I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jason McGrade, Deputy Director of the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) and Lincoln Wood, Electrification Policy Manager at Southern Company, to talk about the unprecedented opportunity transportation electrification presents for energy providers for strategic consumer engagement.

At Bidgely, we often describe the electric vehicle adoption curve as a four-phase journey.

Phase 1: Accelerating Customer Awareness, Education and Adoption is the starting point.

McGrade agreed. 

“Here’s where you can leverage some of the inherent trust that utilities have,” he said. “You’re not selling cars, but instead are there to help answer any questions that consumers might have about the vehicles.”

Filling the Knowledge Gap

“What we’re seeing within our research is there’s a substantial knowledge gap for consumers around electric transportation. Individuals are seeing EVs as they would any other car. And they’re not. It’s a different technology,” he said. “Consumers have a lot of questions – whether they’ve already made the investment in an EV or are considering a purchase in the future.” 

McGrade said the knowledge gap runs the gamut, including questions about how an EV differs from a typical combustion engine, when to change the oil, how many miles to the ‘gallon’ they get and more. But Wood said oftentimes consumers are also wondering about things that you don’t find on any standard FAQ.

“At Southern, we had an EV awareness program a few years ago called ‘Coffee and Cars’ where we rented out a coffee shop and invited customers to visit. In addition to having several models of EVs on display, an EV concierge was on hand to answer any questions they wanted to ask,” Wood explained. “We were down on the coast, and one of the questions that we got was whether salt air impacted EV batteries in the same way that ocean climates sometimes cause vehicles to rust. The answer is no — there is no effect on the battery. But it’s an example that’s always stuck with me about the wide-ranging questions that are on consumers’ minds.”

“We see a ton of opportunities for utilities to fill that knowledge gap,” said McGrade. “Our recent survey on electric vehicles revealed, for example, that individuals don’t necessarily understand the difference between electric vehicle types, such as hybrids, plug-in’s and full battery operated vehicles. The same holds true for charging networks and the types of chargers that exist. Consumers have no idea what exactly each one consists of, or which type fits for their individual use case. This is where energy providers have an opportunity to step in as a trusted source and say, ‘based on your driving pattern, this is the right charger for you.’”

“One concern I hear often is related to what happens during a power outage. ‘I won’t be able to charge my car.’ they say. But what people don’t consider, is that during an outage, the gas pumps won’t work either,” said Wood.

“There is definitely a lot of misguided logic out there,” agreed McGrade. “‘You can’t drive it cross-country’ is another one. Well, you can’t drive a combustion engine cross-country, either. You still have to stop for fuel. There is no 3,000-miles-to-the-gallon commercially available vehicle.” 

Wood and McGrade were also quick to emphasize that the energy providers’ opportunity and obligation to provide education and guidance doesn’t end with the vehicle purchase. In fact there is a great deal of increased support that’s necessary once customers drive home after their purchase.

“Energy providers continue to have an opportunity after a customer makes that purchase and rolls off the lot,” said McGrade. “It’s in the utility’s best interest to make sure that the consumer’s ownership experience after that initial investment is as easy and as streamlined as possible to encourage overall adoption going forward. For example, there are conversations to be had about the best rate plans to avoid high bill shock and charging best practices. You don’t want new drivers to end up under duress because their bills are high or their experience is otherwise different from what they were promised. And you don’t want an individual coming home and plugging in and charging in such a way that they cause issues with the whole neighborhood, because that’s going to be a deterrent for future growth.”

Meeting Consumers Where they Are

For energy providers to truly position themselves as trusted EV buying advisors and lean into pre-purchase customer engagement, personalized marketing that aligns with each customer’s needs, motivations and values is essential. 

Bidgely’s patented disaggregation and machine learning technology allows each prospective EV buyer touchpoint to be hyper-personalized based on their own energy use profile and customer persona.

With this approach, mass marketing is replaced by customized, targeted messaging that more effectively alleviates consumer anxieties and fills each customer’s unique knowledge gap. 

Recognizing that every customer has unique decision factors, Bidgely’s EV Solution delivers “personalized nudges” that provide EV information that aligns with their specific interests, such as the number of electric vehicles adopted in their community, an ROI calculator that evaluates what a purchase would mean for them, or social comparisons.

Then, post-purchase, personalized engagement insights continue through EV Journey Phases 2-4: 

  • Phase 2: Analyzing the EVs on the road today and forecasting where EVs will be tomorrow
  • Phase 3: Shifting EV load using behavioral mechanisms
  • Phase 4: Implementing managed charging.

Our EV Solution sets drivers up from the start to manage their EV charging and elevate their ownership experience with regular summaries of their charging activity and cost of ownership; behavioral charging and equipment recommendations; and promotions for relevant programs, incentives and rebates.

At every stage of the EV adoption life cycle, Bidgely empowers energy providers with data-driven and customer-specific energy insights to foster the engagement and collaboration necessary to optimize EV ownership for both drivers and energy businesses and advance transportation electrification at scale.

Accelerating Opportunity

“As you look toward any utility strategy around electrification, and in particular, electric vehicles, the opportunity to educate really has to be pushed,” emphasized McGrade. “You don’t need to be the car salesman. Instead be that trusted source who provides knowledge and understanding around these types of technologies and educates consumers about the process in such a way that provides benefit to all parties. The opportunity to educate has to be built into any strategic plan.” 

“Ultimately, it all comes back to the consumer,” says Wood. “At the end of the day, we need to be focused on the person driving in the vehicle. The interest is there, and we need to supply it.” 

“Beyond just increasing EV adoption, our research shows that EV drivers have a high degree of satisfaction around the purchase – which is likely to lead to more interest in other forms of at-home electrification” says McGrade. “And so from a utility standpoint, there is further opportunity for engagement to help guide consumers to additional electrification opportunities. It’s a whole new gateway into the home and a chance to build on that EV relationship.”

Hear my full conversation with Jason McGrade and Lincoln Wood in our on-demand webinar entitled Driving a Consumer-Centric EV Strategy: Barriers, Unknowns, Risks, and Rewards, and learn more about the four data-driven phases of EV adoption, starting with accelerating customer awareness, education and adoption.