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One Tiny Clue

One Tiny Clue

You may know of the “uncanny valley” in robotics. This is where a robot looks and moves almost, but not exactly, like natural beings. It causes a response of revulsion among some observers.

There may be something similar for electric cars. Back in 2011, a pair of economists got quite a lot of headlines with a paper, “Conspicuous Conservation: The Prius Effect and WTP [Willingness to Pay] for Environmental Bona Fides.” Steve and Alison Sexton argued that peoplebought Priuses over hybrid versions of conventional cars because the car’s distinctive design signals their commitment to the environment to the world around them.cq5dam.web_.1280.12805-980x550

The thing is, if the car design has to show that the owner is special, it can’t quite look like a regular car. The early electric vehicles had to appeal to early adopters and really couldn’t look like ordinary cars. Of course that meant they had to be a bit weird from the point of view of most consumers. They got stuck in the uncanny valley.

A new report (OVERCOMING BARRIERS TO DEPLOYMENT OF PLUG-IN ELECTRIC VEHICLES) by the US Committee on Overcoming Barriers to Electric-Vehicle Deployment Board on Energy and Environmental Systems Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences and Transportation Research Board says something quite different and revealing.

Apparently most people want their electric vehicles to look like ordinary cars. This marks the boundary between the early adopters – who want to be different and be seen to be different – and the mainstream – people who just want a good car and probably don’t want to stick out.

The implication, I think, is that electric cars are about to go mainstream. Many people have accepted the principle that the power source should be electric, but the power source is no longer an identity issue — they want cars that fill their own specific functional niche, with the look that suits them. “I want swoopy style,” “I want something red that looks fast,” “I want a car that will hold my kids and makes me look like a solid citizen.”

Cars are complicated machines that satisfy complicated needs. When we get to the point that “red” matters more than “electric,” the electric vehicle is mainstream.

The report really tells us that we are at the tipping point.

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