More and more car manufacturers are taking their first tentative steps into the world of fully electric or plug-in cars, so we thought we would create a handy guide to let them know what helps when it comes to selling these cars.
Understandable Range Figures
Arguably one of the two most important aspects of a plug in vehicle. The first question anyone goes to is: ‘How far can I travel?’ But unfortunately, the answer gets complicated very quickly.
Sure, you can start talking about different driving styles, drag coefficients and how external factors will always have an influence but by this point many people will have switched off.
Official range statistics are just as bad. While the NDEC cycle produces widely optimistic range estimates the more reasonable EPA cycles can also mislead. There are two fundamental issues, as far as we can see at Transport Evolved.
A Single Figure
All of the range estimation cycles produce a single figure. This is then boldly promoted by the manufacturer as ‘The Range’. It is completely understandable that a potential buyer will see this and assume that the car can reach that figure in all circumstances. This is essentially the EV verson of the ‘miles per gallon’ problem that many car makers are dealing with.
The Mystery Behind the Cycles
What do the cycles test? How many people can answer that? Not many, we would guess. What is involved? How much weight is loaded in to the car? Can it simulate regen or coasting?
Without knowing the parameters of the test cycle we can’t use its results with any certainty. For example:
On the Mark Test Cycle One the 2011 Nissan Leaf can go 98 miles. Great. But what we are not telling you is that the car is being driven by our lightest friend (who hasn’t eaten for two days) with no passengers or luggage. She is coasting instead of breaking and is travelling mostly downhill on a warm day.
On the Mark Test Cycle Two the very same car only gets 35 miles. It’s being driven by the portly Mark Chatterley himself, fully loaded with camera and video equipment, four friends after a heavy Sunday lunch and we are heading up one of the 20% hills that are around his house… in the rain.
Test cycle figures are meaningless without knowing what the test cycle is doing.
Which standard do you go with? This question is fairly easy if you are making a car for the US market. Go for Type 1 – also know as ‘J1772’. This is used everywhere. Out and about cars will be able to pull up to around 7kW of power from public posts.
In Europe we have a different AC standard called Type 2 – aka ‘Mennekes’. This allows us to make use of the three-phase power that is pretty much everywhere. But, alas, this hasn’t stopped cars being released with a Type 1 connector on them, forcing owners to drag around adapter cables to be able to plug in to public charging.
So that seems fairly simple. US = Type 1. EU = Type 2.
The most deployed standard at the moment is CHAdeMO. So maybe it is sensible to go with this? But this isn’t the agreed standard in either the US or the EU where the Combo Standard (CCS) has been agreed – this is essentially a Type 1 or 2 plug with two extra pins glued on.
The choice here, it seems, is go with what is readily available or what is agreed. At Transport Evolved we’d suggest that the best route to go down would depend on how much you are willing to support the charging infrastructure. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty in that way, go with CHAdeMO. If you want to help build a network, go for CCS.
We’re purposely avoiding the Tesla SuperCharger standard here as there hasn’t been any suggestions of Tesla licensing the technology out. Although, in the EU where they use a modified Type 2 connector this could pretty much give Tesla the de facto standard.
Do you want your car to look like a ‘normal’ car so as not to put off potential buyers who just want to get from A to B with as little energy as possible? Or do you want your car to make a statement? The issue with the former is that some people might want to stand out; conversely the issue with the latter is that you are making each and every buyer make the same statement as you.
This may be one of the hardest decisions for a manufacturer when designing their first plug-in car.
Let’s go back to the EV1. Not the most conventional looking car – in fact, one word that we like to use to describe it, even now, is futuristic. It screams, ‘I am different.’ And depending on who you talk to, that either worked too well, or not at all. Take a guess which side of that we at Transport Evolved are on.
In more modern cars, the Mitsubishi i(MiEV) isn’t exactly conventional looking and it doesn’t really have the sales to back it up as a mainstream electric car – although it does have a loyal driver-base. The Nissan Leaf is a little ‘bug-eyed’ but still maintains a reasonable sales record.
In the higher end of the market, the Model S is a very ‘normal’ looking car and is selling well; but the Fisker Karma – conventional-looking as it was – never sold in particularly high numbers.
These is no real ‘right’ answer to this question – and we are sure that manufacturers have access to far more information about their potential customers than we do. We would suggest that any manufacturer looks long and hard at what they want to do with their plug-in car. If it is for the customer – rather than just for, say, California law – then look into what the customer expects. Many brands can take a look-at-me car, some can’t.
Price has to come in to it. How much money are people willing to spend? How much are they willing to spend on your car? Two subtly different questions.
Tesla has shown that there are a lot of people willing to spend a lot of money on a high-end car but is this a model that all makers should be following? No.
We often hear that the main cost of a plug-in car is the battery – our suggestion would be to make this count. Make the battery as big as the cost of the car will allow. Even to the point of pushing what could be ‘standard’ features into the ‘optional extra’. At the moment, in the EV world, range is king.
One feature that many plug-in drivers would love is the option to choose the size of their battery pack. Believe it or not, and some manufacturers refuse to believe this, some drivers of electric cars want to be able to drive more than 70 miles without recharging.
It could be argued that the move towards pluggable cars takes cars towards a more ‘technology sales’ model rather than the traditional ‘car sales’ model. Tesla is showing that people like this approach: Buying online, having a base model they can ‘spec up’ and – dare we say it – upgrade.
This is the elephant in the room when it comes to plug-in cars. Manufacturers’ own sales people just don’t ‘get’ the cars. Asking ‘petrol head’ sales people to sell an electric car is like asking a vegan to sell prime cut steak. It just doesn’t work. You can teach them all the buzz words, facts and figures, but they will always see these cars as different.
From our own experience at Transport Evolved, and from what we gather from some of our readers, these cars could be sold so much better. Getting the sales people to a point where they know more than the potential buyers would be a good start.
Transport Evolved thinks that if a manufacturer were to concentrate and think about these five areas their potential EV would stand a good chance of being a very good seller. What do you think?
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