On Thursday, March 22, 2018, Michigan EIBC hosted its second Electric Vehicle (EV) Convening at the Michigan Saves office in Lansing, Michigan. This meeting centered around customer awareness and education.
Michigan EIBC President Liesl Clark opened Thursday’s meeting with a discussion of the background activities that led to the EV Convenings – including technical conferences at the Michigan Public Service Commission, the Institute for Energy Innovation’s MEC4: Powering Mobility Conference and the “Powering the Mobility Revolution” report that followed, and a series of DC fast charge planning meetings hosted by the Michigan Agency for Energy.
Clark’s introduction was followed by a panel discussion of automakers’ perspectives on consumer and dealer education. Britta Gross, who oversees Advanced Vehicle Commercialization Policy at General Motors, spoke broadly about the state of the electric vehicle market in the country, and GM’s strategies to grow the market.
Gross explained that EVs are still primarily being driven by “early adopters” – people who are excited to try new technologies, and GM is focused on getting general consumers interested in EVs. GM’s targeted advertising focuses on story-telling and intentionally keeping the Bolt EV in the news with positive stories. GM tracks customer responses to its Bolt EV in the following ways: Mystery shopping, in which GM representatives “shop” EV certified dealers to ensure that they are providing customers with quality information; early- and mid-buyer studies, in which GM looks at how satisfied customers are with their EV purchase over time; and customer satisfaction metrics measuring brand loyalty and dealer experience.
Up next, Lisa Teed, U.S. Marketing Strategy Manager with Ford Motor Company, discussed Ford’s perspective and customer education model. According to Teed, the barriers customers face when confronted with the option to buy an EV are as follows:
- Price – EVs are perceived as being as costly as a luxury car, but without the benefits associated with a luxury car
- Range Anxiety – customers want the equivalent range they get with a tank of gas
- Features – customers want all-wheel drive, cargo capabilities, faster acceleration, etc.
- Resale Value – customers worry they will lose a significant amount of their investment in an EV over time
- Dealer Motivation – dealers are less motivated to sell EVs because they make smaller margins on EVs
What followed was a conversation on customer psychology and behavioral economics, in which Dr. Brandy Brown, a Senior Evaluation Consultant at CLEAResult, and Dr. Anne Niederberger, Vice President of Marketing and Development at Enervee, provided a third-party perspective on the importance of consumer education by utilities.
Niederberger explained Enervee’s role in this conversation. Enervee is a data and behavioral science company that works to make it simple and compelling for people to buy clean and efficient energy products. Enervee has historically worked in the area of energy efficient appliances and home upgrades, such as advanced lighting and HVAC, but is launching a car program in May. An Enervee survey found that most customers want clean vehicles and low fuel costs, but they don’t realize that an EV would give them those results. In fact, Niederberger referenced another study conducted by a separate group which allowed respondents to virtually “build” their dream car, which often ended up being an EV. As Niederberger explained, we need to make people realize that an EV can be the car that has the features they desire. Niederberger described a website Enervee built that provides customers with information on different vehicles and allows them to compare their non-EV “dream car” to the closest EV match so they can see the benefits of buying an EV instead.
Brown discussed CLEAResult’s work with utilities and their customers on EVs. Brown explained that CLEAResult’s approach is to make EVs desirable. CLEAResult’s approach is to meet the customer where they are – often on online forums or social media pages – rather than expecting customers to come to them for information, to close the information gaps by providing them with accurate and helpful information, and to advise them during the product evaluation period.