Understanding the EV Customer Journey

In order to drive EV adoption, the various players involved in the EV ecosystem – local government, nonprofits, utilities – should engage their customers to understand their EV journey. Only after a full grasp of the various steps is achieved, can we identify trouble areas and design remedies to drive more EV adoption.

The main steps in the customer journey can be summarized as follows:

Customers must have a positive experience at each step of the journey to acquire an EV and spread the word. On average, consumers decide what car to buy in 15 to 17 weeks.

Awareness Phase

The EV customer journey begins when the customer learns that EVs exist as a viable alternative to traditional gasoline vehicles. Unfortunately, most consumers are unaware of the present opportunities to drive and buy EVs . As of early 2016, 60% of Americans did not know that plug-in electric cars exist; even in California, over 90% of new car buyers do not give serious consideration to EVs.

Research Phase

In the Research phase, customers seek to understand their car purchasing options, assess different models and narrow down their options to vehicles they will want to test drive. In this phase, they typically seek answers to 6 key questions:

  • What electric cars are available? The public generally believes that few EV models are available, awareness being often limited to Tesla vehicles, the Chevrolet Bolt/Volt or the Nissan LEAF. In reality, there are over 30 BEV and PHEV models currently available in the US.
  • Will I run out of battery on the road? Range anxiety is a legitimate and well-documented concern.
  • Where can I charge? Availability of public charging stations is one of the highest barriers to EV adoption.
  • What incentives can I claim? Incentive complexity contributes to consumer confusion, as they vary according to location, availability, customer income, tax liability and even vehicle sales history.
  • Is electric cheaper than gas? When all incentives are taken into account, the answer is yes most of the time, both on a per mile and total cost of ownership basis. However, the sticker price (pre-incentives) of EVs is typically higher than similar gasoline cars, which leads to consumer confusion.
  • Is electric cleaner than gas? In most U.S. locations, the answer is yes depending on the local power mix. Some consumers are driven by environmental considerations and should be told accurate estimates of their vehicle’s impact.

Test Drive Phase

Test drives and ride-and-drive events are often the first time customers experience the vehicle’s acceleration, handling, comfort and silent operation, and as a result make the decision of acquiring an EV.

Vehicle and Charger Acquisition Phase

In this most crucial phase, the customer purchases or leases an EV from a dealership, and usually purchases and installs a home charging station.

Dealer Engagement Most auto dealers are not set up to effectively sell EVs. Unprepared staffs, inconsistent practices, limited EV inventory and information result in a poor dealership experience for a majority of EV customers.

EVSE Installation Similarly, electricians performing home EVSE installations may perform work of variable quality. Some utilities engage electricians and maintain a list of qualified EVSE installers for their customers.

Driving & Charging Phase

The journey and potential for engagement does not stop when the customer has acquired an EV. EV promotion organizations can stay involved through continued customer engagement activities, such as:

  • Asking customers to rate their EV purchasing experience, especially with regards to dealers and EVSE installers
  • Run an “EV driver club” where EV drivers can interact with the utility and among themselves
  • Highlight new public charging stations in their area and special deals from charging network
  • Encourage customers to share their experience with other potential EV buyers

What are obstacles to the EV customer do you see in your area? What is your organization doing to address these concerns? Let us know.