Car dealers know you have got to get test drives to move vehicles.
Over 2000 years ago, the story of Doubting Thomas showed that some people just need a hands-on demonstration to accept what’s already in front of them. Today it’s essential we understand this lesson to successfully fight misperceptions and false beliefs that keep us from eliminating carbon emissions by 2050.
Keeping global warming below two-degrees Celsius will require major changes across every sector of the world economy in the next two decades, such as cutting transportation emissions to zero.
Despite prices of electric vehicles (EVs) continuing to decline, and proof they’re more reliable, economical to operate, and better performing than similar gas-powered cars, we still have far to go in getting people to consider them for purchase. In fact, a recent Pew Center research report found that adults in the U.S. are split down the middle, with half opposing upcoming plans from Detroit to phase out production of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.
However, change does happen, and it can come quickly. Overall, new car sales struggled in the second quarter of 2022 due to tight inventory, high prices, and economic uncertainty. But EVs were a positive area of growth, with battery-powered electric vehicles jumping to record highs while ICE sales declined. And this difference was even greater in the European and Canadian markets than in the United States.
The Problem to Be Solved
Resources for the Future, an independent, nonprofit market research company, found that a major source of American’s reluctance is their lack of prior exposure to EVs. Sixty-five percent of respondents didn’t know anyone who has driven an EV, only 13 % understand that maintenance costs are lower than for a gas- powered car, and 50% believe that an EV has the same or higher cost per-mile as an ICE. Facts don’t seem to matter.
As with Thomas, personal experience is often needed in order to change our opinions. But how?
Consider the Ambition Loop
The “Ambition Loop” is a positive feedback cycle in which bold government policies and private sector leadership reinforce each other to make rapid improvements in power, transportation, and land use. This concept was developed through the joint efforts of an impressive group of leading international organizations: the World Resources Institute, We Mean Business, and the United Nations Global Compact.
During the recent COP27 in Egypt, Alok Sharma spoke about the Ambition Loop as a ‘virtuous circle’ where business, government and civil society drive climate action and push each other to go further, faster.
That event was hosted by The Climate Group, a major international non-profit organization (with offices in London, New York, New Delhi, Amsterdam, and Beijing), whose RouteZero is a global showcase of ambitious commitments and bold actions on zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). According to their website, “Accelerating the shift to ZEVs is essential if we’re going to win the race to zero… In support of this aim, RouteZero brings together leaders from around the world taking the steps today that can make this a reality tomorrow.”
One case study, from the Province of Québec, is a practical, economical, and easily duplicated approach. The electrification of Québec’s driving schools is helping both new drivers and influential people in the automotive world experience for themselves the real-world benefits of new technologies. [www.theclimategroup.org/our-work/resources/electrification-quebecs-driving-schools]
The E-roule Electrification Project [https://e-roule.com] is funded by the Ministère des Transports using $4.5 million to accelerate the replacement of ICE vehicles used by driving schools with battery electric vehicles (BEVs). The climate group states, “The project focuses on raising the profile of EVs to ensure that learner drivers understand the benefits of a green transportation alternative.”
In 2021, a fleet of 1,450 vehicles was operating at 486 driving schools in Québec. In the first year of this project, 30 driving schools from the private sector were involved, with ten fully replacing their fleet with BEVs. Now, in the second year, over 110 schools are participating and more than 35,000 new drivers have been reached with this hands-on experience.
The United States and Canada have similar overall sales rates of EVs. Second quarter results show a 6.6% market share in the U.S. versus 6.9% for our neighbors to the north, but that’s where the similarities end.
ZEVs account for 10.5% of cars in the province of Québec, almost double the market share in the New England states.
Québec has about one-fourth of Canada’s population but accounts for almost half of the country’s ZEV registrations. The latest statistics show EV sales there increased by 35% while gas-powered car sales fell 15%.
And their success with electrifying driving schools is being noticed here and around the world. Driver education programs that feature EVs are popping up in major cities like Los Angeles and Atlanta, with students even willing to pay a premium to enroll at the Tesla Driving Schools in Florida.
According to Volkswagen, “E-mobility in driving schools is a hot topic. Switching to electric cars is a logical step for driving schools for many reasons: they are environmentally friendly, modern and reduce running costs.” And Ford supports the trend with three driving schools in Norway and one in The Netherlands where students in the Mustang Mach-E use the driver assist technology for parking and can easily adjust settings to fit their preferences on the responsiveness of acceleration and braking.
With driving schools going electric, can car rental agencies and ride share services be far behind?
Mike Bailey is a trustee of SolarFest.org, whose focus is renewable energy education.