Car shoppers are getting some pretty sweet deals on plug-in electric vehicles lately, with Honda joining the price cutting war with its Fit EV. Now that the early adopters are no longer in the market – they have theirs now – automakers are being pushed to bring down sticker prices to increase sluggish sales. The big question has become: What if these new car owners are dissatisfied with the EV experience?
Nissan led the way this year, cutting 2013 Leaf prices by $6,400. After slashing the price 18 percent, the Japanese automaker saw Leaf sales more than triple from previous months in March and April. Honda joined the fray last month, cutting the monthly payments on its 36-month Fit EV lease from $389 to $259. Its dealer network will be increased to expand the market – from 36 to more than 200. Ford produced more than twice as many Focus EVs than it was able to sell last year – 1,627 units manufactured but only 685 sold – and has now cut the sticker price by $2,000 and has been offering discount financing packages.
The trick is that cutting prices probably won't be enough to make this second wave of EV buyers into long-term, loyal owners, says Steve Center, American Honda's head of environment business development. Honda never expected to sell a high volume of these cars, but the results have been discouraging so far. When the Fit EV was launched 10 months ago, the automaker expected to sell just 1,100 units over three years. So far, there has only been 161 units sold, but that appears to be changing, finally).
What concerns me is that we'll ... attract people who might not be best suited for an EV - Honda's Steve Center
"What concerns me most is that we'll have a situation of excess supply, creating artificially low prices, and [attracting] people who might not be best suited for an EV," Center told Automotive News. "Then you will get a certain percentage of people who are going to be dissatisfied with the EV experience, and that will damage that option going forward."
It's going to have to be worth it for new owners to take the EV experience seriously and have good things to to talk about with their peers. Higher gasoline prices, reliable battery performance and a plentiful charging infrastructure would help, but those three variables remain, to one degree or another, up in the air.