“EVs are for everyone” is a wonderful refrain, but incorrect, and that’s a good thing. Why? While it’s a great idea to promote EVs to those who will like them and have low barriers to adoption NOW, it’s a bad idea to convince someone that they need an EV if they’ll have a poor experience based on their situation and risk profile. The Diffusion of Innovation helps explain the “why” behind this reasoning. The diffusion curve isn’t as set in stone as Newton’s laws of physics, but it’s still pretty close: All new technologies follow an adoption curve that starts with Innovators and ends with Laggards, and the Early and Late Majority are in the middle and represent the bulk of sales. The U.S. has hit just over 1% of all light duty vehicles on the road being plug-ins, and new light duty vehicle sales are about 3-4% plug-in.
But here’s the reality. Do you know who hates incomplete electric vehicle Solutions? The Early Majority. This group is waiting for everything to be tested, smooth, and worry-free. They see the new product as too risky for their situation. An incomplete solution, as EVs are today, is a combination of the product itself that isn’t fully functional or fitting to a given person/business as it will be when it reaches maturity, and even more importantly, the whole product support system is also not mature. For example, the public charging network isn’t built out yet; home charging is still a mystery to most people; electric pricing is complicated; managed charging is still in an experimental phase; EV vendors are vying for market positions and many will fail; and dealers aren’t quite sure how to sell these products, much less maintain them. This is completely normal in the product life cycle! We need to work WITH this reality, not against it. Note that Tesla recognized these types of shortcomings and solved the charging problem in a much better manner than other providers so far.
Do you know who actually doesn’t mind incomplete Solutions? Innovators and Early Adopters. These early adopters even relish the social attention they get from beingin the first group to get something new and sexy (think Tesla). And do you know who thrives an incomplete Solutions? Innovators. The Innovator group wants to have an incomplete solution so they can figure out how to make it work for them, be a market leader, and tell their other Innovator friends AND the car companies how savvy they are. Both of these groups tolerate risk, and it’s part of their overall experience with new products.
The last problem I’ll address here is “trialability”, one of the five elements of successful products that make it to the mainstream customers. Trialability essentially means the ability to assess a product’s value before spending money on it. Trialability is easy with low-cost items: a new brand of chocolate bar might set you back $3, and if it fails, oh well. And Amazon Echo, the product that appears to have reached 50% market penetration in the U.S. faster than any new technology, was sold at price points below $100 and sometimes as low as $30 for the Echo Dot. Will people like Alexa, or use it? Maybe not, but it won’t break the bank and at least it can play music and tell you the time. A vehicle is much more difficult to trial, especially the charging/fueling experience which is so uncertain with EVs in people’s minds. And the investment is huge, and this all points to trialability risk, which is another differentiator between Majority and Early Adopter consumers and businesses.
So, the final thought is…marketing success depends on knowing which audiences are ready and willing to buy a new product, and today that is the Innovator and Early Adopter groups. Their success paves the way the Majority to enjoy those complete solutions. Tesla knew all of this, which is why they are succeeding. And yes, with good data and marketing, it’s possible to target the right people with the right message now.