In 2011, President Obama announced an ambitious goal of one million EVs on U.S. roads by 2015. Judging by the numbers at the end of 2012 (with best estimates putting about 70,000 EVs on the road today—only 7 percent of the goal), it’s a long shot at best.
The blogosphere is full of speculation about why we’re not closer to the goal, with pundits pointing to causes ranging from insufficient infrastructure to lack of consumer enthusiasm, sticker shock and/or range anxiety. While increasing consumer adoption of EVs is a complex challenge and while we don’t see a single silver bullet, our decades of experience in both the marketing and policy sides of transportation lead us to a different conclusion.
The core problem lies in the way we’re all talking about EVs. Government agencies, automobile manufacturers and environmental advocates alike are focusing on the “vehicle” side of EVs – attempting to promote adoption using the same channels and marketing techniques that have been used to sell gasoline-powered vehicles for nearly half a century. But the problem is more than just how we’re marketing; it’s what we’re marketing.
What’s needed is not simply an “either-or” conversation about the merits of one vehicle over another. Instead, we need to start addressing the fundamental concept of mobility. We have spent so much time focusing on the object of transportation electrification—the cars—that we haven’t begun to address the subject: the economics and the gloomy reality of owning and operating a gas-powered vehicle in modern America.
Americans have a love affair with cars that is deeply ingrained in our psyche and history. It’s an extension of our notion of the frontier, the pioneer venturing out into the wild and building success from scratch. Cars have literally become the “vehicle” for this storyline in the modern era, not only in advertising and pop culture but also in the very fabric and design of our cities, most of which (at least on the West Coast) was built with the personal car in mind. Cars are a symbol of status and escape, the ultimate getaway vehicle. It’s easy for us to relate to the image of a hero speeding off into the sunset, not on a horse, but in a sexy sports car, top down with nothing but open road ahead.
Next page: Consumer concept of cars evolving with increased population