Gas2 Week in Review, December 17: EVs in the News & the Gen Z Audience

EVs in the news still seem contrary to the automotive news many of us grew up with. Those were stories of automobiles as symbols of our identities. They represented our attempts to break away from the authoritarian structures that seemed to be strangling us, to find freedom through a vast open road, and to explore an ephemeral sense of what might be around the corner — if only we could get into our automobiles and drive, drive, drive.

EVs in the news

Hmm. Then again, maybe the EVs in the news today aren’t really that far off from familiar 20th century automobile identity messages. Today’s Generation Z, who by 2020 will account for one-third of the U.S. population, seem poised for EV identity messages. They contribute $44 billion to the American economy, live in a world of continuous updates, can quickly and efficiently shift between work and play,  know the value of independence, and are able to take a more efficient, non-traditional route to learn something new.

EVs in the news may be just the right fit for the Gen Z global citizens, the oldest of whom is just 19 years old right now. According to a recent study called “Generation Nation,” they seem interested in going a different route altogether, one that embraces acceptance and being inclusive. With fewer Gen Zers than anyone else (32%) feeling that the US is headed in the right direction, EVs seem to be the appropriate fit for the US EV marketplace as this next generation of adults grapples with abstraction, negotiates austerity, and becomes involved citizens.

Let’s look at EVs in the news this week and try to see how Gen Z might be able to envision themselves easing into the electric transportation market — soon!

The PHEV and EV Market 2017

Only 12% of Gen Z admit to feeling optimistic. Maybe they’ll find a little joy in a recent study from Autolist in which significant discrepancies occurred between buyer opinion and market research data on used EVs. And who’d more likely to be in the market for a used EV than a Gen Zer embarking on independence? Nissan Leaf

For example, it seems the average buyer thinks a quality used EV costs $5,000 more than an equivalent gas vehicle. The reality is that a used 2015 Nissan LEAF is cheaper than an equivalent Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. There’s another perception, too, that EV reliability is a big problem. However,  users report the 2015 Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt have better than average reliability, with the Nissan LEAF scoring better than the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla. Those findings should make the Generation Z sigh in relief as they start to think ahead to being able to afford a used EV that is reliable.

The Dilemmas of a Republic-Dominated Congress and EV Tax Credits

For many Gen Z individuals newly entering the workforce or financing higher education, being able to buy an EV means being able to afford an EV. The difference for many to buy or not to buy rests with the $7500 federal tax credit awarded to buyers of new electric cars. Moreover, the EV tax credit helps to create a level proverbial playing field in which EVs compete in price with gasoline-powered vehicles.

For the last month or so, much fear has existed that the final version of the Republican tax bill (at this writing still working its way through Congress) would not retain EV tax credits, as various cuts had been piloted in previous versions of the bill. For Generation Z, which purports to demand things being done differently, the loss of the EV tax credit would spur more political disenfranchisement; after all, this is the generation that believes in adherence to structures that ensure inclusion and diversity. If there are incentives for oil companies, so, too, should there be benefits to alternative energy choices. Egalitarianism is a powerful motivator to Generation Z, not just in the world of EVs but in society as a whole.

Less Well-Known EVs in the News Have Real Promise for Gen Z

Gen Z identifies with the qualities of being open-minded and really individualistic. They’ve grown up completely in a digital world, so they perceive technology as integral to life, and they transition seamlessly between their on-and-offline lives. So when an EU consortium — composed of 12 partners across 6 different countries — revealed a newly developed plug-in hybrid (PHEV) light vehicle, they may have hit upon just what Generation Z wants. 

Designed with energy-efficient urban mobility in mind, the 2-wheel and 4-wheel vehicle segments — closely resembling a PHEV tricycle — could operate in all-electric mode when in urban regions or switch to a gas/petrol engine when in rural spots. The fun light PHEV will offer a tilting mechanism for superior handling, “making the vehicle as easy to drive as a 3-wheel scooter.

What Gen Z’er wouldn’t respond favorably?

Additionally, because several factors separate Generation Z from other generations — their earliest memories of the 2009 recession have led to their frugality, for one — they may be quite receptive to some Californian cities that are about to start an e-bike-sharing system. It will be the biggest in the country, with some proposed solutions to the ever-present dilemma of less charging and more riding. Ideas to keep the e-bikes charged so that the next riders can hop on and get to their destination involve building charging stations and offering incentives to return bikes to the docks for charging. Such e-bike sharing platforms would have locking systems that also charge the electric bicycles for the next passenger, just right for that Gen Zer on the go.

Why Generation Z is a Good Fit for the EV Market

EVs in the newsAs a group that processes information faster than other generations, is better at multi-tasking, can deal with multiple distractions, and is full of early starters, Generation Z is ideal for the next surge of EVs to come to market. No longer a futuristic dream, EVs have moved in 2017 from a promising fad to an industry-wide inevitability.  The generation that can’t live without its YouTube and other social media info sources will likely shrug at wait times for EV charging at stations when those stops are converted into hospitality-type entertainment venues.

Electric cars use far less energy than gasoline-powered cars, generally cost about a third as much as a gas-powered car to run, and have lower maintenance costs. That’s a confluence of ingredients that should appeal to Generation Z. An inherently frugal set of individuals, Generation Z should also respond positively to a shift from thinking about EVs as consumers of electricity to mobile energy storage units. Widespread adoption of transportation-as-power-source may allow vehicles to transfer energy back to the grid when costs and demand are high and allow the charge the battery when demand has waned.

These Generation Z kids and teens born between roughly 1996 and 2010 are gaining power as a consumer segment, and the EV automotive industry is wisely watching.

Photo by MarkC333 on / CC BY

Photo by Timothy Valentine on / CC BY-NC-SA

Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn grew up in Stafford Springs, CT, home of the half-mile tar racetrack. She's an avid Formula One fan (this year's trip to the Monza race was memorable). With a Ph.D. from URI, she draws upon digital media literacy and learning to spread the word about sustainability issues. Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook and Google+