Wall Street Daily

Got “Range Anxiety?” Here’s the Cure…

Barbecues, ballgames, and driving.

They’re all imprinted in Americans’ cultural DNA.

But did you know that although the average American drives 40 miles per day, studies show that people think they drive much more than that.

Maybe it’s because we spend longer stuck in traffic. Or because we don’t get as much bang for our buck at the pump as we used to, it seems we’re driving more.

Either way, when it comes to the cars we drive, one thing has remained true for decades: Consumers base their buying decisions on their perceived peak need. Factors like family size, the amount of driving done and distance driven, city or country usage, pets, etc.

But perceived need has proved to be a major stumbling block for one emerging car market in particular – electric vehicles (EVs).

For years, EV manufacturers have commissioned numerous studies in an attempt to understand and combat consumer antipathy.

Really? It’s not that complicated.

The psychological barriers to EVs abound…

But this year, EV companies have finally begun to think “outside the bumpers” when it comes to overcoming negative sentiment. And… spoiler alert… not one of them is named Tesla (TSLA)!

Buy the Car, Rent the Battery

This summer, Smart USA, a division of Daimler AG (DDAIY), released its electric ForTwo model. And it had a unique selling point…

You can buy or lease the car and rent the lithium ion battery.

What’s the benefit?

Well, buyers can purchase the car for $20,650 – a savings of $5,100 compared to the price for the car and battery. The battery rental is then tacked on at $80 per month, which includes battery maintenance and replacement.

The battery is guaranteed for 10 years and Smart says it will replace batteries that dip below 80% efficiency. But given that battery efficiency is steadily improving, buyers will likely end up with a better battery than they started with. So it ends up being a pretty decent deal.

“ePass” Go… Collect 200 Rewards Points

Smart USA wasn’t the only electric carmaker to unveil a new model this summer.

Italian giant Fiat (FIATY) launched its electric 500e – a vehicle that “gives [consumers] that ultimate flexibility,” according to Tim Kuniskis, head of Fiat North America.

How? By offering an unusual feature – access to a gas guzzler.

As Kuniskis explains, “If I own a 500e and I need a pickup truck to help my buddy move, or a standard car because I want to take the family to go see grandma in New York, I can do that.”

Fiat has achieved this bit of synchronicity by contracting with car rental firm, Enterprise, in a program dubbed “ePass.” For the first three years, 500e owners will get enough Enterprise rewards points for 12 rental days each year. The points are good for use at 6,000 Enterprise locations. It’s all included in the sticker price of $32,500. And the wear and tear of a long car trip goes on the rental.

BMW’s “All-In” Electric Treatment

Borrowing a page from Fiat, BMW is giving the car-sharing idea the white glove treatment.

Next year, BMW’s electric i3 will debut in the United States at a base cost of $41,000. Pricey? Well, keep in mind that we’re talking about BMW here – high-end cars in the first place.

For a little more, buyers can get what BMW calls “360° Electric.” The package includes home installation of an electric car charger, a smartphone app that tracks the battery’s real-time stats, and access to BMW’s “DriveNow” network of gas-powered loaner cars for “several weeks a year.”

Automakers know that if they want their electric car ventures to succeed, they’re going to have to get more creative with what they offer in what’s still an expensive, fledgling business. Silly gimmicks just aren’t going to cut it.

And it seems these marketing maneuvers aimed at easing consumer anxieties might actually be hinting at a bigger idea here…

The Best of Both Worlds

What if at the point of sale, consumers could combine their electric car ownership with car-sharing packages?

In other words, imagine using your regular electric car for your weekday commute, then swapping it for a pickup truck at the weekend, so you can buy furniture, or garden equipment. Or an SUV so you can go camping. Or a convertible so you can make an impression when you roll up to a wedding or party. There are numerous possibilities.

Ultimately, the dream of hitting the open road hasn’t changed… just the way you go about it. Studies have already shown that millennials value access over ownership when it comes to cars. So why not give them what they want? When it comes to boosting the popularity of electric cars and sweetening the deal for consumers, what’s stopping car companies from striking a deal with car-sharing companies like ZipCar?

Automakers, are you listening?

Ahead of the tape,

Elizabeth Carney