Revving up consumers about green motoring should be a priority for car brands


With communication around pricing, benefits and overall information leaving much to be desired, it’s no wonder consumers are confused about green cars.

By all accounts the “green” car market is a fledgling one. According to statistics from research firm Datamonitor, and as featured in last week’s trends feature, hybrid and electric cars make up just 0.9% of the UK car market.

It isn’t surprising, when Datamonitor’s figures indicate that consumers still perceive environmentally friendly vehicles to be out of their price range, despite a range of incentives available. But more than half of those in Datamonitor’s survey say they aren’t aware of such incentives, such as Government subsidies on some models, free parking in London, a waiver of the congestion charge and free access to public recharging points.

Clearly more needs to be done to persuade people of the benefits of buying green, as the environment as a stand-alone selling point merely falls on deaf ears. But this industry needs to take a step back.

Just what does it all really mean? Of course, this burgeoning new sector should be applauded for taking steps to help us all reduce our carbon footprints and overall global carbon emissions. It won’t get anywhere though if they can’t convince enough people to purchase. And they can’t get enough people to purchase simply because they are confused – myself included.

This brave new world of green motoring is littered with jargon for starters. Electric, plug-in hybrids, hydrogen fuel cell – just what’s what? Who sells what and who should buy what? Your average car buyer, who has grown up with a pretty average vocabulary of diesel, petrol, hatchback, four door and the like, will have no idea.

People would rather carry on driving their polluting fuel guzzlers because they understand them. Most people can talk the lingo with their local car dealer and they can compare like for like. But they just don’t know what they are getting into when they cross into this parallel universe with all these scary alien names.

To have a better chance of achieving mass take-up, the industry needs to start off simple. Forget these fancy words that do more to depress than impress. Pick one exhaust reducing model and make it the industry standard that all car brands should develop, so a real market begins to generate. Consumer choice might be key in some markets, but while this sector is still so nascent it needs to take baby steps.

Once one green model becomes the industry standard, then car brands can add it to their portfolio and perhaps even start phasing out some older, fuel-reliant models.

They can pour a significant amount of resources into developing the technology and communicating that one standard well, before introducing other so-called green models and having people leave before the party has even started.

Despite all this talk of hybrid, electric and hydrogen, Honda’s UK marketing director Martin Moll reckons that the industry will eventually move in the one direction by putting its money on the hydrogen model.

It seems then that hydrogen will supersede hybrid and electric. So if the industry knows this is going to happen, wouldn’t it be better off focussing on bringing out this technology sooner than spending lots of money developing models that people may not even be driving in 20 years time?

If car brands put their vain bragging desires aside to produce one green standard, then more in-roads would also be made towards the development of the right infrastructure to support it, whether it’s through widespread charging points or garages stocking hydrogen at the pumps – whatever it may be to literally get this sector off the ground.

Datamonitor analysts predict sales in the UK of hybrid and electric cars will reach about 75,000 a year by 2015. That’s still miniscule compared with the size of the entire car industry. But if each car manufacturer was aligned towards a common goal there could be real progress.