Transforming the market for electric cars: The solution to "Range Anxiety"
Building the market for electric cars presents a tricky conundrum: charging. People are less likely to want to buy an electric car if they are uncertain about being able to get it charged, and charging stations are not likely to pop up to serve these vehicles if there are few electric cars around. This fear of running out of charge, "range anxiety," is a significant obstacle to more widespread adoption. I believe a forward-looking gas company can help break this logjam while also improving their market positioning. Here's how.
Suppose one company, let's say Shell, installed chargers in every one of their stations in the Greater Washington area (or another region where there are electric cars on the road). The key here is to install in every station, even though many will hardly get used. It's a marketing strategy: make your stations synonymous with electric charging. One company getting out ahead on this could create a very long lasting market advantage. Put a charger in every station and make that information common knowledge to everyone. The marketing has to be comprehensive, so that everyone knows those gas stations have charging stations; it becomes common knowledge. The stations and the marketing are loss leaders; a marketing strategy that pays off in more than one way.
As a driver, keeping this meme in my head is easy. Rather than having to keep track of where the few charging stations are or having to look them up on my smart phone while driving, I just look for a Shell station. If I know that every single one will have a charger, my level of anxiety is reduced. AND, it's the most likely place I will go, because it's easy.
Granted, it takes time to charge a vehicle, more time that it takes to pump a tank of gas. Nonetheless, the peace of mind created by the knowledge that I could stop for 10-15 minutes and take on enough charge to get home could be a key piece to increasing market share. It also creates an enormously positive brand image, even if I never use it.
The marketing effort to make the availability of these stations well known serves to position this particular gas company as greener than its competitors. This strategy is far better than BPs original "Beyond Petroleum" campaign, because this one shows an actual physical commitment that the general public can see everyday right with their own eyes. Everyone: not just those with electric vehicles. The brand value of this would be enormous. This branding strategy is likely to increase market share among regular drivers who are environmentally minded, because they appreciate the environmental commitment of the parent company.
Although another ubiquitous type of shop (Starbucks?) could do this as well, gas stations are the sensible choice. For one, they have the money to invest in this. It would take a few million to really do correctly, but I have little doubt that the brand enhancement would more than make up for the costs, even if the bottom line profit from the stations themselves never did.