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GM EV1 & Tesla Model S: Looking At 20 Years Of Electric Cars Page 2

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GM EV1 and Tesla Model S electric cars, at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA, Oct 2013

GM EV1 and Tesla Model S electric cars, at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA, Oct 2013

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As it was then, Sexton said, the prices paid by consumers remain "partly fictional numbers based on what carmakers think the market will bear--and their willingness to lose money" in early years.

Those losses, she proposed, are either to invest for the long term or to avert even higher payments to cover fines under state or Federal compliance rules.

Challenge: the non-car issues

The big problem now, just as it was then, Sexton emphasized, is that "the industry is stumbling the most on the things that aren't specific to electric cars: marketing, communications, dealer experience, etc."

And ironically, she said, "it's the persistence in treating electric cars as if they're appliances, instead of cars," that's the biggest marketing gaffe.

'Revenge of the Electric Car' premiere: consulting producer Chelsea Sexton

'Revenge of the Electric Car' premiere: consulting producer Chelsea Sexton

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With the proliferation of plug-in electric cars on the market (14 today), Sexton said, "the industry is more fractured now."

Neither carmakers nor utilities are "nearly as engaged in and with the market and community as before," she said, "and it's reflected in the lingering mistrust" of carmakers' efforts and commitment by utilities.

Worse, Sexton sees "more of an Us versus Them attitude," and less of the 1990s sense that "we're all in this together" to pioneer something radical and new.

Furthermore, the introduction of plug-in hybrids--a type of electric car nowhere near production not even envisioned 20 years ago--adds new layers of complexity, she said, over everything from regulation to charging-station etiquette.

Sexton used an unprintable word when describing the state of charging infrastructure this time around.

The universal charging standard for 240-Volt Level 2 charging is helpful, she agreed, but infrastructure remains perhaps the biggest area where the lessons learned 20 years ago--on location, number, and pricing of charging stations--aren't being heeded now.

2013 Nissan Leaf, Nashville area test drive, April 2013

2013 Nissan Leaf, Nashville area test drive, April 2013

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Good electric cars: not enough

To sum up the many themes touched on during the interview, Sexton stressed that "building a good car is neither the hardest part, nor enough" to ensure successful adoption.

"The last generation didn't end because drivers were disappointed in the cars," she pointed out.

The cars' popularity with owners is "evidenced by the various vigils and such held to save them" (some of which can be seen in Who Killed The Electric Car?).

And that applies again today: Tesla Model S owners almost universally rave about their cars, the Chevrolet Volt has the highest owner-satisfaction ratings of any car GM has ever built, and so on.

Ecosystem required

Instead, it's the ecosystem around plug-in electric cars that's the biggest challenge.

Carmakers know how to build good electric cars, Sexton said--but it will take much more than that to foster wide-scale adoption of electric cars.

That includes marketing that makes buyers want an electric car over a gasoline car--even before "butts in seats"--and hard discussions about what need really exists for charging stations, and how to pay for them.

How far have we come, and what's left to do before plug-in electric cars go mainstream?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

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