2011 Nissan Leaf at quick-charging stationEnlarge Photo
Researching and writing for GreenCarReports, we've come to respect the insights of Oliver Hazimeh, Director and Head of the Global E-Mobility Practice at global management consulting firm PRTM.
This invited post, written by Hazimeh and Principal Aaron Tweadey, offers thoughts on how carmakers can work to attract buyers to new and unfamiliar electric cars.
As the auto industry climbs out of its worst sales slump in decades, carmakers are at a crossroads.
On one hand, both government and consumers are pressuring them to launch a new generation of environmentally friendly vehicles that are less dependent on imported oil. But car companies must also create vehicles that appeal to mass-market consumers, not just early adopters—while also making money.
That’s easier said than done.
2011 Chevrolet Volt outside Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plantEnlarge Photo
Traditionally, automakers have added technology to lighten the vehicle, or built more efficient engines. These strategies increase cost, yet may not provide a different enough driving experience that a mass audience will pay the price difference.
But tremendous opportunity lies ahead for automakers that adapt their approaches to meet new market demands.
As more electric vehicles are bought, automakers have blended a “cool factor” into the designs—one that integrates with the larger electric-car infrastructure. Building new technologies into cars can change traditional design and development methods, and auto companies recognize that a new kind of product innovation is essential.
In our work with companies throughout the electric-vehicle world, we see three key areas where innovation can drive the cool factor: vehicle performance, the connected car, and environmental impact.
2011 Tesla Roadster 2.5Enlarge Photo
For many buyers, environmental friendliness is not enough to create the "Wow!" factor that leads to a purchase. But if such a car is fun to drive, the sale is more likely. The all-electric Tesla Roadster, for example, with a 0-to-60-mph time of 3.9 seconds, offers a great driving experience.
Electric cars naturally have good acceleration, and familiarity will help mainstream EVs like the 2011 Nissan Leaf come to be perceived as fun to drive. Early reviews of the Leaf cite a 0-to-60 time below 8 seconds—1 or 2 seconds faster than its gasoline cousin, the Nissan Versa.
While acceleration is one aspect that can add a cool factor, other features clearly need further innovation, most notably driving range and lower purchase price.
USB portEnlarge Photo
The Connected Car
To tech-savvy buyers, features that allow them to connect cars wirelessly to smart phones, personal computers, and even public charging networks heighten the cars' appeal.
Such connectivity allows technophiles to use their smart phones to check vehicle charging status, even turn on the car's air conditioning before leaving the office. Nissan, Ford, and GM have launched smart phone apps like these in their first-generation electric cars.
As electric vehicles evolve, further innovation in connectivity will increase ease-of-use and driver enjoyment. Real-time connections between vehicle navigation systems and the network of public charging stations, for example, will let drivers locate and reserve the closest available charger en route.
Over the longer term, even car-to-car interaction within smart transportation systems will improve safety and increase convenience.
Flower developed by Toyota to offset emissions from its Prius facilityEnlarge Photo
While environmental advantages won’t entice everyone, innovation can propel adoption among green buyers. Here, coolness permits measuring the environmental impact of a new electric car, for instance. Initially, this may consist of monitoring electricity consumption and reductions in emissions of CO2 from driving the car.
Later, technologies may let electric cars talk directly to utilities, to optimize charging when CO2 emissions from power stations are lowest. For instance, the utility could notify the vehicle to charge when clean, renewable energy capacity is available, and avoid charging when electricity is generating from burning coal.
These cool factors will vary significantly among different groups of electric-car buyers. Automakers that innovate in new ways, and work with all the different players across the electric-car value chain--utilities, third-party charging networks, and many others--will reap the benefits of a massive global shift in transportation over our lifetimes.