A plea to all EV makers. Learn how to sell a car…

If you’re wondering about the title of this post It’s quite simple. I’m fed up dealing with all the excuses that car companies make when trying to sell EVs. It’s not going to make them popular. Plus it gives the Jeremy Clarksons of the world ammunition in their mission to hate anything without a V8 and a huge exhaust. And who can blame them. When so many in the EV world make silly claims about their cars or silly excuses about how they perform.
I’ve been thinking about this post for quite some time, ever since I went for a test-drive for an EV in London and found that the company offering the test drive were about as professional as buying a car from a dodgy guy in a pub car-park. Why? It was poor organisation, delivery and knowledge. Oh, and a car which was nearly empty. Not good publicity. (They’ve since improved greatly).

Be honest. Be simple. It’s not much to ask, is it?
So I’ve written a few thoughts on how EV companies and regular car companies could improve the way they sell alternative fueled vehicles.

  • Give a realistic range estimate, not a theoretical maximum
    This one really bugs the whatsits off me. While I’m a through and through EV nut I can’t stand it when a car company sells an EV claiming that it has a fifty mile range, for example, but can only do that 50 mile range in good weather on a clear road and with no passengers. Okay, I know that petrol cars also have a big issue surrounding EPA mileage figures (or their European equivalent). Car makers got their knuckles severely rapped for stating unachievable mileage figures. But the fact of the matter is that electric vehicle companies seem especially good at playing the exaggerating mileage game.
    It may appear at first to be a good tactic. After all, who wants to state that their car will do fifty miles on a charge, when, given optimum conditions, it’ll do sixty. Of course you want to state that it’ll do sixty miles. The problem with that is that the public, the people who are responsible for the success of your vehicle, don’t like buying a product which does less than it claims it’ll do. They’d much rather buy something with less expectations and then be pleasantly surprised. That fifty-mile EV would suddenly seem so much nicer if it did sixty miles. You’d feel rather special if you had managed to ‘cheat’ those extra ten miles out of the car, wouldn’t you?
    At the moment, if you see an EV for sale, the best method is to take 10% off the range, just so you get a realistic expectation of what the car can do. Unless, of course, it’s a Tesla. Tesla recently managed to get much more than their “official” range whilst on the Eco Monty Carlo rally.
  • Don’t make excuses
  • Believe it or not, many EV companies will make excuses about their vehicles. Maybe not on the website or in the brochure, but they’ll certainly elude at it or perhaps salespeople will say it when they talk to you. You’ll know when things like “Well, it is an electric car” come along as the start of the sentence. You’ll be surprised too as to what the simple fact that a car is electric can do to to excuse even the most basic of things, like service costs, repair times and most importantly, price. The fact that a car company is making an electric vehicle is not an excuse to make a vehicle which costs more than a regular one, but excludes the things that you’d normally expect in a modern car.

  • Don’t sell the car on things that other cars have as standard, or charge extra for them.
  • You really send out the wrong vibes when your website or advertising material lists things like inertia reel seat belts, a radio and intermittent wash/wipe as key selling points of your vehicle. It makes me wonder (and I’m sure it makes other consumers wonder) what on earth your vehicle is like if you have to scrape the feature barrel to make key selling points. Sure, you have to list the car’s features – but do it on a specification chart on the last page of the brochure.
    The things the consumer wants to know are more unusual features that the car has which makes it stand apart from the rest of the crowd, like it’s patented quick-charge system, it’s 0-60 time or it’s advanced safety features. As I said just above, making and selling a green EV or PHEV is not an excuse to scrimp on things most people expect in a car.

  • Avoid jumping on the bandwagon – Launch when you have something physical to show for it.
  • This one is particularly rife in the EV and PHEV world. A company comes up with a great idea, product or vehicle, and then goes mad telling everyone and anyone about it. That’s fine. Media coverage is an important aid when it comes to launching your new business. But you have to have something to SELL before you can do that with any great effect. There’s a few companies out there who have been six months from releasing their fantastic new EV for several years now. I won’t embarrass them by saying who they are. If you’re an EV nut you probably have a fair idea already.
    The best way to get to market is to develop your idea as best you can without too much in the way of publicity. Sure, get a prototype. Get some decent VC funding. But don’t launch the website. Don’t squeal about how great your new vehicle is until it’s a physical thing. Something that a customer could come and test drive, like, place a deposit and be driving a few weeks later.
    Even the mighty Tesla have been caught in this trap of what is in effect, the Automotive equivalent of buying a house off-plan. But even when a real estate developer sells a house off-plan there is at least a show home somewhere to base the sale on. But for many years electric car companies have banded about fantastic figures, inconsistent facts, mumbles, promises and ‘next year’ launch dates which never arrive. That has done more damage to the EV industry than you can possibly imagine. Those who don’t have an interest and who don’t follow on with research on what they hear or read will grow up thinking that your company isn’t worth the shiny domain name you have. Worse still, they’ll tar other, more organised outfits, with the same brush.
    And what ever you do, don’t start selling a car (or launch a website for one) when you don’t even have a prototype. It’ll piss off investors and future customers if your website sits like a glacier for six months while you go through final testing, followed by a six-month order time. They’ll go and buy something else instead.

  • Be professional
  • Your potential customers are important. Treat them well. Be honest. Be open.
    Have a clean test drive vehicle. Help your potential customers to find a suitable place or time to drive it. If your product is as good as you think it is then it should sell itself. Answer all questions honestly. If you don’t know, offer to get back to them. (This one is particularly important in the EV world as often salespeople aren’t necessarily tech savvy, car salespersons and won’t be able to answer each and every question straight away).

  • Don’t pile extras on the final purchase price in an attempt to keep the sticker price down
  • When an EV costs more than a regular gas-powered car at the offset (even though running costs may be less) there’s nothing worse than making a complicated pricing strucutre. Customers don’t like being told that the £8,000 car they just fell in love with is actually going to cost them another £1,000 in ‘standard’ extras before it hits the road. Just don’t do it.

There we are. There’s some ideas, at least.
Dear EV companies.
Please try a bit harder, eh? Don’t give us bovine byproduct and package it up as saving the earth.
Your vehicles should sell themselves. And be electric into the bargain. And it’s possible. At the end of the day, those companies who can clean up their act and produce honest, working EVs will be supported. Those who constantly squeak about how good they are when they don’t even have a finished vehicle are, quite frankly, wrecking the credibility of the whole alternative fuel vehicle industry. Please stop it.