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It’s impossible to escape the push for emissions-free motoring. In news articles, blogs and government announcements it’s one of the big trends that looks like having an impact on daily life for most people in the coming decades. In this, the first of a couple of articles, we take a look at how electric vehicles are being marketed and promoted in partnerships between manufacturers and local government. In future articles we’ll be looking at some of the practicalities associated with creating an emissions-free motoring infrastructure.

The Government Push

In a push to reduce air pollution and achieve their climate change targets the government have recently announced plans to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol vehicles by 2040. The hope is that this will not only slow global warming and provide an alternative to oil-based fuels but also reduce the health risks caused by poor air quality.

Although electric and hybrid cars have been around for many years, with the first practical model being built in 1884, it's only now that we are seeing a rise in their popularity. This is down to the development of reliable battery technology, more widely available models and charging points, and the increase in affordability.

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Environmental awareness, which was once a minority concern, is now on the minds of many more consumers, and has been driving changes in behaviour, particularly when there’s a financial incentive involved. The government's push to increase the adoption of these vehicles through their plug-in grants, coupled with the fact that these vehicles require lower running costs, means that the automotive industry is likely to change considerably in the coming years.

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We’re interested in how this ‘brave new world’ is being marketed and communicated to consumers, so we recently made a visit to the new EV Experience Centre in Milton Keynes for some inspiration and to see how the challenges of changing the mindsets of a nation of petrolheads are being tackled.

The Milton Keynes' EV Experience Centre

Over the last 40 years Milton Keynes has become an internationally known example of a modern planned city. With that reputation in mind they are determined that they will also become a strong example of an ultra-low emission city as well - becoming known nationally and internationally for their leadership within this field.

One of the ways they hope to achieve this is by changing consumers' perceptions of electric vehicles via the launch of an impartial, multi-brand showroom within the heart of their Centre:MK shopping mall - the first of its kind in the UK. It’s not a showroom in the traditional sense, because you can’t actually buy a vehicle here, but it’s designed to inform, educate and inspire the public at large to see that electric vehicles are a stylish, affordable and practical alternative to fossil-fuel based cars.

So, what did we find?

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Well, our first impression was how open the space was. Expecting to see a wide range of vehicles on display for customer exploration, we found that there were only 4 models present in a large area. By each car was a charging point and a muted digital POS screen positioned on the nearby column, running through lifestyle imagery and each vehicle's unique features.

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Further screens on the other faces of these columns display POS messaging for electric vehicles which are parked outside the shopping centre and available for test drives.

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Although we were greeted upon arrival we were left to explore the environment at our own pace. There are several interactive points throughout the showroom including a digital screen above the welcome desk displaying lifestyle imagery, an iPad showing the locations and types of charging points available throughout the UK, and a further iPad for browsing all electric and hybrid models currently available. By using this last iPad customers can also book a test drive and contact the nearest retailer for further discussion - some of these retailers also offer longer test drives with a maximum duration of 3 days.

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A few leaflets are also available for customers to take home. These include a map of the local area showing the locations and types of charging stations available and a leaflet providing a brief introduction to the EV Experience Centre itself.

One feature in particular caught our eye: the 'EV stories' wall. Located in the far corner of the showroom this is a place where customers can put on a pair of headphones for private listening, and fully immerse themselves in the content. The subjects of these looped videos varies from vehicle specific information to the showroom itself and the high visual and sound quality and absence of distractions make for an engaging and informative experience.

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The relaxed approach of the staff was very refreshing. They were extremely knowledgeable about all models available and helped visitors to understand how each one may fit into their everyday lives, discussing things such as mileage ranges, charging costs at home vs. on the road and congestion fees.

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All in all, the site was well thought out and welcoming, making it an ideal first stop on the journey towards buying an electric vehicle.

Summary

Changing the habits of fossil-fuel based drivers will be a long, uphill battle. Initiatives like the EV Centre will be key tools in persuading people to change their approach to driving and consider their impact on the wider environment. Understanding the range of vehicles and options available and the perceived barriers to adoption can be tackled by education and showrooms like this are an ideal format for this.

The relaxed approach, the lack of hard-sell, and the clever use of technology combine to provide a low-pressure and engaging environment in which to enquire and explore the concept of zero-emissions driving and how it might fit into people’s lifestyles.

What next?

With our long-term relationships with Volkswagen group brands, we are always keen to understand the future for automotive. We need to stay ahead of trends to help Volkswagen Group meet and exceed their customer’s needs. But our other clients like Waitrose, John Lewis and CenterParcs all have key car-journey-experiences, and electric car facilities must be built into the planning of each development early in the process to ensure charging points are considered and customers’ needs catered for.

We’ve gained a wealth of experience over the years in planning and developing car park environments as well as showroom and car selling/servicing environments – we can’t escape the motor car in any project we do, so we’ve quietly become experts in the whole area of customer vehicle journeys!

If you need help with planning and developing excellent vehicle-based customer experiences, why not give us a call.

Look out for our next blog piece where we will be exploring further the needs of electric vehicles and how ‘charging needs’ are being developed into physical spaces - with the shift from car ownership to flexible service subscriptions.

Useful links

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/25/new-diesel-petrol-cars-banned-uk-roads-2040-government-unveils/
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jul/25/britain-to-ban-sale-of-all-diesel-and-petrol-cars-and-vans-from-2040
https://energy.gov/articles/history-electric-car
https://www.gov.uk/plug-in-car-van-grants/what-youll-get
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-kennell/environmental-concern-emp_b_8105580.html
https://evexperiencecentre.co.uk/

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