The Battery Show examines EV Marketing & Commercialization: How Will Consumers Finally Embrace Electric Mobility?

"EV Marketing & Commercialization: How Will Consumers Finally Embrace Electric Mobility?" panel discussion during The Battery Show & EV Tech Digital Days conference

NOVI, Mich. — The 2020 Battery Show and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology Expo was originally scheduled to take place at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Mich. But due to crowd restrictions from COVID-19, organizers decided it was best to hold the event online-only.

That’s when The Battery Show & EV Tech Digital Days was born. The event featured technical sessions, panels, workshops, networking opportunities, live product demos, and more—all delivered through a state-of-the-art virtual platform.

Description: As global trends in sustainability shine a bigger spotlight on electric cars, the industry anticipates increasing low/zero-emission regulations and growing opportunities for manufacturing companies. However, will consumers get on board with the transformation of transportation? During this panel, business and commercialization experts will discuss consumer trends, wants, perceptions, and commercialization strategies that will drive e-mobility adoption.

Panelists included: Laura Bone, strategic partnerships and board director of LAURETI Motors; Amy Soderquist, commercial business development manager at Electrify America; and Darren Palmer, global product development director of battery electric vehicles at Ford Motor Company. The discussion was moderated by Tim Cavanaugh, global product marketing business development at Cavanaugh Consulting Group, LLC.

Laura Bone is the strategic partnerships and board director of LAURETI Motors. (Photo: The Battery Show)

Laura Bone: “We’re a London-based startup and we’re a mobility technology company producing a premium electric vehicle with a new twist, I suppose, on passenger-centric mobility. We are taking a different approach to design. What we’re really doing is we’re starting with the passenger. Unique to LAURETI, we are creating our own mobility operating system. The focus is on providing a premium business class experience with an intuitive vehicle that can sense your emotional state and respond accordingly. Whether you need a relaxing experience or you want to be entertained or you have a hectic travel schedule where you need assistance with a door-to-door mobility experience. The mobility operating system we’re creating is called MiRA. With MiRA, it will provide all of this connectivity inside and outside of the vehicle. We think the future is not only electric, but autonomous, digital and fleet-focused. Within that fleet focus, the ability to go from car to car and travel seamlessly. The car will instantly recognize you from car to car. It’s going to be more like a first class airline experience.”

Amy Soderquist is the commercial business development manager at Electrify America. (Photo: The Battery Show)

Amy Soderquist: “We’re proud to be part of Volkswagen. We are the largest open network of DC fast charging stations in the country. We serve all electric vehicles that leverage a CCS and CHAdeMO connector to charge. This week, we were able to celebrate our 500th charging station since we opened our first in May of 2018. On average, we are seeing about four per week come online for our customers. We’re located in about 45 states plus the District of Columbia. We are focused on DC fast charging stations… which means customers are able to get from 0 to 80 percent on their batteries in about 30 minutes or so. We’re partnered with various automotive manufacturers to provide charging on our network as part of the sale of their new vehicles including Ford which we offer about 250 kW of charging with the purchase of the new Mach-E. We’re also partnered with companies likes Audi, Porsche, Volkswagen, Lucid for their Lucid Air which is coming out later in the market as well as folks like Harley-Davidson for their all-electric motorcycle, the Livewire.”

Darren Palmer is the global product development director of battery electric vehicles at Ford Motor Company. (Photo: The Battery Show)

Darren Palmer: “We’re preparing for a long-term, high-volume adoption of electric vehicles. This is an extremely exciting time for us. We’re expecting to see a huge growth in EVs over the next 10 years. We’re preparing on how we can offer something special for our customers. We plan to build upon our iconic brands. We expect to use electrical technology to amplify the best attributes of whatever given vehicle that is. To do that and to offer these vehicles at a price that will really generate adoption in the market, we have to have a strategy to leverage scale to get the battery prices to where we need them to be. We use the same cell, a high-density cell, in all of the portfolio of vehicles. We’re also looking at business model innovation. We believe customers who buy vehicles in a different way–either online or part of larger fleets or even renting vehicles. We are pioneering those some of those methods now as we launch those vehicles.

Our first example is the F-150 Hybrid and the BEV [battery electric vehicle] is coming soon as well. What I mean by amplify, is we don’t just put a motor in the car and say it’s a vehicle with a new powertrain. On the hybrid, the vehicle is also a generator and that means we can eliminate generators from the work space. It can power tools or equipment at their work sites. Also, this is one of the most powerful F-150s we’ve ever made. It’s not a compromise for the [fuel] economy. It’s actually more powerful as well.

The Transit we’re just announcing actually today. This vehicle is groundbreaking. This is the first commercially-available vehicle that can be really be used for over 100 miles of delivery range everyday in all weather up and down in all conditions. We’ll be able to offer that at a price that’s very competitive because we’re using the scale for the battery technology that we generated for the Mach-E first. I’ll quickly talk about a vehicle that is launching right now and we’re trying to fulfill customer reservations.

The Mach-E is a sporty SUV in a high-volume SUV segment. We chose this segment because this is where most of the customers are going to be first. It’s a size and shape of car that’s very popular. A beautiful head-turning design combined with leading technology and performance. It’s fully differentiated with different types of driving experiences. Mood for how you are feeling and it adjusts to you. It has a 15.5-inch center screen and a 10-inch cluster. It’s hands-free, self driving and it has the highest level of interior. This vehicle is going to come in at under $35,000 with incentive. All of them have that screen and that technology standardized. The last one that’s coming soon is the GT product. This one gives incredible levels of performance. It is zero to 60 in mid three seconds. It’s really faster than pretty much any conventional gas vehicle out there.”

Cavanaugh: Why is EV charging critical to increasing our adoption of electric mobility?

Soderquist: “The availability of publicly available DC fast charging or public charging period is one of the key concerns that drivers have when they are considering driving an electric vehicle. They’re used to being able to go to a gas station on every corner or multiple gas stations on a single corner to fill up their gas vehicles. What’s important to realize is most customers charge when they do have an electric vehicle about 80 percent of the time at home. Imagine being able to walk out of your house in the morning, go to your car and the battery is already full. No more stopping at gas stations to fill up on your way home or trying to figure out as you are starting on a road trip where to fill up. Now, that works great if you are in a single family home. You can install that Level 2 charging station in your home or in your apartment building or condo building for example. But for those folks who are apartment dwellers, like myself, I don’t have charging available at my apartment. That’s where I begin to rely on public charging. The focus there has to be on making charging available where people want to spend their time. One of the things that we have to focus on with DC fast charging for public charging is making sure that these chargers go in places that are safe, in places that people want to spend their time and in places where there is something for them to do while they are charging. For example, ElectrifyAmerica has partnered with companies like Meijer, Walmart, Target, folks like Simon Malls and financial centers like Bank of America to install these where there is something to do. Overall, it’s critical because customers need to be able to imagine the idea that they can take that long distance trip. One of our focuses with our first set of chargers was to install these along our nation’s highways so that customers can envision the idea that they can drive coast-to-coast. We opened our route from DC to LA back in September.”

Cavanaugh: As far as the trends over the next five years, where do you see this going?

Bone: “I think there is a blurring of lines between automotive companies and technology companies. I think LAURETI would be an example of that. We are focusing on the technology first before we even produce the vehicle. I think it’s interesting to see where the incumbent OEMs will go in their development. Some of the other trends, I think, are the skateboard platforms are a bit new and kind of interesting. The skateboard platform will allow a manufacturer to put multiple body styles on one skateboard and roll out more vehicles quicker. But it will also allow the launch of more startup companies and provide that opportunity for them to enter the space. We will see a lot more choice in the years to come with all of these new developments. I’m looking forward to autonomy as well.”

Cavanaugh: I know that you have been working on a large portfolio of products. A lot of these are going to be introduced soon. What is your perspective on the drive for adoption of electric vehicles? How are you managing the transition going from a gas product to a BEV?

Palmer: “I talked about the Mach-E and what that offers for our customers. You can see why some people would love that. It’s the same in commercial. I talked about the lowest cost of ownership of any product. Delivery of around 100 miles. That means fleet buyers will be compelled to take that anyway. They have to do that to remain competitive. And then on the F-150, increasing the agility and making that vehicle more niche than it could ever before. For example, being able to back up and power your house or to power other EVs from that platform. The second one is to get the price down and so scale is the key to that. The most expensive part is the battery. We’re seeing different levels of vertical integration to get that battery cost down. We ourselves are considering which levels are appropriate. The other is the availability of the infrastructure. The perception of being able to charge and do the things they want to do in their life is really key before they buy an electric vehicle. Being able to charge when they are on journeys or out and about when you don’t have a charging facility at their home. That’s really important. That’s why one reason we partnered with ElectrifyAmerica and we’ve loaded the largest charging infrastructure in the America into our car. You don’t have to worry about it. You just say where you want the go and the car says where you need to charge.”

Cavanaugh: We need to talk about charging companies expanding their infrastructure in the United States. Are we going to leave this all up to ElectrifyAmerica or how are we doing this?

Soderquist: “I hope not. I think that would be a real miss in terms of what this industry needs. If you think about the number of charging stations that we’ve installed, we’ve got 500 as of today. We’ll have 800 by the end of next year. That’s just simply a drop in the bucket for what’s needed. There is so much more investment that is needed in this industry. It comes from companies like ours, companies like ChargePoint, EvGo, as well as Tesla. Its gets people comfortable with the idea of electric vehicles. We also are looking at organizations like utilities for example. You see some of the larger, investor-owned utilities investing in electric vehicles as well. They see it as a way to add load to their utility grid. If you think about the 800 stations that we offer verses the thousands upon thousands of gas stations, we need to get there or a whole lot closer. As we see more electric vehicles coming to the market, those drivers are going to need places to charge. In some areas, we already see queueing and drivers getting frustrated because the yare having to wait too long to charge. So really we need more chargers and we need them in places where customers actually want to spend time and where they want to get outside their car and go do something.”

Cavanaugh: Products are going to be changing so significantly. For example, Car 2.0. How do you know what customers are going to want?

Palmer: “In the past, we’ve been able to look back at data, look for trends and use that to tell us where to go next. That served us well for a while. Now, with such disruption coming in the industry, you can’t just look back. That’s when systems like human-centric development help. Instead of focusing on how do I incrementally improve a product, you focus on what do people need, what do people want? When we went through human-centric development with real customers, we were told what they really wanted is something that knows them, helps them with their life and maintains a common profile across any vehicle they use and anticipates their needs. So we focused our attention on doing that instead of a just model interface system. Before customers buy their car or get into their car, they want to set it up using their phone or tablet. We use something called Rocket Setup. Every customer of a Mach-E will get their Rocket Setup so they can set all of their preferences, their locations, music they prefer even which sports team they like before they even sit down. When they walk up to the car, it will be load into the vehicle and set the car up for them. All of them will have that. Finally, distance to empty is a big subject–about how accuracy of how provide range for our customers. We’re moving to a cloud-based system to do that for the Mach-E.”

Cavanaugh: Laura, how do you look at customers and what they need with a new vehicle that is completely new? You are doing your marketing as you start to build the car?

Bone: “We started our design with the back seat. Most companies focus on the driving experience. That’s important, too, but just try to squeeze the most we can out of every mile in the back seat. Thinking about what the human needs, comforts, wellness. Just really taking the stress out of travel. This is a car that’s really primarily designed for executive class. It will be for individuals but fleet as well.”

Cavanaugh: I’ve got one more question that I want to ask all three of you. I think the biggest objection that a sales person has to overcome and be trained on is range anxiety. What are you going to do when you are in four to six lanes of traffic and you’ve got another quarter of a mile to go when your car runs out of juice?

Palmer: “When we did our research about real customers today, find work well in their vehicle and what doesn’t, one of the things that came up was the range. What happens in many EVs today, especially in certain climate conditions, you drive 20 miles and the system range goes down 40 miles and then you start doing what we call the math and you’re obsessed with the math. You are just worrying about that the whole time. That’s the feeling like you are running out of gas. It’s a horrible feeling, a cold sweat. You never want to be in that position. When you are in a gas car and you are running low, it’s a horrible feeling. You can minimize how the range changes with temperature, etcetera. Everybody’s doing that but you have to fix the gauge. Because if you can’t rely on that gauge, to tell you how far you’ve got, then you either have to put a huge buffer in or on a longer journey you might not be able to do that and you are feeling very unsettling. We’ve developed a system that will go to the cloud, look at the topography and the wind, the temperatures, the traffic and what other vehicles have achieved on that and then break the journey up into small segments and compare to that. For example, the first segment of your journey might be going up a hill and so it will use more power. That’s expected so we will just compare to what’s expected. The second part of your journey will be downhill and will use less energy and that’s also expected. But what it does is breaks it up, goes off to the cloud, gets a more accurate prediction and then tracks towards that. The goal being every mile you travel the gauge goes down one mile. With this, you should never get to the situation where you are about to run out of range.”

Soderquist: “In terms of addressing range anxiety, one of our key tools for that was making sure we were placing our chargers in the most logical places or at least as close to them as you can get. We chose our highway routes based on high traffic routes where we saw electric vehicle drivers using those highway routes to take their long distance trips. Then, we settled on an average distance between chargers. For our highway chargers, which is one of those places where you do run into that range anxiety, you are just trying to get to grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, right? At that point, our charging stations are at a maximum of 120 miles apart which for a vehicle with a 200-mile range gives you plenty of buffer on either end. But the majority of them are 70 miles apart. One of the advantages of using our smartphone app or other apps that other charging networks have is that the majority of them will tell you how many chargers are at that upcoming station and whether they are working, down for repairs. It’s helpful to educate customers on where they’re going to be charging next. It’s also though making sure that those customers have tools like credit card readers or other ways of engaging with those charging stations.”

It was a very informative discussion that provided a preview of what’s to come in terms of electric vehicles. We’ll see if consumers buy them when the new EVs are released and sales figures start to come in.

Next year, the Battery Show is scheduled to return to the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, MI from September 14–16, 2021.

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