EV's biggest danger? If buyers feel stupid

Automotive News | June 3, 2013 - 4:09 pm EST

Electric vehicle sales have hit a rough spot. Sales are soft, flat or even falling, and prices are dropping.

I don’t want to overstate the situation for a technology still in its infancy.

But looking from the industry’s current near-zero state of usage to a much higher -- and sustainable -- usage rate in the future, the crux is that sales have fallen off the glide path of necessary growth. Mind you, I’m not talking hybrids, but vehicles intended to operate entirely or mostly in electric mode, the narrow range from Nissan Leaf EV to the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid.

In today’s Automotive News, my colleague Mark Rechtin spells out specific model sales, the ensuing price and financing cuts and automaker executives’ worries: weak resale values, discounts, even running out of early adopters.

But I see an even bigger risk executives aren’t voicing.

The risk of making buyers feel stupid.

Here’s what I mean: Buyers of EVs and plug-in hybrids made a leap of faith. They looked at their green options -- and the Toyota Prius hybrid is among a number of good, low-sacrifice choices. And they chose to spend significantly more, sacrifice much more in space, range or utility, for a higher purpose.

And they committed to a belief in the manufacturer.

But if I bought, say, a Nissan Leaf, it’s bad enough that my EV’s resale value is much lower than that of a hybrid. But if I paid full price for it in February, before it was discounted 18 percent, I’m feeling stupid. And I’m feeling that I have been played.

That’s what manufacturers have to cope with.

Jesse Snyder is senior writer for Automotive News.Jesse Snyder is senior writer for Automotive News.

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