Aiming to strengthen electric vehicle (EV) sales after a 2019 dip, it’s clear that automakers are looking to improve their marketing strategy.
While our recent Getting to Zero: A U.S. Climate Agenda report charts recommendations for how the transportation sector (among others) can get on a path to carbon neutrality by 2050, those policies will need to be coupled with committed, effective marketing by automakers. They can start by broadening their appeal to include the fastest-growing segment of the new car market: women.
The models being unveiled in 2020 aren’t the economy-sized EVs of yesteryear, aimed solely at those that are eco-conscious. Now we’re being offered big, honkin’ sport-utility vehicles and sleek sports cars, with advertising that emphasizes their speed, power, and performance, but aimed primarily at men.
Not so fast, bro! What about us women? Recent shifts in American culture have driven up the share of women buying large, versatile vehicles. These new flashy EVs offer attributes that women find attractive, but their advertising is targeted toward the male demographic. Anyone paying attention to Super Bowl commercials this year couldn’t help but notice the prominent ads for EVs, but unless you watched closely, you might not have seen zero-emission benefits promoted.
Basketball star LeBron James touted the all-electric GMC Hummer truck’s 1,000 horsepower and 3-second 0-to-60 acceleration, but he didn’t mention the car’s zero emissions. TV and film star Idris Elba mused about the historical power and performance of the Ford Mustang line, while the new electric Mustang Mach E sped past previous models and impressed onlookers. Sustainability was left to the tagline at the end. Porsche emphasized the speed, technology, and quiet ride of its Taycan but never even mentioned its climate benefits.
The closest thing we saw to promoting climate benefits was when “Game of Thrones” star Maisie Williams drove Audi’s e-Tron Sportback while singing “Let it Go,” a hit from the movie “Frozen.” Again, we had to wait until the end for a mention of a sustainable future, when the words “Let’s drive to a more sustainable future” flashed onto the screen.
Now it’s time for EV makers to work harder to put women in the driver’s seat. By 2025, there will be at least 40 major EV models available from more than a dozen automakers. If the automakers keep selling only torque, performance, and speed, it’s quite possible they’ll miss out on an entire growing market segment.
As they choose to remain single or marry later, women have more disposable income, and they’re spending it on cars. According to Cars.com, 62 percent of new car purchases are made by women, and women influence more than 85 percent of all car purchases. Women are looking for efficiency, safety, reliability, and comfort, and we’re buying compact SUVs, crossovers, or sedans. These vehicles have supplanted the minivan as the family car, and women are driving both the trend and buying the majority of new vehicles. Research company MaritzCX found that mainstream small SUV sales to women rose 34 percent between 2010 and 2015 as small SUV sales to men rose only 22 percent during the same time period. Meanwhile, sales of premium small SUVs soared 177 percent among women.
What has made standard and crossover SUVs so appealing to women? Some factors include added space and safety, but those features can also be highlighted in the vehicles being marketed to men for power and performance – yet women are the faster growing share of the SUV market.
However, some all-electric SUV and crossover models still have high price tags, even if they offer all the attributes women are looking for – and women have reported high price tags have been a reason they have turned away from EVs.
Whether they’re marketing to men or women, automakers still need to offer affordable vehicles. Affordability will be driven by declining battery prices and the availability of financial incentives, which are available at the federal level and in some states, depending on the model. Newer “electric adventure” pickups and SUVs with ample space for gear and people, like the Rivian R1S and R1T, will start with a price tag near $69,000, and with incentives can drop to $50,000 in some states. Ancillary businesses are also working to make EVs more affordable. All-inclusive, month-to-month car subscription services, including one offered by power supplier Exelon, allow consumers to take advantage of EVs with a month-to-month commitment they can cancel at any time. Volkswagen is also starting to deploy a 50 percent factory match funding for dealerships to build out their facilities to install charging infrastructure, and up to a 75 percent co-op match for marketing, outreach, and education efforts to sell EVs.
But even with a more gender inclusive marketing strategy, automakers will still need federal leadership and supportive state policies to expand the market and create widely available charging infrastructure beyond dealerships, a consistently cited concern among potential, but hesitant, EV consumers. The C2ES report Getting to Zero: A U.S. Climate Agenda, includes several recommendations for policies to help accomplish these goals.
The policy recommendations call for Congress to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to establish a greenhouse gas performance standard ensuring that half of new light-duty vehicle sales are zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) by 2035, and a similar standard for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. Congress should also extend the current EV tax credit and expand it to include all new ZEVs, including fuel cell EVs. State policies that help develop comprehensive plans for ZEV charging and refueling infrastructure can accelerate deployment, particularly when supported by congressional funding. Local governments, with dedicated federal planning support, can also develop integrated transportation and land use plans that expand non-automotive transportation options to strengthen mobility while reducing congestion, air pollution, and carbon emissions.
There’s no doubt that consumers have a growing appetite for ZEVs. Most consumers who have bought EVs to date have done so specifically because they value their environmental contribution, even at a higher price. But the environmental consumer segment is limited, and automakers are recognizing the appeal of EVs will have to broaden to support expanded model offerings. If automakers want to see their forthcoming EV models purchased by all consumers, adopting a more inclusive marketing strategy can help improve their bottom line and help reduce emissions from the transportation sector, the largest greenhouse gas emitting sector. Who knows, most women and men might realize zero-emission vehicles are for them too, and not just for Arya Stark and rich guys named LeBron.