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Electric this

Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 04-04-13 at 8:35 a.m.

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It turns out the road to hell really is paved with good intentions - and so is the road to product rollout fail.


Being new, or even progressive, are not qualities that, in and of themselves, will make your product a hit. The automobile industry is learning that as the introduction of the electric car stalls at the starting line.


It shouldn't be that way. Research indicates that consumers harbour a lot of goodwill for the electric car:


-71% of Canadians find electric cars interesting[1]

-71% of Quebecers think the electric car will replace combustion technology[2]


So... why isn't this goodwill translating into tangible purchases?


According to consumers[3], the first motivator for buying an electric car is environmental concern; the second, freedom from the tyranny of oil. Major purchase inhibitors? Sticker shock, and the limited travel range before having to charge the battery. Benefits are external (environmental concern) and downsides are associated with the product itself (price, limited usage). Bad recipe.


Let's talk cellphones to compare. At the dawn of the tech-communication revolution 20 short years ago, only early adopters had the clunky new devices, the antenna on their cars broadcasting to the world "I am on the cutting edge." Status was enough then - but not anymore. Now, with some 5 billion+ people using cells worldwide according to the United Nations telecom agency (ITU), consumers expect their handheld to do everything but teleport them. And it does. Design matters, as the firms chasing Apple have learned, but apps, operation, and capability matter more. It's no longer "See how cool I look with my phone" but "I love what my phone can do." Not so much external validation as internal motivation. It's a computer, a camera, a social media connector. It's wireless , and 4G,  and sexy and powerful.


According to Panoramatm (CROP's proprietary sociocultural monitor), actual owners of electric cars are early adopters who seek social recognition by being the first to try out new products. They are in it for the novelty, more so than for the environment but they would never admit to it. In order to increase the market share of electric cars, manufacturers must target a greater number of mainstream consumers.


While they're helping save Mother Earth, automobile buyers want a car that they can, you know, drive. Yet instead of telling the showroom visitor about what a car can do, auto manufacturers are trapped into telling her about its limitations. That's the polar opposite of selling - it's pre-disastering the sale. What driver wants to go in knowing that his new car has a battery range of 400 kilometres?


Appealing to morality will only take you so far. Think, for instance, of recycling. Everyone you know has embraced it now, but the inherent ethical appeal would fade if you had to carry your trash to five separate bins four blocks from your house. There's only so much you can demand from your target citizen, and even less from your consumer.


Besides recycling, the only other truly "environmental" initiative we've participated in recently, involving a change in consumer behaviour, was the elimination of plastic bags at the supermarket. Beyond showing the world that they care about the environment, consumers adopted it for one good reason: You can carry stuff very effectively.


There's a consistent message here: you can't build a business model on buyers' goodwill - especially not at $40,000 a throw. Electric car manufacturers will have to perfect and then demonstrate the utility of the vehicle before it takes off. They can start by finding and using the voices of satisfied consumers, who can advocate for the tangible inherent benefits of owning and driving an electric car, such as:


-The car is a noiseless environment: I can listen to my favourite music without interference

-The engine has full power from ignition: on the start, I have more torque than a   sports car


Because the key to making an electric car go in the marketplace is what it does for the driver, not the planet.


[1] Crop Panorama 2012

[2] Crop / LaPresse published in LaPresse November 21st 2011

[3] ibid