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Honda is one automaker aiming to address gaps in public knowledge around at-home and on-the-go charging options for electric vehicles, as the company rolls out its first all-electric offerings in the U.S. this year.
As Honda gears up to launch its all-electric Prologue SUV and Honda-owned Acura plans to release its all-electric ZDX, the company has put a lot of work into training dealers, drive events, targeting the right consumer segments and developing online resources for prospective EV converts.
“We’ve really approached both launches in a completely different way than we normally do with any other normal vehicle launch,” Jessika Laudermilk, assistant vice president of American Honda Marketing, said. “It’s just a completely different way of vehicle ownership.”
Despite a banner year for EV sales in 2023, the U.S. market faced headwinds late last year, as legacy automakers lowered production goals for 2024 and beyond.
This slowing demand is likely due to many different factors, including a patchy charging network and the need for automakers to begin targeting mainstream buyers—not just EV enthusiasts—and part of that is an awareness problem.
“Energy … has been extremely cheap and extremely simple for the past 100 years,” said Matt Teske, founder and CEO of EV charging application Chargeway. “If you’re trying to get someone to stop using the simple thing they’ve used forever that fits into their life pretty easily, then you better make sure that when they turn and look at your thing, they feel the exact same level of simplicity and comfort.”
In 2023, EVs accounted for 7.6% of all cars sold in the U.S.—up from 3.2% in 2021 and 5.8% in 2022—according to survey data from Kelley Blue Book. This year, EVs are expected to top 10% of all cars sold.
But for dealers, there’s a huge education gap for both sales representatives and shoppers when it comes to electric cars, leading to drawn-out sales processes and rampant misinformation. Last fall, The Washington Post reported that for one dealer, it took an average of four visits before people were comfortable pulling the trigger on an EV. For gas-powered cars, it’s usually just one.
At the end of January, Honda released “phase two” of its Prologue launch. It’s an extension of a broader Honda campaign called “Keep Dreaming,” Laudermilk explained, which includes a general market spot, a Hispanic spot and an Asian-American spot.
But beyond that central creative, there’s also tailored out-of-home and digital messaging that targets specific ZIP codes and audiences that Honda has identified as “BEV [battery electric vehicle] intenders,” Laudermilk added.
Paired with dealer training and a dedicated customer-support staff able to answer questions through the automaker’s website in real-time, Honda aims to put into practice some of the lessons that its earlier-to-market competitors learned over the past few years.
Marketing could fill knowledge gaps
In a presentation at e-mobility festival Electrify Expo in Austin, Texas, last fall, EV market analyst Loren McDonald highlighted a series of dos and don’ts for automakers as they market EVs.
Shoppers need fewer celebrity-filled spots, he argued, showing a screengrab of Will Ferrell in GM’s 2021 Super Bowl ad.
Instead, people need more education-focused marketing that answers their practical questions, along with opportunities to test drive the cars. They need to understand how the tech would fit into their lives, McDonald, CEO of EVAdoption, explained.
For Teske and McDonald, a major missing link is understanding electricity as a fuel that people already trust. Rather than a liquid that starts full and goes until empty, EVs are more like a phone battery—you plug it in when you’re doing other things anyway, like sleeping, shopping or eating at a restaurant. It just requires a different routine.
“[Automakers are] rinsing and repeating what they’ve been doing the past 50 years,” McDonald said, “which is buying TV ads and doing cool, fun stuff, but not understanding that people don’t even know what EVs are.”