So I got an electric car – part 3 – the future

Now that I made you come back not once, but twice to the blog (you’re welcome), what is the future of electric cars? Specifically, here in Canada?

To be honest – the future is not looking so good. As much as I personally love my Leaf, and as much as I enjoy smirking when I pass by Toronto gas stations with ever-increasing prices – the bottom line is this: not enough people are driving them. And that’s the biggest factor that Nissan, Mitsubishi, Chevy, Tesla – and anyone else developing electric  vehicles – should be concerned about. Cars on roads. Products shipped. Current customers.

Granted, my Leaf mobile app, and Electric Charger app keep adding new stations in the area, and yes, most of them are free (see above map). So it looks like some smart businesses are getting on board and installing (relatively inexpensive) chargers to bring in customers, or keep people on their property longer (ahem, restaurants). That’s just good ol’ entrepreneurial spirit. And I’m seeing these stations pop up at government buildings and city halls – that’s more of a vehicle fleet savings for them, than a convenience for me, the driver. A good move – but it’s driven by their budget needs, not forward-thinking transit analysis. I also just found out that Leaf is coming out with a new model – one that charges faster, and battery lasts a little longer. That’s hopeful – should lead to more sales, easier adoption among skeptics. But it’s still not enough.

In fact, just to show how backwards-thinking the City of Toronto is – my ‘green vehicle’ license, which allows me to use high-occupancy lanes on highways, even if I’m driving alone (another great benefit of an electric vehicle) is not ‘recognized’ by the city. So as I drive south of Steeles ave. on Hwy404, I cannot stay in high-occupancy lane, even though GREEN VEHICLES ARE ALLOWED IN THEM… in any other civilized city. Even more confusing, this link above says one thing, and the cop who stopped me a few months ago said ‘no, you can’t be in this lane if you’re driving solo, regardless of our green plates’. So there’s a whole level of miscommunication between the city and its citizens, and between the police force and their … taxpayers. A different rant, for a different day…

Ok, back to the future of electric cars. Why aren’t they being marketed more aggressively? Why is the only electric car I keep hearing about (in media) is Tesla – which is about 2x more expensive, most certainly designed for warmer climates, and is absolutely being marketed to a specific, high-end customers? Nothing wrong with Tesla, it’s a beautiful piece of technology, and if I ever won a lottery, I would get it – as a toy that can also be used as a vehicle :) But it simply cannot compete with other vehicles in terms of value, cost. Also, Tesla is a small company – which is clever enough to retain an amazing marketing/PR firm to help them push the product. And they have plenty of good connections in tech blogs – which have slowly become part of regular media. They only have one product – electric cars – they either make it or die in this market. No hedged bets, no wishy-washy marketing. The recent Tesla vs. New York Times review scandal is proof that Tesla is a niche company, with a lot to lose, so naturally it’s very prominent in media.

So why don’t we hear more about other electric cars, from established car-makers? Maybe the simple fact is that traditional media still has many expensive, ongoing, valuable ad campaigns for Chevy Tahoe, so why bother promoting Chevy Volt? If there are so many Nissan Altimas on the roads (and therefore, in car dealerships, assembly lines), why would (from an advertizing, market-share standpoint) anyone spend time promoting a Leaf? If Mitsubishi has just entered North-American market a few years ago, and is best known for Legacy – why take the risk and create new campaigns, make new videos for I-Miev? It takes money, so wouldn’t be easier to just re-cycle the same campaign for Legacy we ran back in 2009? Again, it’s a simple cost/benefit scenario for the people who decide what ad you see in paper/magazine/tv spot. Supply and demand. Quickly, which cars were advertised at this year’s Superbowl? What about the Oscars? Exactly. Not a lot of mass media love for the tree-hugger’s car.

So green vehicles remain outliers – not well known, not aggressively promoted, but with loyal ownership. I crunched my numbers before making the jump, so I’m happy with this decision, and will not go back to fossil-burning easily. Filling up is just more expensive – for me. But I’m just one guy – no marketing plan, no advertizing budget. Problem is, gas cars have become such a big part of our lifestyle, and culture, it’s a habit. It’s a convenience. So it’s not enough to inform people, and communicate the benefits and cost-savings – green car companies have a giant task of breaking people’s habits. How do you do that? How do you promote the ‘green’ aspect of your new product, while encouraging a habit change? Not something a car company can undertake.

Ironically enough, Tesla might have the motivation and sheer survival behind its push of their product – but not enough resources; whereas Toyota, Chevy, Nissan and Mitsubishi – have the resources; but not the dire need. They’re just hedging bets, and counting on some early adopters (like myself) to help them leverage their oil-dependent product line. For now, I’m just glad it’s more than one company trying this out, and I’m glad to see more of electric cars (and stations) pop up around Toronto. But in the long term – the very same people who are whining about the price of gas every April to October – will either commit to breaking a few habits and rush to buy more electric cars, or we’ll all be back to whining about gas prices. And then some smartass will do a sequel to the ‘Who Killed the Electric Car‘ documentary.

Yeah, the future looks pretty gloomy in this scenario… Meanwhile I’ll just keep driving my Leaf, and giggling at SUVs and gasoline prices. Especially around long weekends. It’s the least I can do. That, and occasionally reminding you that I filled up maybe 3 times since last May. And that my car produces zero emissions. And that it’s cheaper than you think. And that it’s quite convenient and cool… Maybe you should just re-read my entire 3-part tirade again :) Maybe it will change your mind. I’m staying optimistic.

PS: this is it for now – but I’m sure there will be a part 4 sometime in a few months.

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