Erin Baker: Taking the jargon out of electric vehicles

The future’s bright, people!

Look at what we can offer consumers now in their electric car: over-the-air software updates, vehicle-to-load function, apps for tracking or pre-warming the car, kilowatt hours, CHAdeMO or CCS, Type 1 or Type 2, fast charger or rapid charger, regenerative braking, lithium-ion or solid state, the infotainment system.

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Are you tingling with excitement at the thought of all these technological marvels, or have you in fact switched off, along with roughly 80 per cent of people reading this article? Just 22 per cent of men and 12 per cent of women are interested in the latest tech in the electric car they’re considering purchasing, according to a large amount of quantitive data from Auto Trader’s New Car Awards, where consumers talk about what they love and don’t love about their cars.

So the above is in fact a prime example of how not to do marketing communications or editorial content around electric cars if you want the public to engage. And yet countless OEMs, their agencies and even the media, write with embarrassing zealotry about just such features, expecting consumers to be into this stuff to the same degree that they are.

Memo to self: they’re not.

To contextualise that stat, consumers are turning off from considering electric because they think it’s some weird tech product for early adopters, which they don’t consider themselves to be (they definitely aren’t – we’re well into the first phases of mass adoption now, which surely requires a second stab at marcomms across the board), and have no enthusiasm for. They don’t want to spend money on a car, when certain aspects are only available via yet another app on their phone which requires more passwords, decent wifi to hook it up to car, and the giving of yet more personal data.

Consumers are at best agnostic about, but more often turned off by, the term “software” as it applies to computers, so why on Earth would they want to think about “software” when it comes to cars? I keep putting that word in inverted commas because I don’t really understand what it is, or what the term covers, and I’ve been fully immersed in this industry seven days a week for the last 20 years. I don’t bother engaging with the term because I know it has no bearing on my purchase, use or enjoyment of my car. It’s utterly irrelevant to whether I do or don’t spend cash with a brand.

As for the complete state of confusion circling the weird names for charging sockets, or kWh and kW – consumers are faced with the two units every time they do battle with battery sizes and different charging speeds at public chargers (don’t even bother trying to tell them that, having just figured out what 120kW might look like in charging time, the reality is your car is unlikely to pull that charge when you plug in)… it’s shameful.

Next on the horizon: vehicle-to-load (V2L) function. Otherwise known as a three-pin plug socket in various models such as the Hyundai Ioniq 5 or Honda e. Why, why, why would OEMs go with the V2L term? Not only does it mean nothing, but it actively turns consumers off the product. I know two women who wouldn’t test drive an Ioniq 5 because they saw the V2L function advertised by Hyundai and thought “This car sounds too complicated”. By the way – having explained to them with as much enthusiasm as I could muster that this handy feature meant they could power their kettle while on a camping trip, they just looked at me with even more distanced pity. Nothing makes much sense for them when it comes to electric, from leads to batteries, and this “handy” feature was just confirmation of that decision. Both trotted merrily off to buy their next petrol cars.

We know that sales of new electric cars have slowed to a trickle this year (the used market is a different story). We know it’s due largely to the cost-of-living crisis, the rise in energy prices, the static high pricing of EVs and the lack of Government incentives. But while we all wait for resolutions for any of these issues, we don’t have to stand by doing nothing. We can all play our parts, as EV advocates, in choosing more careful language, more careful content and advertising, in speaking to consumers. They’re not a data bank, or a blob for reach and engagement: they’re you and me, trying to understand what they’re spending their money on.

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