Are electric cars making us numb to the price we pay at the pump?

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

5 May 2011

Maybe the message is not fuel efficiency

Something doesn’t jive when automobile sales are up 18% since last April at the same time gas prices are up 35% over last year. It seems counter-intuitive. Yet, I wonder, as the cars we buy sell fuel efficiency, if we are also becoming complacent with the price we pay for fuel. Ultimately, what does this mean for the success of electric cars?

As consumers, we make our purchase decisions emotionally and then backfill them with a rationale that acts as reinforcement. With the increase of sales at the pump, we might rationalizing our way into paying for it. In our minds, we’re not paying as much as when our cars had lower gas mileage.

“As a tech enthusiast, the concept of electric cars is quite appealing. But, like anything electronic, the price starts high and only lowers as adoption rates increase.”

electric carsConsider this. You might be paying more per gallon, but the new car you bought now gets you 500 miles per fill up where as your last one only got you 350.

As a tech enthusiast, the concept of electric cars is quite appealing. But, like anything electronic, the price starts high and only lowers as adoption rates increase. It would seem that an increase in gas prices would only help to promote interest in electric cars because of their fuel efficiency. But there’s a Catch-22. We will only buy electric cars when the price goes down, but the price won’t go down until we buy them.

With that in mind, a single year in which fuel prices jumped 35% in consumption levels has me a bit worried. Where’s our limit? I do know one thing. The brand message of electric carmakers cannot rely on a switching trigger like fuel cost to create differentiation anymore, even if it’s a tactic they think is a good strategy.

It may be hard to believe but, in any market, messages built around costs rarely create lasting preference because it requires that the cost argument never falters. Between market fluctuations and competition, that argument always does – and the brand goes out of business.

If auto manufacturers want their electric cars to be successful, they should take a close look at the purchase justifications we make as consumers and make sure their brand messaging goes much deeper and more emotional than a numbers game. Otherwise, we’ll rationalize our way into an energy crisis.

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