How to Sell an Electric Car

Electric cars are a great deal . . . when you get someone else to pay for them. This appears to be the only way to convince anyone to buy one.

BMW recently offered a $54-per-month lease deal on the i3, its $44,450 (to start) electric car. BMW is literally paying people to take one off their hands — and for those who do, it’s one hell of a bargain.

BMW is not the only company selling electric cars this way. They are all being sold this way.

Every single one of them is a money-loser . . . for those making them.

The problem, of course, is that you can’t stay in business for very long paying people to “buy” your stuff. Cue the infamously frank comment by Fiat’s head, Sergio Marchionne — who publicly urged people not to “buy” the electric version of the Fiat 500, which he admitted cost his company $14,000 per sale.

And yet, Fiat continues to make the 500e — just as BMW continues to make the i3. The market (and economics) be damned.

The absurdity of this would be the subject of national laughter (and outrage, in the “environmental community”) if the car companies were paying people to take home $45,000 SUVs for $54 a month. Someone might raise their hand and ask why the car companies, in such a case, don’t just stop building SUVs they can’t get rid of without resorting to paying people to take them off their hands?

Shareholders would gather pitchforks. Heads would roll.

The usual rule has been: If car doesn’t sell, you stop making it. The infamous Edsel comes to mind. More recently, the Pontiac Aztek. Imagine the belly laughs if GM refused to throw in the towel, despite obvious lack of interest in the dumpster-on-wheels and just kept on stamping them out — resorting to ever-more-pathetic “deals” in order to unload them.

There would be calls for men in white outfits to visit the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit — which is GM’s HQ. Take the people on the top floor away for a rest. Come along now. It’ll be all right . . .

Ford decided to stop selling the Taurus and other sedans because they weren’t selling. There’s no more Honda Crosstour, either.

It is not, as the saying goes, rocket science.

But the car companies are in a political quandary when it comes to electric cars. They have to manufacture a certain number of them, regardless of the economics — in order to meet “zero emissions” electric car production quotas in states like California, which is absolutely determined that electric cars will be manufactured regardless of the buying public’s interest in paying market price for them.

And car companies which do business in Europe must contend with laws being passed restricting where non-electric cars may be driven. This is the real reason for BMW’s decision to convert almost every car it currently sells both there and here (where such laws are probably coming, too) to at least plug-in hybrid status. It adds thousands to the cost of each car, of course.

But — for now — people still don’t have to buy them. And most won’t, unless the price is literally too good to be true. Then, maybe.

Unlike most of what the government pushes, electric cars remain optional. You are free to buy something else. Something which makes sense. And so, most people do. That half of the market equation remains operative — and embarrassing, to the acolytes of the electric car.

Which is why the market half of the equation — people’s freedom to not buy an electric car, unless it’s at a give-away price — is likely to be addressed in the near future.

You may have noticed, if you’ve been new car shopping recently, that on the window sticker there is now a “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating,” on a scale of 1-10.

Italics added.

It used to be just fuel economy that was measured — and regulated. Now that is being conflated with greenhouse gas “emissions,” which means carbon dioxide. Only electric cars emit zero of that — at the tailpipe, at least. (The government concedes the point, right there on the sticker, with very fine print “tailpipe only” for the 1-10 sliding scale.)

Regardless, that will be the means by which electric cars will be made more “competitive” — by making non-electric cars ever-more-expensive. The latter will be held to ever-stricter limitations on the quantity of C02 they may legally “emit” — but never quite catching up to the “zero emissions” (well, at the tailpipe) electric car.

Because of course they can’t — as long as they aren’t electric cars.

And that’s how they’ll nudge us unto electric cars — which will then not be such a deal because we won’t be allowed to say no.

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One Response to “How to Sell an Electric Car”

  1. James C. Walker says:

    There are many people whose driving needs make EV ownership impossible because of range and recharging time issues. We STRONGLY object to our tax dollars being used by governments to subsidize the purchase of EVs. We STRONGLY object to the need of the car companies to raise the prices of normal vehicles to cover the losses on EVs that the public would not buy if priced to sell at a profit.