The Canadian auto industry has recently been filled with news pertaining to electric vehicles, from the launch of the Ford F-150 Lightning to how Cadillac dealers are preparing for an all-EV future and the federal government’s new ambition of ensuring all new light-duty vehicles sold in Canada are ZEVs by the year 2035.
We appear to be all charged up, but there’s a hurdle: Buyers are behind on the learning curve.
According to a recent survey of 1,500 people commissioned by Kia Canada, 84 per cent didn’t know that many EVs have ranges of more than 350 kilometres. Yet range is a key concern for buyers.
“There’s a lot of good questions that we assume everybody knows, but frankly the general public doesn’t,” Elias El-Achhab, vice-president and COO of Kia, told the recent Canada Congress Conversations roundtable on the future of EVs.
So in April the automaker opened an EV experience centre in Vancouver. The goal is to build awareness and swing consumers by showcasing the virtues of EVs.
The need for public education is no surprise, but it’s anyone’s guess just how wide that knowledge gap is. And that’s where the industry needs to focus.
Kia found that 50 per cent of respondents said they’re interested in EVs or would consider purchasing EVs, but only 3.5 per cent did.
Why? Is it because of a lack of EV selection, sticker shock, long charge times, range issues or lack of understanding of EVs in general? It’s not one, but most definitely a combination of all of the above.
EV selection will improve dramatically over the next few years, but that might not mean much if customers are left behind.
Hugo Jeanson, co-owner and general manager of Bourgeois Chevrolet-Buick-GMC near Montreal, told the congress that buyers of EVs discover they’re better overall than fossil-fuel vehicles and that EVs are more reliable and need less maintenance. EVs currently make up about half of Bourgeois’ sales.
It’s logical that customers can’t fully realize these benefits until they actually own an EV, which is a bit of a catch-22. So what can be done to flip the script? Well, for one, get potential customers behind the wheel.
Kia’s EV experience centre is one example of the marketing potential that exists to entice the public. We’re likely to see all manner of experiential events — perhaps even national programs — by automakers to put customers in the driver’s seat.
Even I was skeptical of EVs, and then I lived with the Hyundai Kona EV for a week.
My key takeaways:
- Range (nearly 400 kilometres in the case of the Kona) and charging time are basically irrelevant if the EV is plugged in whenever it’s not being driven. I learned that rather than waiting until the batteries are low, just stay plugged in and avoid (for the most part) ever being low.
- EVs are fun: The instant torque and smooth/linear power delivery make the Kona a hoot to drive.
- I was hooked: Once back in my internal-combustion car, I was annoyed by the noise and vibration, the transmission shifting, the lack of instant power and the fact that the next fill-up was nearly $100.
What my experience proves is that automakers need to engage with customers to bring them along for the EV ride, because my next new vehicle will be an EV.