June 27, 2012
With demand weak, electric car makers rev up branding efforts
Why has the electric car revolution stalled? A short while ago, it seemed almost inevitable. Surely, egged on by the recession, Middle East instability and mounting concerns about global warming, the world would start shifting from polluting gas-guzzlers to clean-driving EVs. But sales of the Nissan Leaf, the best-selling electric car, totaled only 27,000 units globally by April 2012; the No. 2 car, Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV, had moved 17,000 units as of October 2011. And halfway into a six-year U.S. plan to produce 1 million electric and plug-in hybrid cars, American manufacturers such as GM and Fisker have built only around 50,000 due to weak demand.
Cost appears to be the biggest hurdle: Purchase prices are at least a third higher than vehicles with conventional internal combustion engines. Other concerns include the limited recharging infrastructure and “range anxiety,” fear of the batteries running out before drivers reach their destination. Some electric auto brands are unveiling new initiatives to spark mainstream interest. In France, Renault-Nissan is planning to give 1,000 fast rechargers for electric cars to parking garages, supermarkets and other privately owned public spaces. BMW, which plans to release the i3 in 2013, hopes to attract buyers with its Electric 360 program, an assistance package that includes mobile roadside assistance and intelligent satellite navigation, supported by a smartphone app. And after discontinuing its Roadster a year ago, Tesla Motors has opened seven mall outlets in the U.S. to showcase its luxury Model S prototypes and educate consumers about EVs. But Ford recently curtailed marketing plans for the Focus Electric, limiting its campaign to digital-only (centered around a reality show hosted by Yahoo!).
So far this new technology has been most successful when it comes to electric fleets, one of our 100 Things to Watch in 2012. Electric delivery trucks and vans are zipping around urban areas, cutting fuel costs for brands like FedEx while giving them a PR boost in the process.
Image credit: BMW