by Julia Pyper
November 19, 2018

Electric vehicles are having their best sales year yet in the U.S. — but they still only make up a small fraction of the national passenger vehicle fleet.

Michael Kurzeja, senior manager of corporate strategy, innovation and sustainability at Exelon, asked the audience at GTM’s Power & Renewables Summit last week in Austin, Texas how many of them drive an EV. Even among that plugged-in audience the response rate was low, with just a few of the roughly 300 attendees in the room raising their hand.

“I think we need to attack this problem from a different perspective,” said Kurzeja.

When Exelon was assessing the EV market a few years ago the discussion was centered on selling more chargers and getting EV customers on time-of-use electricity rates. Since then, “we came to realize … the purchase of a vehicle is not a rational purchase,” Kurzeja said. People buy cars because they like the paint color, the size or the styling.

“I once bought a car because it had a sunglasses holder,” he said.

“Beyond that, the purchase of an electric vehicle is a lifestyle change,” he continued. “It’s not a simple car purchase, and when you start to look at it from that lens, then you start to see the things happening in the consumer space that are forcing them to make one decision or another.”

Range anxiety is still one of the biggest reasons why consumers don’t adopt EVs, but it’s not the only one — as we’ll explore further in this column. In Part 2, we'll take a closer look at the infrastructure piece and how industry leaders are working to make charging faster, more convenient and overall more consumer friendly. 

A recent survey conducted by the University of California, Davis found that despite a near doubling in the number of EV models on offer in California between 2014 and 2017, fewer survey respondents were able to name an EV for sale in 2017 than three years before. The same was true for awareness of state and federal EV incentives — and that’s from a survey conducted in the nation’s largest EV market. Overall awareness is likely even lower in states with fewer EVs on the road. 

EV public awareness campaigns aren’t anything new. It's not unusual to see EVs on display at your local farmers market, for instance. But Kurzeja argues that existing methods for promoting EVs aren't enough, and that stakeholders need to think about improving the consumer's entire EV experience in order to see adoption rates significantly increase.