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Education, Expectation and Experience – The Challenge of Converting Consumers to Electric at the British Motor Show

by Kevin Mak | Aug 23, 2021

The coronavirus had brought trauma on the automotive industry.  From last year’s haemorrhage in car sales to this year’s chip shortages stymying the recovery, the pandemic has also frozen out motor shows - until Thursday, 19th August 2021, when the 2021 British Motor Show opened its doors, the first time a national show was opened to the public since the start of the pandemic in 2020.  It took place at the more spacious surroundings of the Farnborough International Exhibition Centre (pictured below).

Farnborough International

When you consider that the top global shows have been forced to postpone to the following year, such as Geneva and Tokyo, then it has been remarkable to see a show at all after the lockdown restrictions imposed to stop the spread of disease.  But before I reviewed the British Motor Show, one has had to set expectations appropriately - for a show that has lost its global status in the 1990s, there was little direct OEM involvement, apart from Caterham, Ford UK and the UK sales subsidiaries of a few brands, such as the endangered Ssangyong.  Indeed, OEMs have withdrawn from shows even before the pandemic, as online delivery can reach a wider audience and is more cost effective.  Many of the BMS exhibitors were actually franchised dealers, akin to what has been seen in local motor shows.  Enthusiastic owners’ clubs made up much of the outdoor exhibits.

However, electric vehicles were given their own exhibition hall with its own stage and a group of energy and charging providers to support them.  A quarter of the programme was devoted to EVs.  The main sponsors were Cinch, an online motor trader (yet another automotive trend) and Select Electric, an EV leasing company.    
At the accompanying National Automotive Industry Day (NAID), members of the press were told of the importance of EDUCATION - not just of the consumers, but also for EV service technicians with the IMI (Institute of Motor Industry) now accrediting their specialist training and having CPD (Continuing Professional Development) courses to keep technicians up to date with rapid technology developments in electrification.  The conference brought home the fact that sales of new combustion engine vehicles will be banned in the UK by 2030 (hybrids by 2035).
But how do you convert consumers over to EVs, who are used to refuelling their cars with petrol in a few minutes?  They need to be organised in planning their charging strategies for their future cars.  They need to set their EXPECTATIONS of what they require for their mobility needs and not be too concerned by the lack of driving range in some EV models.  62 percent of Brits do not have access to charging an EV at their home and so the fear is of an “inequality of driveways” (as coined by Chris Pateman-Jones, CEO of Connected Kerb) and so affected consumers need to know about fast-charging stations or chargers housed by kerb stones and in lampposts (as provided by Connected Kerb).  Education by the industry is critical in providing solutions to consumers who could find using an EV problematic.  It is also important to dispel concerns over the cost premium in EVs, as economies of scale bring about cost parity and that leasing, especially for fleets, can provide a more cost-effective entry to electric.
Then there is the concern about the lack of EXPERIENCE consumers will have of EVs.  Perhaps it was not good enough just to see EVs in the flesh, but to go out and drive them.  Ford UK had driven show visitors in their fleet of electrified models, including the battery electric Mach-E - but driving them (than being driven in them) is a different matter, although challenging to implement in a COVID pandemic.

While the stage provided information talks with EV specialists, the hall and adjacent paddock with the petrol sports cars attracted more visitors.  EVs also need to offer EXCITEMENT to consumers - I spied the unsullied lines of the AC Cobra 289 (pictured below), its electric version launched for the first time at the 2021 British Motor Show.  While these “restomods” are compromised by design (and so the Cobra lacks driving range (150 miles, 242 km)), if only the dedicated designs of new EV models were as stylish as this car?
AC Cobra Electric

Kevin Mak is a Principal Analyst in the Global Automotive Practice at Strategy Analytics, covering the Powertrain, Body, Chassis and Safety service.

Strategy Analytics also publishes the Hybrid Technologies Legislation/Support database twice a year and the OEM Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Strategies report every year, including the 2020 edition, OEM Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Strategies: Tesla Technology Leads; SPACs and Electric Vans Help Start-Ups.
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