(Photo- Thanks to Joe Mayer. On the right is Oregonian Reporter Scott Learn talking to Charlie Allcock of PGE. The distinguished looking guy on the far left is me (ha) speaking to Cindy Laurilla, Manager of Real Estate for PGE.)
Okay, I’m tired. I just spent the last four days manning the ClipperCreek Booth at the Portland Auto Show, speaking to consumers, networking with dealers and industry insiders, breathing the air, taking the temperature, trying to keep my mind open to determine “the truth” about where we are as a going as but a small slice of the industry; in Zen Buddhism, this is known as exercising the beginner’s mind. Before I quickly shift gears into the week, I need to share some observations that we all must process as we continue to promote this technology vociferously.
The first is we need to stop allowing ourselves to be pigeonholed as “green”.
The Portland Auto Show has put our technology in the “Eco-Center” for the past three years. Our real name is the “Advanced Vehicle Technology Center.” If smoke comes out of your tailpipe in 2013, you are not driving an advanced vehicle. You are driving old technology and reading yesterday’s newspaper. To rephrase a Palinism, a putting lipstick on a pig does not make it less porcine. I thought of this as I looked at the “new” Chevy Corvette. We need to force our hand. If we’re paying for exhibiting, we should drive the proper message. We must be clear that these cars are not about being green, they are about superior driving experience, interactivity, and the future. Should we have booth babes? Ah, I won’t even go there.
The media. We had an Oregonian reporter, Scott Learn, (whose name seems appropriate for someone in journalism) come to the Eco Center and speak for an hour to many knowledgeable people- including Charlie Allcock of PGE who was recently listed as one of the top one hundred electrifying leaders nationally. Was he quoted in the article? No. “Are Electric Vehicles Poised to turn Corner with Public?” was the title. “Too Pricey.” “Too much Plastic inside.”(?) “What if we run out of juice?” were all issues stated in theopening paragraphs. But the best line of all, from GM’s spokesmen Kevin Kelly, “The biggest issue here is cost, let’s just be honest.” Then more than halfway through the article things got rosier and some follow-up comments were hopeful. Kelly added, that the cost is dropping and “we’ll see generational improvements and we’re working on those as fast as we can.” He likened it to other new technologies like cell phones and the range and other performance metrics are ticking up as the costs fall. So all is not doom and gloom, but we have a lot of convincing- of the media, consumers and dealers- to do.
Tesla needs to be at these shows. Consumers demand to see the Tesla and the Auto Dealers refuse to let them into these dealer-sponsored shows because they are not part of the “franchise” network but do direct selling. So what? This show is about consumers, and the Tesla perfectly exemplifies advanced vehicle technology. If the Dealers won’t allow Tesla to be present, we should have them (even if its only obliging Tesla owners) rent space at a neighboring parking lot and show people the cars there. Seriously.
What really continues to frighten me is the fact that Auto Dealers do NOT want to sell these cars. Walking the main floor, NOT ONE AUTO DEALER HAD INFORMATION ABOUT THE $7500 FEDERAL TAX CREDIT. Excuse me? They said such things as, well not everyone qualifies and so we can’t tell them about it. Huh? As someone versed in the art of persuasion, having litigated hundreds of cases in state and federal courts, and having been a consumer for over fifty years, since when is a huge potential savings on a product not critical information for decision making? The only takeaway is that there is an ongoing force or forces at work the dealership level (and beyond) to NOT sell these cars. What that source is and what is sustaining it in the face of consumer interest remains to be clearly defined, but it is clearly present. We must work around the dealers recalcitrance whenever possible.
ECOtality no longer provides free charging stations in the Northwest- whether to promote furtherpublic infrastructure or to give to residential customers. It happened. The market is starting to shift and EVSE providers will now have an opportunity to enjoy open competition. Dealers no longer have the luxury of pointing their customers to one source (because its easy to sell “free”) and the consumer and local electricians will win. Period.
People are infinitely curious about these cars. The most common questions are- how long do they take to charge? What is their range? What do you think of your LEAF? How much does electricity cost? People have reasonable questions and the dealers are not answering them, particularly about charging. Members of the EVSE industry and public advocates need to fill this gap. My main response to consumer questions is for them to drive the cars and see what they think. Test drive a Volt and a LEAF. Speak to other owners. The public is tired of paying gas prices that tap $200-$600 per month of their income. They are hungry for alternatives. We should feed them!
Thank your local electric utility (if they show up at the car show with a booth). PGE had a booth all four days with people answering questions, showing customers the LEAF, sharing information. Your electric utility is your new “dealer” when it comes to advanced vehicle technology. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain- just like the consumer. Thank them for putting resources into this movement toward electrified transportation. They get it.
Comments? What do you think?