By: Dave Emig, Research Director
As the automotive industry evolves, battery-powered vehicles are being integrated more and more into the car-buying equation. While sales figures for electric vehicles (EVs) are still relatively low, that could soon change.
There are three major factors fueling the potential for increased sales of electric vehicles. First is the adoption of CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards that require vehicle manufacturers to reach a 54.5 mile per gallon average for their entire U.S. vehicle fleet by 2025. This has indirectly motivated manufacturers to integrate EVs into their product portfolio. As such, the level of competition between manufacturers has increased, allowing for a few start-ups to emerge, thereby promoting more rapid change.
Second is the blistering pace at which technological advancements are being made with batteries, such as outputs (power), capacities, and sizes. The most important technological advancement, however, is the increased distance these new EVs can travel, which helps to curb range anxiety and fit the needs of many more consumers.
While these two elements have greatly aided in the proliferation of EVs, the third factor, the design of these vehicles, has also become more important. Manufacturers are moving away from the outlandish, quirky designs and creating vehicles that are more conventional and aesthetically pleasing. But it’s not just all about design—these modern EVs are now offered in different sizes, from small compact cars to large utilities!
The combination of these factors, along with the growing confidence of consumers in EVs, is spurring interest. However, adoption of EVs is still in its infancy, primarily due to a lack of familiarity. While there are some early adopters who have done their research, became comfortable with the idea of an EV, and took the leap, they find many consumers are playing the waiting game. Whether the consumers have no interest at all or don’t feel an EV will fit their lifestyle, they just can’t bring themselves to purchase one at this time.
Manufacturers who are interested, but waiting, find there are a number of hurdles to overcome before general consumer interest increases to a serious consideration to purchase. Consumer concerns over purchasing EVs are understandable. After all, outside of buying a home and the cost of higher education, a new vehicle is the largest purchase many consumers will make in their lifetime.
While “fear of change” may ultimately be the primary barrier, many consumers indicate deterrents like a lack of infrastructure (charging stations at work, close to destinations, etc.), the length of charging time required if unable to use a 240V or supercharger, complexity with home installation (with some not owning a home with a garage), and worries about the longevity of the battery. But, resoundingly, owners emphasize that there is a serious lack of knowledge when it comes to the dealership experience. Often times, consumers need to find answers to their own questions. The role of the dealership staff to help educate consumers about the advantages of the EV and how they function is critical. If the sales staff at a dealership aren’t invested in the concept of EVs or comfortable selling them, chances are sales will lag, meaning dealer commitment is crucial.
Let’s face it, with any change comes some level of anxiety. It will always be present. As EVs evolve, many of the current hurdles will disappear, yet if the consumer does not understand or have confidence in the product, they will not buy.
So how do dealers manage this shift?
We performed Morpace-managed client focus groups with electric vehicle and plug-in vehicle owners in 2015 and discovered a few key points that can help answer this question. Consumers who have purchased an EV were more enthusiastic about the vehicle and had more knowledge than dealer personnel. This knowledge gap has a negative effect on the decision to purchase, but there is a solution to consider–appoint a sales person who lives and breathes electric vehicles. This sales person would drive the car(s) daily, know the cost per mile (very important to consumers!), be able to identify charging locations around consumers’ work, office, and daily route, explain the ancillary benefits such as free parking, and be able to respond confidently to any questions, especially those concerning range anxiety. “Having those sales folks that really understand it [EV technology] is going to be crucial…The knowledge about electric cars needs to be in the hands of the people selling them. People coming in may have great knowledge, but, you have to have that confidence that you’re buying from someone who will be able to support you.”
While fine-tuning the dealership will help, there is more hope on the horizon.
The bright side for manufacturers selling EVs is that many current owners indicate they have no desire to go back to a conventional engine for their daily vehicle. They despise buying gas and love the driving experience of an EV. Owners find the lack of engine noise, instant torque, and shifting to be extremely appealing , summing it up by mentioning that “a gas car now just feels mundane. It doesn’t feel as sophisticated”. As a result, these owners have become staunch advocates. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising… and it is FREE!
But how do you get someone who is still skeptical to actually take that leap? Sell them a used EV!
There are a large number of EVs that will be hitting the market in the coming year. Dealers and manufacturers will want to move them as quickly as possible, which means consumers could get an EV for quite a bargain. The financial commitment for a used EV will be less of a burden and should entice those who are playing the waiting game to take the plunge.
However, a primary concern remains: How reliable is the battery? The dealership can do their part by providing the expertise, but consumers want assurances, primarily an honest warranty on the battery (or straight up replacement). They want the warranty to guarantee the range and charging cycles, freeing them from concerns with degradation. “Dealers need to test the battery, if it meets a certain range, then they’re good to go. They need to provide a warranty and guarantee that the vehicle will at least go a certain range.” Ideally, manufacturers and dealers could develop a specific, rigorous pre-owned program unique to EVs in an effort to quell consumers’ key concern surrounding the battery and make used EVs even more appealing.
While familiarity and interest in EVs is growing, manufacturers and dealers will need to find ways to combat consumer fear, getting them past the tipping point to purchase. Current issues with selling used EVs need to be addressed to get consumers in the vehicle to experience the benefits that so many current owners relish. To do this though, dealers need to be committed. If they can find a way to adapt the sales experience to give consumers the information they want in order to curb concerns, we may be on the brink of an EV revolution.
As production increases over the next few years, manufacturers who are in the EV game will be primed to make a splash as current used EV owners will be looking to buy a new EV.