Auto industry expands promotion of electric-car benefits

Automakers are starting to promote the benefits of electric cars more aggressively, judging from the tone of a panel discussion at the 2016 SAE World Congress covered by Wards Auto.

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters/File
The Toyota Prius Prime is seen during the 2016 New York International Auto Show in Manhattan, New York (March 24, 2016).

Electric cars are often touted for their financial and environmental benefits, but there's another major perk they offer to consumers.

They're very nice to drive.

Many drivers have been won over by electric cars' near-silent operation and instant torque delivery.

Now, there's at least a glimmer of hope that carmakers may finally begin promoting those qualities as they seek to sell more electric cars.

Low gas prices dampened sales in 2015, but carmakers will have to produce more electric cars to meet stricter emissions standards nonetheless.

That is spurring automakers to promote the benefits of electric cars more aggressively, judging from the tone of a panel discussion at the 2016 SAE World Congress covered by Wards Auto.

"Quite frankly, we've been bad at explaining our technology to customers," Larry Nitz, executive director of hybrid and electric powertrain engineering at General Motors, said.

Indeed, many electric-car advocates have expressed frustration with inadequate marketing of plug-in cars by GM and other companies over the past five years.

Nitz believes word-of-mouth marketing will help deal with general consumer ignorance of electric cars.

Current owners can help promote electric cars by sharing what they like about their cars, Nitz said, including how nice they are to drive.

Those positive reactions seem to be the norm.

Jackie Birdsall—executive engineer, Toyota Engineering and Manufacturing North America—said she doesn't know anyone who, after driving an electric car, wanted to go back to internal combustion.

Toyota is promoting hydrogen fuel-cell cars as an alternative to battery-electrics, but the rollout of its Mirai fuel-cell sedan has been hampered by a lack of fueling stations.

Manufacturers can also better promote electric cars by focusing on design, believes Honda senior chief engineer Yasuyuki Sando.

The Tesla Model S is an example of an electric car that can attract consumers' attention purely with styling, he noted.

Honda plans to launch a new battery-electric car by 2020, but that model may not actually have unique styling.

While Honda will not confirm anything, it is widely believed the battery-electric model will share a platform with the Clarity Fuel Cell set to launch this year.

But it's a notable step forward if Toyota and Honda executives now acknowledge in public that the experience of driving an electric car is simply better, and than plug-in vehicles can be just as sexy and beautiful as any other kind of car.

This article first appeared in GreenCarReports.

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