What GM’s Big EV Announcement Means for Energy Utilities

General Motors shocked both the auto industry and the energy industry last month with a major announcement that will drive the future of transportation: The automaker wants to end production of diesel- and gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035 and electrify its entire lineup of cars, trucks and SUVs. 

The move will certainly shift EV adoption into high gear faster than previously expected. GM’s planned investment of $27 billion into electric and autonomous vehicle production will increase consumer choice, drive down prices and help build out the public infrastructure needed to support widespread EV use.  

Energy utilities can benefit from this momentum as well. GM’s announcement is a perfect opportunity to rev up EV adoption efforts and demonstrate how customer-centric utility programs can make electric vehicles a convenient and affordable part of their daily lives.  

Renewed interest could restart EV sales growth 

Despite the high-profile success of Tesla, sales of electric vehicles in the U.S. have stalled recently. Following a few years of promising growth — EV sales increased by 81% in 2018 — electric vehicle sales in the U.S. actually declined in 2019 and grew a meager 4% in 2020. (Globally, sales of EVs increased by 43% in 2020, a disparity that is not lost on GM; the company now sells more cars in China than in the U.S.) 

Of course, Tesla is the exception to this trend; its sales rose 36% last year. Why? Tesla made electric vehicles cool. Tesla owners are passionate about their high-tech, high-performance luxury cars — proof that EVs don’t have to sacrifice style to be eco-friendly. 

That’s an important lesson for energy utility marketers. Reducing carbon emissions is a key motivation for many EV purchasers (and it was the centerpiece of GM’s announcement), but it’s not the only reason to drive electric. EVs are also fun and fast and a joy to drive. Utility messaging should embrace the exciting lifestyle perks of EVs, not just dwell on energy-related benefits or cost-of-operation calculations.  

How can utilities benefit from GM’s EV goals? 

GM is shining its corporate spotlight on the future of electric vehicles and the headlines are certainly good news for electric utilities. How can utilities harness this momentum? Here are three customer-centric recommendations for EV adoption strategies: 

Answer customer questions: The higher profile of electric vehicles will be getting the attention of lots of first-time buyers — and they will have even more questions than the highly motivated early adopters who drove sales a few years ago. This new round of buyers will want to revisit questions around performance, driving range and home charging. Your utility should have a content strategy in place to answer their questions and guide them through the buying process. 

Segment your EV messaging: It should go without saying that not every customer has the same motivation for going electric. Some are interested in reducing their carbon footprint, some like the idea of never getting another oil change, and some just want the fastest, most advanced car money can buy. Your messaging should reflect these differences. Make sure you segment potential EV customers based on their interests and deliver relevant content that speaks to their specific needs. 

Help customers take control: EV adoption is an important part of beneficial electrification initiatives, but it is just one part. To succeed, customers need to understand how an EV fits into a comprehensive smart-energy lifestyle. Make it easy for them. EV messaging should incorporate simple onboarding for managed charging, time-of-use billing or other related programs that will help customers take control of their energy use. 

After a few years in the slow lane, electric vehicles are finally getting into gear. Thanks to the commitment of General Motors — and with headlines driving renewed interest — it’s time for utilities to put their customers in the EV driver’s seat with relevant messaging and supportive programs.  

As the Associate Vice President of Marketing & Content Strategy for Questline, Brian Lindamood builds strong digital relationships between energy utilities and their residential and business customers. 

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