Electric Car Adoption: Not Why You Think

In the past, I’ve written about both the lack of innovation in the auto industry and Tesla Motors. Researching Tesla revealed many things. The physical, technical, and practical advantages of electric versus internal combustion cars are plentiful and amazing.

Yes, I’m convinced that the transition to fully electric cars is indeed inevitable. But it won’t happen for the reasons most people think—and it has nothing to do with helping the environment, running out of oil, or making the world a better place. While those are valid arguments that are well-and-good for the media and proponents of such voltage-based transport tech, they will have little to do with the inevitable success of all-electric personal transportation in the United States.

nissan leaf for linkedinMuscle cars are among the least efficient, loudest, and most smog-producing vehicles on the road. Despite this, they remain the most popular and revered of all cars ever made. I’d kill for a 1963 C2 Corvette or a 1967 Camaro. I watch Supernatural with my daughters just so I can hear the hunky 1967 Chevy Impala’s modified engine through my home theater’s subwoofer.

I can understand muscle car fans wincing at the prospect of driving across town in a nearly silent all-electric vehicle. On the surface, it doesn’t sound tough or cool—which runs counter to the 20th century-spawned notion that cars help define our personalities and, ironically, individuality (think James Dean, Steve McQueen, and Vin Diesel).

Let Me Count the Reasons

Advocates of electric vehicles, often tree-hugging environmentalists, new age hippies, and science geeks, give us countless reasons why electric cars will replace their fossil fuel-guzzling predecessors (not the least of which is the inevitable disappearance of oil). Melting ice caps, serious long-term health ramifications, and the prosperity of our children and our children’s children are all used to make us feel guilty about driving our noisy, sluggish, gas-guzzling sedans and SUVs.

But let’s not fool ourselves. Consumers will decide if electric cars replace internal combustion models, not governments, advocacy groups, or even the media. Because for consumers, it’s all about cost. We might be concerned about rising carbon dioxide levels and climate change, but if an exhaust-emitting internal combustion car is less expensive than a clean all-electric model, consumers—especially middle class consumers—will almost always opt for the cheaper model. At least if we want to take a vacation now and again or send our kids to college.

When Tesla Motors releases its much-anticipated Model 3 in 2017 or 2018—assuming they can actually sell it for $35,000—Americas will do some basic math and realize that they can have a car with decent range (200-250 miles per charge), significantly more storage, zero internally produced noise, Porsche performance (the current Model S sedan is literally faster than a Porsche 911), and the satisfaction of knowing they aren’t creating greenhouse gasses in their own back yard. For about the cost of a nicely optioned Ford Taurus or Nissan Altima, folks will realize they can have so much more.

Huge Savings on Consumables

But that’s the hedonistic car lover’s side of the equation. It’s after they do the consumables math, i.e., add up the costs of fuel and maintenance, that Americans will flock to electric cars in droves. This is primarily because, by selling a $35,000 high-performance all-electric car, Tesla (and any other manufacturer) doesn’t simply match the price of a gasoline-powered vehicle in the short term. It beats it in the long term—by a wide margin. Unlike fossil fuel-powered vehicles, the more you drive an electric car, the cheaper it is to own.

No oil changes, only a few bucks to charge the batteries (instead of the $50-120 required to fill the tanks of conventional piston-pumping vehicles), and no more standing in 10 degree F weather to fill their tanks at gas stations will convince consumers that electric cars aren’t only cheaper, but that they’re also more convenient. And convenience is what Americans are all about. There’s a McDonald’s on every corner and even Pizza Hut has a drive-thru window for a reason.

tesla model s replacement for blogA Tesla Model S owner in Wisconsin reported that he “barely even noticed” any increase in his electric bill when analyzing it to calculate how much it was costing him on a monthly basis to recharge his sleek all-electric sedan. I realize that’s a somewhat ambiguous statement, but the next time you “barely notice” the monthly accumulated gasoline bills for your car, let me know. Significantly less expensive fuel, combined with almost non-existent maintenance costs, dramatically change the overall cost of ownership of an all-electric car like the Nissan Leaf or any of Tesla’s models.

As one Model S owner commented, you simply charge it at night and replace the tires.

Car Dealerships Suck

Despite America’s love of cars, for the average consumer, a visit to a car dealership is like a trip to the dentist or an IRS audit. We don’t like it, and for good reason. It’s a smarmy, hawksterish zone where contention runs high and trust runs low. It’s populated by clueless salespeople, gaudy signage, and loud, obnoxious commercials. Most car dealers are a cheesy exercise in financial obfuscation, cheap and predatory sales tactics, and—all too often—a gross lack of professionalism and honesty. Yes, Lexus, BMW, and others luxury brands have done a lot to counter the mostly skanky state of the dealership industry, especially those representing the big middle class brands like Chevy, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Chrysler, and Hyundai. But conventional car dealerships still suck.

During the next few years, two things will happen in the auto industry. First, a company like Tesla will produce an affordable, attractive, and performance-oriented all-electric vehicle with an acceptable range. Obviously, others will follow. Second, Americans will begin to perceive that they can save money by owning an all-electric vehicle.

Dramatically reduced fuel and maintenance costs will motivate consumers to jump on the electric bandwagon—sports car-like performance and gee-whiz technology will simply be the icing on the cake. Once consumers are buying electric cars as fast as they’ve been purchasing iPhones and iPads for the past few years, all auto manufacturers will embrace the approach. Electric sales will soon after outpace those of old school piston bangers with tail pipes.

In the end, it will be the savings and convenience that will convince Americans to get in bed with electric vehicles, not rescuing the environment or even the amazing performance. And if we get to avoid a trip to the dentist in the form of negotiating with sleazy dealership dorks who we despise—and don’t trust—all the better.

curtsig2 - trans
Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

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5 thoughts on “Electric Car Adoption: Not Why You Think

  1. Interesting perspective…I contend, however, that it was the unrelenting push from the tree-huggers and science geeks that was the ultimate catalyst for getting the electric car to market…it is the auto manufacturers/industry who are now trying to find creative ways to get consumers to patronize their efforts that is ultimately fueling the new market and paradigm shift . And, that is where I think you are correct – the manufacturers are playing on the ultimate true motivator of the consumer – their pocketbook. If ideals were worth the cash in all our wallets, the world would certainly be a different place.

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  2. Even a lower cost Tesla will still be an “entry level” premium car. But we are an affluent society, and we love to spend our money on products that are “smart”. Smart may refer to financial savings or convenience, but just as often it refers to appearance, desirability, and status. IMHO, social approval/disapproval exerts a big influence on perceived “smartness.” It seems to me the key contribution of Tesla is to make environmental concern fully compatible other forms of smartness, thereby rendering their Model S the all around most attractive and desirable status symbol out there. It is thereby able to overcome being a bit pricy initially (but not more so than other full size premium options) and a bit inconvenient (having to plan ahead for road trip refueling).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “Consumers will decide if electric cars replace internal combustion models, not governments, advocacy groups, standards bodies, or even the media. Because for consumers, it’s all about cost.”
    Well, I would paraphrase it like this:
    The government is deciding about incentives & taxes ; thus on price level ; and most of the consumers – for who it’s all about cost – will just react, “opt for the cheaper model” and eventually follow the government’s orientation.
    We can hope that the government, it’s us 😉

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  4. Hi Didier. Thanks for your comment.

    I agree that the current US government tax credit has a big influence on consumer behavior. $7,500 in one’s pocket is a significant motivator and vastly helps one decide on an EV over a gas-guzzler. However, when Tesla’s Model 3 is released in 2017 or 2018, there will be real competition on price, regardless of tax credits.

    The EV tax credit won’t last forever. In fact, according to the IRS, “The credit begins to phase out for a manufacturer’s vehicles when at least 200,000 qualifying vehicles have been sold for use in the United States.”

    Tesla has not yet sold this many EVs. Nissan hasn’t reached this level with the Leaf. So, ironically, when these vehicles become even more popular—fueled in part by the tax credit—it will go away. But with a $35,000 high-performance pure EV like the Model 3 (or when the even less expensive Leaf achieves a range of 250+ miles), the tax credit will no longer be necessary to motivate consumer to jump on the EV bandwagon.

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  5. Pingback: The Future of Electric Car Sales - CarNewsCafe.com

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