Electric cars must be excellent, blow up negative stereotypes, rather than invoke the “eeew” response

Jalopnik, a so-called “automotive news” website (so far as I can tell, they rely on luridness rather than journalism) just posted a “10 worst electric cars of all time” list, placing the Coda electric sedan at the #10 spot.  Really?  I think they missed on some real gems they put on the list, and while I agree the Coda electric car concept, and execution, was entirely flawed, despite the best intentions of Coda’s employees, it shows us an important lesson about what electric car companies need to do.

The list demonstrates the need for electric car companies to spend the effort to create great products.  We absolutely need to change the the societal normalthink about transportation choices, and creating more laughable electric cars won’t cut it.  We who want more electric cars on the road have to be insistent that they be really high quality, because our fellow humans have huge doubts and will run away at the first sign of weakness.

For example, consider the reaction to the very few electric car fires.  Each one is met by fear and trepidation that’s puzzling given the frequency of gasoline car fires, and the indifference towards them.  The fact is that electric car fires are occurring at a hugely lower rate than gas car fires.

The point is that electric vehicle adoption is hindered, not helped, by electric cars/motorcycles/etc that have even a hint of being not-quite-up-to-snuff.

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CODA-043-web
Coda in August 2012

The Coda electric sedan was made by putting electric drive train components into the shell of a gasoline car from China.  The first instance of the Coda that I saw was pretty blah.  The Chinese car they’d chosen was China’s attempt to clone the Honda Civic, so it was an average family sedan with styling that would have looked great in the 1990’s but it was 2010.  Two years later I got to see the car again and they’d improved a bunch of stuff about it, but it was still the same underlying car, and still had some styling that seemed a throwback to the 1990’s.

Basically, the company never got past that stigma even though it was vastly improved.

I had the opportunity for a press junket sponsored by Coda a bit over a year ago, and one thing they asked us is what we’d prefer they spend their tiny resources on?  Making sure the drive train and battery system was top notch and reliable, or getting creature comforts perfect?  That question showed Coda’s team did not “get” the need to develop excellent electric cars.  Instead their focus was perfecting the drive train and battery system, not on perfecting the look/feel/styling of the car.

As a practical matter, Coda didn’t have access to a deep catalog of car parts, unlike Nissan, GM, Ford, or even Tesla (who has access to Daimler’s parts catalog).  Coda was a tiny free-standing company that at best was going to get such parts from Chinese automakers.

This just gets us back to the original point – the need for electric car makers to ensure their vehicles are great.  We need all the vehicles to be electrified, not just cars but motorcycles, big trucks, trains, ships, etc.  The role Coda is serving is an example of what happens to an electric vehicle maker who doesn’t have that realization.  They don’t get past the stigma of “eew, strange electric car” and, well, they die.

2013 Zero S

This could have happened to Zero Motorcycles.  Their earliest attempts at electric motorcycles were credible, but didn’t meet expectations of regular motorcycle riders.  The company then replaced senior management with ones coming from the motorcycle industry, and their 2012 and 2013 electric motorcycle models are getting much better response from regular motorcycle riders.

Tesla Model S

Red Tesla Model S in the mountains

The whole success of Tesla Motors is, I think, stemming from the fact that they deeply “get” the point I’m making here.  The Tesla Model S is an excellent car with awards and recognition a mile long.  Even though it’s an expensive electric luxury car, they’re selling very well and in the luxury car market are making up a measurable percentage of the total market.  All because they took the extra steps necessary to make a top notch electric car, because they knew they had to blow up the electric car stereotypes.

Jalopnik’s 10 worst electric cars

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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