Can anyone catch Volkswagen now?

14 Nov

Steve Jobs first held up the i phone in 2007 and just 12 months later so did 12 million users. Today that figure is over 1.5 billion. Genuine market disruptions hit hard and fast. They are impossible to predict and instantly land lock incumbent technologies.

Pretty much everyone now accepts electric vehicles are a 'when' not an 'if'. But that still leaves considerable uncertainty out there for suppliers, automakers and dealer networks making infrastructure investments and marketing plans. 

Conventional wisdom says that 'price parity' will finally end the ICE (internal combustion engine) age, much slated as 2022. The assumption being there is a point when electric vehicles stop being bought for emotional reasons (polar bears, technology fascination, desire to impress etc.) which differ for everyone and rational reasoning takes over. Price parity being the single rational reasoning moment for everyone, hence the instantaneous hockey stick spike in demand.

But what if Volkswagen's sublime design, branding and marketing momentum is just too tempting for the one in three car owners that research says will consider moving to a plug-in with their next car change. Volkswagen would leap ahead, replacing cost rational as a purchase motivation with its class leading swagger. It wouldn't be the first time, think Beetle, think Golf. And the German auto giant is certainly possessed with the desire for environmental redemption, like its life depends (it does!).

Set against a plug-in vehicle supply shortfall from all other OEM's that is massively frustrating buyers, Volkswagen may well steal a march on the market in 2020, putting other manufacturers on the back foot by at least two years. 

In the UK where 50 per cent of car sales are company cars, BIK (benefit in kind) tax for employees will be zeroed from May onwards, putting even more pressure on vehicle supply. Employees won't wait. They will simply switch brand allegiance to Volkswagen rather than carry on paying company car tax.

More evidence the J-curve moment is approaching can be witnessed in notable moves by big oil and electricity. BP's acquisition of Chargemaster means that it now has the technology and operation to move quickly and effortlessly into mainstream vehicle charging on its own filling station forecourts. It has parked its tanks on the lawn but stopped short of full tactical deployment. 

Many new alliances are also ready to grab market territory: Total and Chargepoint, Engie and EV Box, Iberdrola (Scottish Power) and Wallbox, OVO and Indra, Octopus and Nissan, Shell and New Motion, to name just a few.

Now is not the time to hedge on electric vehicles. 

Volkswagen's plug-in sales offensive between now and 2025 is staggering in ambition. It is game-changing on a global scale.  The group will launch almost 70 new plug-in models and will be selling more than three million electric vehicles annually by then. That's around 25 per cent of its sales mix. To produce these volumes, eight vehicle plants in Europe, China and the USA will be converted to electric vehicle production by 2022.

Series production of the ID.3 has already started at the Zwickau, Poland vehicle plant in November. The ID.3 is the first model in an entirely new generation of electric cars based on Volkswagen’s Modular Electric Drive platform (MEB). 

The first vehicles are delivered to customers next summer, creating a significant marketing challenge for OEM competitors.

London based future-mobility communications consultancy Electric Village, working with its data-marketing partners, are addressing the task. They are building an optimised marketing funnel that targets and follows new car buyers looking for a switch to plug-in power.

Electric Village managing director Stewart Mckee says: “Electric vehicle buyers are hot prospects. In addition to automotive brands they are also valuable new customers to the insurance and financial sector, energy companies, highway charging infrastructure and roaming providers. Bigger still is a raft of new digital platforms monetising the vehicle to grid relationships that underpin the move to sustainable, shareable energy”.

There is very little in the manner of marketing metrics that presently identifies prospective electric vehicle customers. The time between initial interest and final decision can also be lengthy, further complicating strategies.

“Sticking with the customer journey is key. Our ‘awareness, education and conversion’ funnel is driven by precise targeting and data management, closely following a prospect’s decision making process” added McKee.

Electric Village, founded in 2009, is a group of people that have a common purpose and direction. The combined resource includes digital marketeers, strategists, designers, writers, film producers, event managers and social media specialists. It is the single most focussed communication agency on zero emission issues and technology.

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