The future of our transportation system hangs in the balance. While no one can predict exactly what the future transportation system will look like, it’s likely to look as different from today’s system as the past looks from today’s vantage point. Technology is the force driving this change. Today’s vehicles leverage sensors, advanced algorithms, and connectivity to make driving safer and more convenient. Tomorrow’s vehicles will “talk” to the infrastructure and to each other; they may even drive themselves. Technology by way of fueling vehicles has also changed the current transportation landscape, and EVs (electric vehicles) will continue to shape the future transportation system as well.
According to the IEA (Intl. Energy Agency), www.iea.org, 753,000 plug-in EVs were sold globally in 2016, 60% of which were battery-electric cars. These numbers represent the highest sales ever, and they pushed the global EV stock up to 2 million units in circulation. The U.S. ranked third globally in 2016, selling 160,000 EVs. The nation’s EV sales trailed China and Europe, the top two global EV markets. Despite these numbers, IEA’s research puts EV sales in perspective, demonstrating these vehicles are still a minor fraction of all cars on the road at 0.2%.
The global EV market has some positive things going for it. For instance, awareness among the consumer base is growing, more EV options are becoming available to them, and battery technology continues to improve. As battery technologies improve, thereby increasing EV ranges, costs are also declining. As a result, EVs are not only easier to own but also cheaper to buy. Charging infrastructures are improving, albeit slowly, but it is easier now to own and drive an EV than it ever was.
Unfortunately, there are still some major hurdles for EV sales in the United States. For instance, all of this progress is for naught if automotive dealers don’t have the drive, expertise, information, and inventory to properly sell EVs. A new study from Ipsos RDA, www.ipsos.com, suggests consumers in the U.S. have frustratingly inconsistent and lackluster sales experiences when attempting to buy EVs at dealerships. Ipsos RDA’s EV Sales Experience and Best Practice Study reflects the experiences of mystery shoppers that visited dealerships in the top selling all-electric vehicle markets in the U.S. to assess their preparedness and examine the sales process across automotive brands currently offering battery-electric vehicles.
The study found traditional brand dealers that sell electric vehicles alongside other vehicles demonstrated a passive approach to selling EVs. A lack of expertise in the technology behind EVs, not to mention spotty inventory and a lack of critical EV ownership information consistently left shoppers with unanswered questions. As a result, the study suggests dealers tended to move consumers toward other, non-EV models that employees were more comfortable selling.
When connectivity in vehicles first began to come onto the scene, dealerships needed to make a concerted effort to learn the technology in the vehicles they were selling. While this is still a work in progress, technology is a big part of the selling process today. The same progression will need to happen with EVs if the market is going to live up to its potential. Customers looking to learn about batteries and ranges, charging infrastructure, in-vehicle connectivity, and more in EVs will need to be able to get their questions answered. Dealers that can have informed conversations with consumers about the pros and cons of EV ownership will be better poised to take advantage of the growing demand for the connected electric vehicles down the road.
Connected-car security continues to be a hurdle for adoption too. However, there is a bright spot on the horizon for IoT (Internet of Things) security, including connected vehicles and other aspects of smart infrastructure: blockchain. This technology, which was once associated with Bitcoin and the financial services industry, will soon bleed over into all corners of the connected society.
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