About twenty years ago, I was an engineering co-op student at Delco Electronics (now Delphi), an automotive electronics company that at the time was a subsidiary of General Motors. One summer, the company put on a Technology Expo to show off all the futuristic technology they were developing. They needed help with some of the demonstrations, so naturally, we interns were asked to volunteer.
One of the cars featured in the Expo was a Geo Metro sedan (remember those?) that had been converted to an electric car. The battery took up the entire space under the hood and the trunk. After the Expo they let me drive it. I remember it was so weird that all you could hear was the tires on the ground. And I felt so cool to be driving it, even though it couldn’t go very fast.
Fast-forward twenty years later, and last weekend, I bought my own electric vehicle! And yet even though I saw it in action twenty years ago, it still feels like I’m driving this futuristic technology. It has me thinking: Why has it taken so long for EV technology to take hold as it’s just barely starting to now? And what can it tell us about some of the prerequisites for change adoption?
Meet Minimal Expectations
First of all, this “souped-up” Geo Metro was anything but. In order to use the minimal amount of energy, it had no power anything – steering, windows, zip. I don’t even think it had air conditioning. And it had a manual stick-shift transmission. For this new technology to be accepted, it at least would have to support all the things people have come to expect as standard on vehicles today. Taking away things that are considered basic amenities isn’t going to fly with most people.
Even at their current maximum driving range, an electric car is not for anyone who typically drives long distances. In fact, there will be times I’ll need to trade cars with my husband to make sure I can get where I’m going (and back). In some parts of the country, including here in Atlanta, an infrastructure of charging stations is becoming more widespread. With my current driving patterns, the growing number of places to charge the car, and the ability to borrow another car if needed, it was feasible for me to get one.
Make Value Greater Than Cost
I’m pretty sure that first electric Geo Metro cost millions of dollars in design and development. The cost of the technology (or change) must be low enough for people to accept it as a good trade for the value they are getting. Even today, electric cars are still expensive compared to similar gas-powered versions. The electric car I bought this weekend had a sizable manufacturers rebate and a hefty income tax rebate, making it much more affordable and even less than the cost of an equivalent gas-powered car. Since I had the desire to drive one, and the driving patterns that would make it feasible to own one, and the need to get rid of my old car, the incentives made the decision a no-brainer.
Add Social Proof
When I started to consider getting an electric car, I started seeing them everywhere. Since other people had made the switch to electric, I figured I could too. Seeing others driving the car not only made it safe, but made me realize if I wanted to be on the early adoption side of the curve, I would have to hurry up!
Connect to Values
I wouldn’t call myself an environmentalist, but I’ve had an awareness and desire to make earth-friendly decisions since high school. I try to recycle as much as I can, I use reusable grocery bags, and little things like that. I am concerned about the future of our planet. The electric car is an opportunity for me to make a bigger statement in that regard.
We make decisions every day at work and in life that can help us understand how people adopt change. What are some of the prerequisites you would add to the list based on your own experience?