Confusion is the enemy of mobility technology, says Maven

Range anxiety is one of the most frequently discussed issues surrounding electric vehicles. In addition to the variances among car models – no two EVs offer the same range – consumers are concerned about the lack of charging stations deployed across America.

Rachel Bhattacharya, chief growth officer at Maven, a car-sharing subsidiary within General Motors, thinks these concerns are more psychological than anything else. She pointed to the Chevy Bolt, a popular car among Maven drivers and passengers, which has a reported 238-mile range. “For retail customers, because so many charge at home, that’s less of a barrier,” said Bhattacharya. “You could charge the Bolt at home once a week and probably be fine but it’s that element of, ‘What if I want to drive across the country’ and I’m always like: ‘When was the last time you drove across the country?’”

Bhattacharya is more focused on the “urban core” and less on the market of potential drivers that occasionally travel long distances. She’s also looking at the possible challenges that could occur as the commercial market adopts more EVs. She added: “What if every delivery done by the post office was in an EV? Yeah, you can charge them overnight in some instances but how do you figure out how to ensure that there’s access to charging?”

Free charging? Not forever

A growing number of places are offering free charging stations for patrons to energize their vehicles while at work or at play. That may be fine for now but Bhattacharya does not expect it to be the norm forever.

“My suspicion is that if you want a healthy ecosystem of providers, the consumer is going to have to pay for it,” she said. “Otherwise there just isn’t a business model there for it. I think the business models to date have largely been somewhat of an insurance policy where a charging provider builds this and an OEM pays them a certain amount of money for every car sold. Then a customer can use the charging if they need to, which is rarely. It’s a very different type of business model.”

Cost efficiency

There have been many debates about energy usage and what might happen if and when electric cars replace those that run on petrol. Will the rising demand for electricity increase its overall expense and reduce the benefits of ditching oil? “One of the biggest expenses related to DC fast charging is demand charges and that is taking the infrastructure expense related to building it and dividing it by the expected usage,” said Bhattacharya. “When expected usage goes up, the denominator on that goes up and the demand charges go down. It’s a little weird how electricity is priced but, generally, if you have more people using the infrastructure, the cost per use would go down.”

Congestion isn’t going anywhere

While car-sharing has shown that it can, in some circumstances, reduce the number of vehicles on the road, ride-hailing has yet to have the same impact. Bhattacharya does not expect autonomous cars to change that unless people are willing to ride together.She explained: “The math is pretty simple. You’ve got X number of humans that you have to move at certain times of day. How many humans per car? The current ride-hailing model is essentially a taxi, so you’re just taking what would’ve been a taxi and making it autonomous. I don’t think that suddenly everybody would want to carpool.”

Driverless vehicles could have a short-term impact, however, as consumers pile into them to experience the technology when it is initially deployed. “You can certainly use an autonomous vehicles as an enticement to get people to carpool, just from the cool factor of it being autonomous,” said Bhattacharya. “That’s a short-term solution. It’s only novel for so long.”

Education is paramount

It is inevitable that, as vehicles become more autonomous, consumers will have to be properly educated about each new feature. This is evident from even the most minor changes in current automobiles, which can confuse uninformed drivers. Bhattacharya shared one such example that occurred when drivers started a car remotely but couldn’t get the vehicle to move.

“We had all these people calling in and saying, ‘The start doesn’t work, I can’t drive the car’ but we didn’t see anything on the backend that had failed,” said Bhattacharya. “It turns out when they got in the car, they needed to push the brake down and push the start button. They had started the car, in their minds and, yes, they had started the engine but they hadn’t started the car. These are people who don’t drive very often and maybe they never had a push button start car.”

Bhattacharya said it’s a “silly but very real” example of what can happen as new technology is deployed. “If you went into this and didn’t have the right information, you could just look at that and say, ‘Oh, the remote start doesn’t work,’” she added. “No, it works really well. We just didn’t educate consumers in the right way.”


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