How utilities can bring their customers out of the “ICE” age and in to an EV
September 16, 2019
September 16, 2019
This week is National Drive Electric Week, a nationwide celebration with one goal: increase the adoption of electric vehicles. In order to achieve this goal they need to tackle two of the most difficult tasks for any new product or service, education and awareness. Both tasks can be time-consuming, frustrating and expensive, but they are critical for the future of electrifying transportation. This responsibility doesn’t just fall on these non-profit groups, there are multiple types of business’ that need to work together on many levels in order to promote EVs, and utilities have the opportunity to play a key role.
Who should be leading education efforts?
EVs create an odd situation where it is not 100% clear who should be spearheading the education efforts. It would be logical that auto manufacturers, dealers and sales representatives would lead the way since it’s their product, however they may be hesitant to spend resources promoting one product that will reduce the sales of others. In fact, there have been times when the person wanting to purchase an EV was more knowledgeable about the car than the sales rep. EV advocate groups have great product knowledge, but their reach is typically smaller and they often have the most success with people who are already considering buying an EV. One of the reasons they may have trouble reaching out to a broader audience is that they have no previous relationship with them.
This is why utilities need to step up and take a leadership role in educating future EV owners. Utilities are a natural fit for EV education as they are already communicating with the potential drivers, they have a vested interest in increased adoption, and will continue to be a part of a driver’s journey once they have purchased the vehicle. These customers can be used as a demand response asset or utilities can use a behavioural loadshifting program like SmartCharge Rewards, which creates a platform for regular communication.
Misinformed or just unaware?
Educating customers on EVs isn’t a simple task as it is a newer technology that people are aware of, but they often have little or incorrect information. When a colleague of mine first started at our company I asked him what he knew about electric vehicles. He said, “I know they’ve been around for a while, they’re supposed to be better for the environment, and that they run on electricity.” Although he said it in a joking manner, this is what he actually knew. More and more EVs are mentioned in the news or on TV, so people are aware that they exist. Also, because the stories about them are often in relation to environmental news, that is what they associate with them. While greenhouse gas reduction is one of the clear benefits of EVs it is not the only one, and unfortunately the environment isn’t everyone’s top priority. In fact, environmental concerns like climate change or renewable energy can often create another layer of misconceptions, which is another problem that requires a lot of education that I won’t get into.
So how do you peak someone’s interest in EVs without solely focusing on GHG reduction? By communicating the other advantages of electric vehicles. Fewer repairs, the convenience of “filling up” at home, and lower fuel costs are just some of the things that customers can relate to. My colleague was also skeptical about the fuel costs because “his hydro bill was high enough already.” However after he researched it more, and compared the cost to fully charge a battery versus a full tank of gas, he was shocked. It’s not that he is someone who is uninformed, it was that he was never exposed to that information in his day-to-day life until he started working in the industry. Your average person isn’t going to go out of their way to research something they don’t know about unprompted, so the first step in customer education is exposing the topic to them.
Making the content relatable
When reaching out to someone who is outside of the industry it is important to speak their language. For example, if you told someone who knew nothing about electric vehicles that the new 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV boasts up to 74 MPGe and can be fully charged by a L2 EVSE in roughly 3 hours, they will probably just stare at you (or worse, stop paying attention to you). Most EV owners are early adopters who understand the lingo, new potential owners don’t. These products are entirely new to some people and can be intimidating, which is why companies like Chargeway are creating tools in order to help people transition into the world of EVs. Once you are speaking in their language you need to give them information that they can relate to. As I mentioned before utilities shouldn’t solely focus on a single benefit, whether it’s based on environmental, lifestyle or price-related factors. By offering a combination of benefits you are more likely to appeal to the majority of people, and it also helps establish credibility.
Overcoming the utility credibility gap
It’s obvious for a customer why they should listen to a utility company when they are giving advice on lowering their hydro bill or making a more energy efficient home, they are directly connected. It may be less obvious why they should listen to them when they are thinking of buying a car, as utilities have not traditionally been a part of that portion of a customer’s life before. It would be easy for them to simply brush off any attempt at EV promotion as a way to try to sell more electricity. What needs to be conveyed is why EVs are so important to utilities and their potential role in grid stabilization. If a customer realizes that we are in this together, and that EVs are mutually beneficial, they are much more likely to listen. Another great way to build credibility is to team up with a third party solution provider like FleetCarma, ZappyRide, or with an industry group like the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA). Not only does this typically provide more resources but it may relieve some concerns when they see there is another company that is invested.
Don’t be afraid to promote someone else’s content
Not all utilities will have resources dedicated to EV adoption and it may seem like a daunting task to build a program from scratch. Fortunately there are others that have done the heaving lifting and utilities can leverage this content in a variety of ways. They can promote existing content, like FleetCarma’s #EVsAreBetter videos, through social media and add a note in their post that relates to their specific customers. Another great option is passing along any information related to available incentives, whether it’s a government rebate on purchasing a new vehicle or an incentive on installing an EVSE. If a utility can work directly with the 3rd party and co-brand the promotions that is great, but it isn’t always necessary. Obviously you can’t take some of this content as your own, but other companies have worked hard on creating and distributing the content, so they are happy that it gets promoted. Utilities have a relationship with the target audience which gives them more reach. As long as the content you are promoting is applicable to your customers, it will help create awareness in a positive manner.
Seeing is believing
Since this can be the first time some customers will be exposed to EVs there will naturally be skepticism. The best way to overcome these doubts is to give them an experience. This can be taken in the literal sense, by hosting ride and drives where people get to check out a vehicle without the sales pressure of a dealership. They can also experience this vicariously by hearing from a current EV driver. Most of today’s EV owners still fall into the early adopter category and they are advocates who are usually more than willing to promote EVs. Having them provide testimonials or answer common questions can go a long way with reassuring a potential driver. Some programs, like SmartCharge Rewards, provide drivers the tools to promote EVs by giving them data dashboards and badges they can share through social media. SmartCharge Rewards participants can even earn bonus points for referring other participants to join, increasing adoption in the programs.
We are all in this together
This is an exciting time to be in the industry, as we are on the cusp of so many great initiatives but it can be difficult. We are trying to sell new concepts, that are constantly changing and have the unique ability to stir up a lot of emotions. These types of technology revolutions may not be easy but they are happening everywhere. Eventually internal combustion engine vehicles will be seen the same way we view VCRs and landline phones, just a stage in an overall evolution. We are all in this together and by leveraging each other we can help lead everyone out of the “ICE” age.
Scott Lepold is a Partner Account Manager of EV Utility Programs at FleetCarma, a division of Geotab Inc. Scott works with electric utilities to develop innovative programs for managing EV load and accelerating electric transportation initiatives to increase EV adoption. https://www.fleetcarma.com/about/scott-lepold/