In a room with nearly 800 people focused on development of battery power and alternative energy solutions, a smattering of hands raised Wednesday, Sept. 12, at what appeared to be a simple question from speaker Chelsea Sexton. “This week is actually National Drive Electric Week. How many people know that?” she asked. “That’s the problem. Nobody knows.”
Sexton, an electric vehicle advocate and advisor, based in California, served as morning keynote speaker for the 2018 Battery Show, taking place this week at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Mich.More than 600 exhibitors and 8,000-plus attendees were expected to participate in the event which includes the Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology Expo.
Sexton, who joined the General Motors EV1 electric vehicle program in the 1990s, has expertise in advanced transportation and related technology deployment, including product development, go-to-market strategy, stakeholder engagement, retail processes, public policy, infrastructure, marketing and communications. She is featured in various books, TV shows, and films, including Sony Pictures’ Who Killed the Electric Car? and National Geographic’s Years of Living Dangerously.
In her speech, Sexton spoke of the slow progress made in the EV market, which now has 4 million plus vehicles (including some 400,000 in the state of California). EV sales in California account for only 5 percent to 6 percent of new car sales in the state. She noted, however, that growth is accelerating as more and more carmakers embrace EV technology. By the year 2022, she believes electric vehicles will match production costs of internal combustion engine vehicles and that will be the true tipping point for EV development and broad acceptance among carmakers and the public.
To this point, carmakers have taken more of a “show us the demand and we’ll build the cars” mentality, which is the opposite of how car companies have operated with traditional vehicles, she notes. “It’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy,” she said of the view that most consumers aren’t ready to jump to electric vehicles.
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Lack of available product is the single biggest problem impacting consumer demand, said Sexton, and without more products offered on a national scale (not just in California) the public won’t be as prepared to make EV purchases.
While some car companies have begun constructing EV products, like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, Tesla has been the poster child for the EV revolution. “They’ve started to change consumer expectations. The car is something that will grow with them,” said Sexton. But “no single car company is going to be able to do it by themselves.”
Changes have to come with marketing efforts to capture the “fun” associated with owning EVs, as well as the overall environmental benefits associated with lower emissions, she believes. Infrastructure improvements also must be made to simplify the recharging stations for consumers unfamiliar with the technology. Otherwise, “we risk making future mobility behave like mobility of the past,” she said.