How To Boost Electric-Car Sales? Get ‘Butts In Seats’

greencar-reportsEditor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of Green Car Reports. Author credit goes to John Voelcker.

You might not know it from general media coverage, but plug-in electric-car sales are actually doing pretty well.

Still, people get impatient, and electric-car and environmental advocates want more, faster.

So what are the best ways to boost adoption of plug-in cars?

Education and awareness are the two key factors, said Brian Wynne, president of the Electric Drive Trade Association, on a conference call today.


image via Nissan

And it turns out the best way to make people aware that electric cars are now a viable option is to let them get in the cars and drive them.

That’s what the industry sometimes calls “getting butts into seats.”

Wynne said that roughly one in three car buyers say they’re willing to consider purchasing a plug-in electric car, in general.

But once they actually try out an electric car, he said, that number doubles–to about two out of three buyers.

This isn’t particularly new–it was a theme at Plug-In 2012 earlier this year too–but it’s important for electric-car advocates to understand just how little knowledge or understanding of the cars the general public actually has.

“We’re just at the very beginning” of the process of getting plug-in cars into the mainstream, Wynne said.

Price is important, too, he acknowledged–and having a range of different vehicles, at different price points, for buyers to choose among.

But first and foremost, it’s letting people drive electric cars, to experience “instant torque, great acceleration, the quiet ride and the smoothness,” as Wynne enthused.

So while events like the annual National Plug-In Day festivals across the country expose thousands of potential buyers to electric cars, it’s the everyday contact with friends, neighbors, and coworkers that will really make the difference.

As the saying goes, “It takes an owner to make an owner.”

Here’s our challenge to the plug-in drivers among our readers: How often do you show off your car to others? How often do you let people test-drive it?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


  • Reply December 20, 2012

    Eccentric scientist

    I think one of the main problems in the US is that the consumer base that is likely most interested in electric car is too young to afford the cost of the ’emerging technology’. In Europe where the green movement has some legitimate traction with older demographics I imagine electric cars should do better.

    College kids can save up for that $1000 new iPad or whatever but a $32,000 car is a big investment when you are looking at $25,000 of student loan debt (the supposed average) and a sluggish economy. Ten years from now these ‘kids’ will be in their early 30’s and might be more than willing and capable of purchasing a vehicle in this price range. If I had even a notion of disposable income at the moment I’d buy a leaf, there are charging stations all over town here that go unused. My furthest destination not reachable by train, metro, or greyhound is within 25 miles, well within the round trip charge range even in the winter cold I would hope. Unfortunately I am looking at grad school currently, not new cars. I don’t know, I think it is a tough market now in the US for electric cars.

    • Reply December 20, 2012


      I think it also has a lot to do with landmass.

      Drivers in the US often need to drive 10+ hours for the holidays/vacation. With relatively short ranges and long charge times, owning an electric vehicle doesn’t afford you that ability, and long distance mass transit in the US isn’t anywhere near as viable for most as it is in Europe. The best alternative to driving that most people in the US can hope for is to take a flight and then also rent a car, which gets very expensive.

      So if you’re looking to replace your gas vehicle with an electric in the US, you might have to give up freedom of movement or spend a whole lot more any time you have to travel.

      In my experience, the only drivers in the US considering electric also continue to own a traditional gas vehicle. That limits the market size for electric to those who can afford multiple vehicles, and no amount of “getting people behind the wheel” is going to change that.

      The only way they’re going to dramatically expand the market for electric in the US is to either double/triple the range or drastically decrease charge times.
      But that’s not nearly as big of a deal in Europe because mass transit is a viable and relatively inexpensive option for many more people.

      So I agree with you that the electric market in the US is going to continue to be tough and that there’s a better chance for it to gain traction in Europe.
      At least until there are some pretty major breakthroughs in battery tech.

      • Reply February 6, 2013

        Samuel Hoogendoorn

        Who doesn’t own two vehicles or more? I only know of one family, but they actually have two. One is just broken. My family is by no means wealthy and yet we have three cars, soon to be four.

        • Reply February 6, 2013


          If you’re talking about families with kids, then sure.

          That’s less than 30% of the households in the US according to the 2010 census.

          And even then they aren’t going to be able to replace more than 1 vehicle out of 2+ with an EV. So you’re looking at a market almost an order of magnitude smaller than the regular auto market.

          Extended Range EV’s have a chance to slowly pick up marketshare, but pure EV’s simply aren’t going to gain much traction on current tech.

          • May 3, 2013


            I heard (rumor? truth?) that Tesla will install solar panels on the roof of those that buy their car. That would save around $4-7K/year, well worth the $55K tag. And they are very very fast…. Want…

      • Reply February 27, 2013

        Struthio Camelus

        Drivers in the US often need to drive 10+ hours for the holidays/vacation.

        How many 10+ hour drives do ordinary Americans make during the course of a year? If you’re determined to have your butt in a drivers seat for 10 hours why not rent a car for the week or two that you need it for a vacation or holiday?

        • Reply February 27, 2013


          Most probably only make one or two long distance trips per year, however; rental companies in the US simply aren’t set up for long drives.

          Most assume you’ll rent at an airport, tool around town, then return the car to the airport for your return trip. If you rent a car for a week long 10+ hour drive, they make you pay a premium for extra miles, special insurance that covers you across multiple states, etc…
          Several hundred dollars per trip even excluding gas. It simply isn’t as economical to choose a rental for long distance travel over flying as it is if you already own your car.

          • February 27, 2013

            Struthio Camelus

            I won’t bore you with anecdotes, but my experience has differed significantly from your car rental model.

            My three local rental places are all an hour from each of the nearest commercial airports, and I’d have to cross state lines to get to either airport.

        • Reply May 6, 2013


          Vacations – road trips are still quite the rage for many – driving 400-1000 miles one-way is not uncommon to go camping, river rafting, sight-seeing, skiing and such.

          The hurdle appears to be charing times and driving range. Get 250-300 miles on a 10 minute charge and people will flock to this technology. Can you get enough electricity to remote places to charge cars? This is the question…

          • May 6, 2013

            Struthio Camelus

            Get 250-300 miles on a 10 minute charge and people will flock to this technology.

            Long range, Quick recharge, Affordable/sustainable:
            pick two.

  • Reply February 27, 2013


    You will have to pry the wheel of my 93 Tercel from my cold dead hands first.

    She gets near 40 mpg and is giving back to the Earth the metal taken to make it years ago.

  • Reply March 5, 2013

    Bryan K Bates

    yes it will happen

  • Reply March 5, 2013

    Bryan K Bates

    Why can’t build a car that runs on itself. If I can make one they can make one and sell it. It would making saving money on gas and insurance possible because they would not pollute. We can all save money on our cars. I have come up with idea that diving your vehicle would make you money and save you gas.

  • Reply May 6, 2013


    I am not a first adopter, I am a second adopter, after they work the kinks out of the battery technology and extend the range and speed up the charging time. I will gladly buy an EV when I can get 250-300 miles on a 10 minute charge…

  • Reply June 4, 2013

    Ryan Hill

    It really is as simple as that. Also encouraging new drivers to learn in EVs, although that is easier said than done. EVs are as good as mainstream now, there’s no doubt about that, I mean you can lease them for next to nothing.

    Awareness just needs to be raised and unfortunately that is often the hardest part.

    • Reply July 5, 2013

      Christian Muth

      Hi all, I stumbled upon this after researching weeks on how to create an affordable, yet powerful DIY EV conversion kit. Still need one, more though… I would have TONS of (and that’s a problem) more high-level ideas that would not only make that possible and a good thing for all, but i am somewhat mentally handicapped which prevents me still from finding the right place where to put such an idea. There’s so much noise around everywhere in the net.
      So what if we combine some concepts, lets say create an open source ev racing formula, open source ev parts that aren’t lame (e.g. for a decent motor tech – maybe crowdfund a market leader), reduce cost for all that by crowdsourcing and crowdproducing, have open courses for garage staff on how to convert an ICE based car. I did not realize anything here in Europe where to start this high level ideas. Can one help, please?

Leave a Reply