2011 Smart electric drive - first driveEnlarge Photo
Let's face it. EVs are still a very small, very niche market. Expensive, short on supply and not even universally supported throughout the USA there are a whole series of achievements EVs will need to attain before they are considered regular cars. Here's the five most important things EVs will need to turn the regular consumer from in-the-dark to enthusiast.
Drop The Price.
Unless you include low speed NEVs, EVs are still too expensive for all but the devoted or the wealthy. More sales and higher production numbers will reduce costs, but right now EVs need to reduce in price by at least 50% before many consumers will consider buying them.
And if the price can't be dropped that much, at least make vehicles which make the owners believe every dime they've spent on the car was worth it. This leads us onto the next point.
Deal with the Trim.
While Nissan's 2011 Leaf and Chevrolet's 2011 Volt are examples of electric vehicles with uncompromising trim levels, many smaller electric car companies are happy to build and sell cars with trim levels which would make a pre-war car blush with shame.
Listing things like a conventional radio/cassette or wind-up windows as major selling points does not encourage consumers to part with cash, especially when the car's fuel source is used as justification for a spartan cockpit. Consumers willing to pay upwards of $20,000 for an electric car expect an interior reflective of a $20,000 car and not a $8000 low-budget model.
Atomik Fiat Abarth 500 ElectricGive real-life range figures, not ones for optimum conditions.
Atomik Fiat Abarth 500 ElectricEnlarge Photo
EV companies are locked in an eternal range battle. Higher mileage per charge is bound to get more custom, right?
In short, no. Car companies who list optimum range in optimum conditions and usually, a slower-than-normal speed may win when it comes to range on paper, but companies who quote smaller range that is consistently and predictably achievable will ultimately win through.
Outlandish range claims feed range anxiety, one of the biggest prohibitive factors to EV take-up at the moment.
Be More Conventional On The Street, And More Sexy On The Track.
Electric cars are different. They're not gasoline cars. But just because they use a different drivetrain and fuel supply does not mean they need to look different too.
Automotive design trends come and go, but electric cars need to look as close to the current trend in design in order to be accepted by a large number of consumers. Cars which appear no different from their gasoline cousins will sell more than cars which look like they have been driven out of a time machine.
2010 mini e electric vehicle ev la auto show 022Enlarge Photo
On the other hand, EVs also need sexy designs, impressive performance and a proven track record to grab interest from consumers who remain devotional to motorsport.
No greater indication of this has been the increase in interest from the motorcycle community after the first electric TTXGP last year on the Isle of Mann. The greater the track record of an EV, the more likely consumers will trust in it.
Change the Sales Pitch and Motivate the Sales Team.
Unless you're at a specialised EV company with dedicated showrooms like Tesla's Apple-esque retail stores the chances are the sales team are still going to be more interested in V8s than electric motors.
It's not always the sales team's fault. Lack of effectual training and managerial pressures to sell specific models often leave the electric vehicles high and dry. Until the sales team waxes lyrical about the benefits of going electric or plug-in, conventional gas cars will always enjoy greater sales.
The good news though is that mainstream automakers are slowly getting the message. More accurate specifications, better trim, racing influence, lower prices and motivated sales teams are bound to appear as competition increases and car companies become more confident in their EVs.