article Viewed: 7865
Originally published: 19 Jul 2013

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