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STATE OF THE (HYBRID/EV) UNION

THE SAE 2013 Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Technologies Symposium, held February 19-21 in Anaheim, offered a wealth of information on the timely topics of hybrids and EVs.

SAE2013Hybrid

The following mini-essay explores the state of hybrids and EVs in today’s marketplace. Future items will glean technical tidbits from the symposium, especially about batteries and fuel cells.

The motivation for all this activity is the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy goal of 54.5 mpg for 2025. See http://www.wp.me/p2ETap-9s for background on this regulation. Briefly, even in real-world numbers, CAFE calls for a substantial increase in fuel economy of the U.S. fleet.

The good news: There are already cars available here that achieve this target, namely HEVs (hybrids), PHEVs (their plug-in siblings) and BEVs (battery electrics). Waiting in the wings, announced for 2015, are FCEVs (fuel-cell vehicles) as well.

The bad news: Though HEVs have been on the market now for more than a decade, they make up something like 3 percent of annual sales—far from having much impact in the overall CAFE average.

Alexander Edwards’ Strategic Vision, Inc., has done customer research yielding interesting findings. Despite fuel costs—and the typical carping heard every day on the topic—when consumers are asked what’s essential in a new car purchase, fuel economy doesn’t even make the top 10.

The first five, Edwards notes, are largely measurements of trust: 1. Reliability, 2. Durability, 3. Quality, 4. Value and 5. Manufacturer reputation. Even 9. Handling in inclement weather and 10. Seat comfort beat out 11. Fuel economy.

It’s no wonder that the EV—in the broadest sense of HEV/PHEV/BEV—is a tough sell.

Edwards’ research shows that today’s typical PHEV/BEV buyer is a Gen-X (under-30 Gen-Ys lack the buying power as yet). These Gen-Xers are into board games and like to garden. “Often stereotypes turn out to be true.”

They’ll consider spending more for alternative power—but not very much more, maybe $60 or so on a monthly payment.

John Voelcker, High Gear Media, sees promise in PHEVs and BEVs, with public charging becoming as ubiquitous as WiFi—with the same business models of some free, others at a cost.

He acknowledges that, in general, cost remains a real challenge. The EPA has estimated perhaps $3000 added cost in meeting 2025 CAFE. Automakers, by contrast, worry that it’s twice this or more.

I found myself in good company when Voelcker identified characteristics of those buying alternative-power automobiles. Because I have neat Jon Dahlstrom illustrations from my 2010 SAE Hybrid presentation, I offer them here with my own identifiers.

There are five curiously disparate groups: Firsties, Techies, Greens, Statement Makers and Pencil-Outers.

A Firstie

A Firstie. These wonderful illustrations by Jon Dahlstrom appeared in Road & Track, March 2010.

Briefly, Firsties will pay a premium for the product and are only moderately technical; being thought of as an early adopter is their reward.

A Techie

A Techie.

Techies are knowledgeable, though maybe even a bit wary of the new technology.

A Green.

A Green.

Greens are hardly car nuts, but clearly committed to clean-air advancements.

A Statement Maker.

A Statement Maker.

Statement Makers are what they drive; they’d want unique styling to set them apart.

A Pencil-Outer

A Pencil-Outer.

Pencil-Outers focus on the pocketbook, not the textbook; payback is their crucial metric.

The challenge, of course, is devising successful multi-marketing to these disparate groups. An ad that’ll sell a Green won’t necessarily persuade a Pencil-Outer to sign on the dotted line. Said one speaker, “A Volt in a showroom sells more Chevy Sonics than Volts.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013

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This entry was posted on February 26, 2013 by in Driving it Today and tagged .
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