Sometimes, you need a survey to tell you something most people probably could have guessed. For example, Tesla owners like the technology in their cars. Electric vehicle drivers enjoy public charging more when it’s free. And getting firsthand experience in an EV, even just sitting in one at a dealership, makes people more likely to consider buying one.
These are some of the findings in a new series of consumer studies conducted by J.D. Power and presented in a recent webinar hosted by the Automotive Press Assn.
But just because some (not all) of the results are seemingly self-evident doesn’t mean actually asking car shoppers why they did or didn’t buy an EV is useless when it comes to understanding how buyers are thinking about EVs in 2021. And automakers that come up with the best answers to the questions the surveys posed are likely to lead to selling more plug-in vehicles.
Let’s start with a look at the overall group of people currently in the market for a new vehicle. Brent Gruber, senior director-global automotive at J.D. Power, says for every 10 shoppers, J.D. Power found the concept of “two in, two out” could be used to describe their feelings about EVs. That means about 20% are strongly in favor of EVs, and another 20% are strongly against them. It’s the middle 60% that can be influenced.
“That’s where the success for the (EV) market will come,” Gruber says. “How do we convince those people that this is the right thing to do, that they need to consider these products, what are some of the benefits?”
Understanding the positive impacts of buying an EV could impact purchase decisions well beyond anyone’s feelings about a car’s environmental impact, Gruber says.
“There’s this underlying theme of lack of awareness or lack of information, whether it’s around the resale value of the vehicle or the even more tangled web of the incentive structures,” he says. “You have federal, you have state level, you have municipalities and utility companies that are offering incentives. There is a great level of ambiguity around the incentives that are available, and that’s really hurting consideration of electric vehicles.”
Gruber cites the example that about half of all EV owners who use a Level 1 charger to refuel their EV don’t know if their utility offers incentives to install faster home charging.
“The people who stand to benefit the most from upgrading to Level 2 are the ones who have a lack of awareness,” he says.
J.D. Power also asked about two EV-specific technologies for its 2021 Tech Experience Index (TXI) study, and found EVs that offer one-pedal driving – that is, EVs with a strong enough regenerative brake setting that you can learn to start and stop the car without regularly touching the brake pedal – made their owners quite happy.
“Not all EVs incorporate (one-pedal driving), but for those that do, we see vehicle owners describing this technology as a ‘surprise and delight’ feature,” says Kristin Kolodge, executive director-human machine interface at J.D. Power. “It actually makes driving fun again. These are their words, which is really exciting to see for this unique technology for electric vehicles.”
The other EV-specific technology in this year’s TXI was the various flavors of what J.D. Power calls “EV Energy Assistants,” or manufacturer-approved navigation systems and apps that let drivers plan routes with charging stations and the car’s battery state of charge in mind, perhaps finding the most efficient route to a destination.
EV energy assistants “provide confidence that an EV will fit their daily lifestyle,” Kolodge says, also noting the caveat that 42% of EV owners who have this access to this technology never tried using it during their first 90 days of ownership. Of those, 37% say they plan to use it, but as J.D. Power has learned from other TXI studies, if a driver doesn’t use a new technology within the first month of owning a car, they are unlikely to ever use it.
Which brings us back to ways automakers and their dealer partners can better educate car shoppers about reasons to make the shift to EVs. Kolodge says Tesla (pictured, below) does “just ok, frankly,” with consumer education, but that’s enough to make their customers generally feel satisfied. Even so, there's a long way to go for everyone.
“There isn’t anyone that’s hitting it out of the park at this point in time,” she says. “We see opportunity across premium brands, across mass-market brands where there’s an opportunity to rightsize what technology these consumers are getting trained on while they are there.
“There is only so much time that they have during that retail delivery, so fine-tuning what will be most appropriate for that particular owner, getting beyond some of the traditional technologies that we train on, there is an opportunity industrywide.”