As pioneering electric vehicle companies move from the tech world to the retail world, they face a major hurdle.
To carry on their daily lives, most American consumers need their cars. That means that they need -- indeed, expect -- convenient access to sales, service and parts.
That point became quite vivid to me on Wednesday. I was driving out to Michigan International Speedway, about 65 miles west of Detroit, to report on the Progressive X Prize competition for fuel-efficient vehicles.
About halfway there, my 2002 Subaru Legacy wagon died. I couldn't put the manual transmission in gear. That sickening smell that mechanics identify as a burned out clutch -- I identify it as burning money -- permeated the car.
I pulled over and summoned a tow truck. He hauled the Soobie and me to the nearest dealer, about 10 miles away. There, the assistant service manager took one sniff and said, "Yep -- it's the clutch."
He started checking to see if parts were in stock. They were. Luckily, another service appointment had been cancelled. By the day's end, I was back on the road again, although significantly lighter in the wallet.
Granted, this was pretty much a best-case scenario. And granted that EVs have fewer moving parts to break.
But there still will be stranded EV drivers. And for this stranded driver, it was very nice to be near a franchised dealership. It was very nice to see the big, clean service area filled with mechanics and equipment. It was very nice to hear that the parts were in stock, and, yes, very nice to get prompt service.
If EV-makers want to move beyond the early adopter/true believer niche, that's the standard that they need to meet.