Marketing focuses too much on the actual group of buyers and completely loses sight of the young (communication) target group. The consequence: A lot of potential remains unused.
Students are still completely out of the loop when it comes to e-mobility – as shown by the "Mobility Compass" of IU International University. As part of the mobility study, young people were asked about their mobility behavior. The result: E-cars are uncool, too expensive and an acquisition does not correspond to the reality of life.
Customers save the world
Classic automotive marketing focuses on a great product: the new VW has the most advanced electronics, the new Mercedes the most powerful brakes and the new Opel the most innovative design.
The problem: For (future) buyers this is unsatisfactory. The question "How do I benefit from the new models??" Is not answered. The product itself does not evoke emotions: customers do not want a car that saves the environment. They want a car that gets them safely from A to B, makes them independent and flexible, and offers an alternative to expensive fossil fuels – environmental friendliness is just a nice side effect. In short: the hero in the narrative of e-car marketing must not be the VW eUp!, Be the Renault ZOE or the Nissan Leaf, but: In the center the humans must stand.
Most young people are aware of the environmental benefits of e-cars. That alone is nowhere near enough to be an impetus to buy. Manufacturers should consider what future target groups need, what they are interested in, what concerns them in everyday life – and pick them up exactly there: e-cars are good for the environment – but what else? Tesla is leading the way: The company scores not only in the field of e-mobility, but also offers concepts for digitalization and automation – and shoots automobiles into space.
E-mobility as a way of life
IU International University study highlights another factor: e-cars are uncool. An e-car already can't match the roar of a maxed-out V8 engine in terms of sound. While the idea of driving down Route 66 in an old Ford Mustang is considered the epitome of freedom, the route from Munich to Berlin with several 40-minute loading stops seems rather confining.
It needs new stories. The potential is there: Mercedes-AMG announced e-models in September that promise customers an emotional experience. In motorsport, the trend is toward electric vehicles. And the Tesla Model S Plaid accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 2.1 seconds – unthinkable for internal combustion engines. And pretty cool.
E-mobility needs new business models
Young people are not interested in e-cars. And manufacturers of e-cars are not interested in young people: Manufacturers mainly court business customers and high earners – the very people who can actually buy new cars. Because: New electric cars are often much more expensive than vehicles with combustion engines. Buying a new car is usually not a realistic prospect for students, trainees or young professionals. This has always been the case. But that's not why they should be excluded from communication. The entire industry must change.
Here new business models are advised, which bring the young target group together with the existing offer. The idea of having your own car for the first time has had its day: To be mobile, young people can use car-sharing services. If you prefer to have your car to yourself, you can use subscription models or used car leasing and thus avoid the hurdles of high acquisition and operating costs.
E-car marketing: What needs to change?
For e-cars to become part of the reality of young people's lives, manufacturers should consider three points.
1. Marketing strategies must appeal to the target group emotionally. Young people develop a connection to the topic of e-mobility when they become the protagonists in the manufacturers' narratives.
2. Technologies need to change. Not just in terms of e-mobility, but in terms of all the relevant topics when buying a car: safety, flexibility, environmental friendliness, digitalization, automation.
3. The business models of the automotive industry need to change. Manufacturers should meet young people where they need it: The first "own" car can certainly come from a car-sharing fleet or a car subscription. The important thing is that for e-cars to become relevant, they have to be affordable – for everyone.
Prof. Dr. Christian Lucas has been a professor of marketing management at IU International University since 2018. After his studies and doctorate, Lucas worked as a project manager in market research and brand management in the automotive and motorsport sectors. Due to his background, he incorporates many practical examples into his teaching at the IU. Current topics of his research are digital marketing, sports sponsoring and automotive marketing. (Photo: Prof.