I recently attended the tenth annual EV Roadmap, a leading electric vehicle (EV) conference in the United States, held in Portland, Oregon. This year’s conference brought together more than 550 industry stakeholders to explore emerging trends and connect with other transportation electrification leaders. I’ve had some time to reflect on the conference, and am ready to share some of my thoughts. But first I’ll answer the question you’re probably thinking right now: Why is Paladino interested in electric cars?
It all started when Vulcan, Inc. asked Paladino for strategic support in their pursuit to accelerate electric vehicle adoption. While we primarily work in the built environment, Paladino is broadly committed to sustainability and we recognize that the transportation sector accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than residential and commercial buildings combined. Our commitment to combating climate change – combined with our expertise in market transformation – makes Paladino a useful ally in solving all sorts of sustainability challenges, including the city-level transition to electric cars.
This year’s sessions encompassed three paths to clean transportation: cars, charging stations, and community:
- Cars. This track focused on the accelerating adoption of electric cars and other electric vehicles.
- Charging. This track explored how to make charging easier, faster, and more available.
- Community. This track focused on the broader ecosystem needed for the EV market to expand, such as programs designed to bring electric mobility benefits to underserved communities, and analysis of how electric vehicle adoption can lower electricity rates.
I focused on the community track, although I also listened in on the live focus group with potential electric car consumers and a panel with utility company representatives from all over the United States. Here are my thoughts, which are based on those sessions and my conversations with people from different parts of the EV industry.
Transportation electrification isn’t only for those interested in combating climate change.
Spencer Reeder with Vulcan, Inc. kicked off the conference this year with a powerful keynote, sharing that Vulcan’s Smart City Challenge inspired 78 mid-size cities to compete for a $50 million grant to develop a practical path for replacement of carbon-based fuel consumption. 78! The overwhelming response indicates that cities with many differing priorities are all motivated to transform the mobility in their cities.
A representative from Kansas City Power & Light was clear that they are interested in electric vehicles primarily because the cost of operating and maintaining the electrical grid will be spread over increased electricity usage, benefitting the consumers (lower rates!), and the utility company (higher usage!).
Monica Araya from Costa Rica’s Limpia noted that Costa Ricans might not feel compelled to purchase an electric vehicle to reduce their carbon footprint. But what does resonate with them? Their pride in the country’s energy independence because of renewable energy, their core cultural value of pura vida (which means ‘pure life’), and a desire to combat air pollution in urban areas.
We must involve low income communities in the transportation electrification conversation.
One panelist shared statistics from a large, continuing study of upward mobility conducted by Harvard, which highlights that commuting time has emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty. The longer an average commute in a given county, the worse the chances of low-income families to move up the ladder.
This stat got me thinking: how can transportation electrification and improved mobility solutions make the day-to-day lives of people better, and in turn, increase the chances of prosperity for future generations of their families?
While Tesla buyers and utility companies drive a lot of conversations around electric cars, there is a very important conversation to be had about the social implications of shorter commutes, made possible by advancements in mass transit running on clean energy, HOV lane policies to allow electric cars, and connected vehicle technology to inform smarter commuting.
The marketing and outreach is coming.
Have you seen the Altman Vilandrie & Co survey which reports that a whopping 60% of American drivers were unaware that electric cars exist, and 80% of American drivers have never ridden in or driven one?
The EV industry has seen it, and they are ready to respond. After all, awareness and education are one of the biggest opportunities to advance EV adoption.
Electrify America has already committed to an educational campaign to impart the benefits of zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) and address consumer barriers to adoption as part of its Cycle 1 National ZEV Investment Plan. And Veloz, a new California-based nonprofit organization, announced at the conference that they will launch the first mass market electric car awareness campaign.
Consumers want their electric cars to have more range and a cheaper price tag, so battery technology is key.
Listening in on the live focus group of potential new of used car purchasers, I heard two prevailing messages: consumers are still concerned about range, and they are concerned that EVs are still too expensive.
Both of these concerns are linked to battery technology – which is rapidly improving. A recent study by Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that lithium-ion battery prices will plunge in the second half of the 2020s, falling by more than 70% by 2030. As battery breakthroughs happen – and they will happen – more economy electric car models with longer ranges will become available.
There is no silver bullet to transportation electrification.
I heard one sentiment too many times to count: transit and mobility is a multi-faceted issue, there isn’t one solution, and that makes it really challenging.
And while it might seem tempting to throw our hands up and feel discouraged because there isn’t a silver bullet solution, I have good news: instead of just one solution, there is a whole world of solutions out there, and we already have everything that we need! The bigger the challenge, the more possibility…and the more fired up I get.
So, what does all of this mean?
If we want to bring down the greenhouse gas emissions related to transportation, we have a lot of levers to pull, such as:
- Conducting massive outreach, marketing, and communications to consumers
- Engaging many different players such as utility companies, public and private sector entities, manufacturers, dealerships, scientists, and community advocacy groups
- Telling the stories of how transportation electrification can improve the lives of people, communities, and the world with data
Above all, we need to get comfortable with a little market disruption. As one of Porsche’s latest ads says, “Either you drive disruption or you’re outpaced by it.” I prefer to get behind the wheel on this one. We have a lot to do! Who’s ready to drive?