I go to Chelsea Sexton for common sense about electric vehicles. Best known to the public for her passionate defense of the General Motors EV-1 (that's Chelsea in "Who Killed the Electric Car?" as the GM employee outraged that the company was crushing its cars), she has evolved into a battery car insider and strategic thinker. She blogs about EVs for AutoBlog Green and here.
I interviewed Chelsea on video (with the sound of a gurgling fountain in the background):
Chelsea worked at GM until the EV-1 division was shut down in 2001, and also helped direct the X Prize Foundation (which will shortly award $10 million to 100-mpg electric vehicles) and served as executive director of Plug-In America. Now she's everywhere as a consultant. If I ask her about a company, she's usually been in the board room talking strategy.
I met Chelsea at Peet's Coffee in Santa Monica just before a visit to nearby Coda Automotive, one of the many startup companies pondering the biggest question of the day: How big is the early market? In 2011 and 2012, how many people out there will be ready and willing to put down hard cash to take an electric vehicle home?
Demand will exceed supply Chelsea says. In 2011, there could be 40,000 to 50,000 cars on the market, but as many as 200,000 early adopters waiting to snap them up. A big challenge will be getting the cars to the cash-in-hand customers, which is why the automakers are carefully selecting their early sales markets.
Chelsea's message is also that building a good electric car is not enough. If customers have a frustrating experience with their dealership and service network, they could abandon the brand, or even electric vehicles entirely.
That's a good and cautionary message. My sense is that electric vehicle makers have their hands full getting vehicles to market, and they could neglect what happens after the sale. Electric cars aren't expected to actually need all that much servicing (electric motors don’t need tune-ups, for instance) but they're also a totally new experience for those early adopting buyers. They'll want somebody, preferably local, to call and hold their hand when the car makes a funny noise. In effect, they'll all be funny noises.
Chelsea and I often compare notes. She probably knows more than I do, but neither of us is sure what the next few months will bring. We're expecting a wild ride.
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