Automakers faced a nagging question at the global Electric Vehicle Symposium and Exhibition (EVS29) last month in Montreal.
The question centered around why they can’s sell more plug-in electrified vehicles (PEVs) than they have.
Britta Gross, director of advanced vehicle commercialization policy at General Motors, told an audience at the symposium that consumers love the quietness, smoothness, and seamless drive available in plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). Yet, why aren’t they buying more of them, Gross wonders.
“Why don’t consumers flock to these vehicles? What’s missing? What do we have to do? We’re at the point where we have a lot to do,” Gross said.
GM has been pleased to see sales of its redesigned 2016 Chevy Volt jump up 79 percent year-to-date through the end of May. But overall sales of PEV passenger cars in the U.S. have been disappointing for manufacturers, down 5 percent in 2015 from 2014 levels, according to Automotive News. In May, sales of PEVs – battery electric and plug-in hybrid – made for only 0.79 percent of total U.S. new vehicle sales, according to HybridCars.com’s Dashboard.
Automakers are not going to be leaving the PEV market, according to speakers at EVS29 and recent company announcements. Extending driving range is one of the nagging consumer concerns being addressed soon.
Ford and Nissan will be joining the 200-miles or more club, after that standard was set by Tesla and Chevrolet for its upcoming Tesla Model 3 and Chevy Bolt models. Nissan revealed last month that it will add a range-extender plug-in to its portfolio this year in Japan.
In December, Ford announced it will invest $4.5 billion in PEV research and development. Volkswagen may invest $11 billion in a large-scale PEV battery plant in Europe. Tesla has taken 373,000 reservations for its upcoming and more affordable Model 3 electric. Hyundai announced this year that it will launch a 200-mile PEV by 2018.
Robert Langford, American Honda Motor Co. manager of electric vehicle sales, said at EVS29 that carmakers are poised to bring a broader array of PEVs to market. “It’s really an exciting time going from now to 2020,” he said. “With all the new product coming out, hopefully, a whole new group of customers [will come] to drive electric.”
Langford acknowledged that are still many barriers for reaching mass adoption of PEVs. One issue for carmakers to address is confusion consumers have about where to charge their plug-in cars. Homeowners will install a charging station in their garage or driveway, but challenges are still their reaching consumers living in apartments and condo complexes. And not all charging stations are compatible, he said.
“It’s a matter of making customers comfortable with how to charge a car,” Langford said.
Gross thinks that automakers need to spend more on marketing to communicate the benefits of PEV ownership, whether that be by helping the planet or spending less on gasoline.
“We have to overpower these consumers,” she said. “If you don’t accompany an infrastructure program, or a vehicle incentive program, with an outreach campaign, you’ve lost the battle. Everything you do, you have to spend an equal amount of money to talk about it.”
Aaron Cohen, Audi of America’s general manager of electric vehicle strategy, thinks there needs to be coordination by key players in the PEV infrastructure. These stakeholders include carmakers, electric utilities, charging companies and federal, state and local governments.
“You need a symphony of activity among all the stakeholders,” Cohen told a symposium audience.
Brendan Jones, vice president of the east region of the NRG EVgo charging network, talked about how tough it can be to get auto dealers and their sales consultants to pay attention to low-volume sales vehicles.
“At less than 1 percent of aggregate market share, we don’t demand the attention of the consultant who spends his days selling Altimas or Chevy Malibus,” Jones, former director of PEV sales for Nissan North America, said at the symposium. “Until we get up to 10 percent, we’re not going to have the attention.”