Electric Car Media Buzz in Decline
Excitement about electric cars hit a peak in late April and since that time has been in steady decline. That’s the impression you would get from looking at how many Google searches are being performed for “electric cars,” using the search giant’s trending tools.
I decided to evaluate Google trends for electric cars, after repeated nagging feelings that the buzz around electric cars just isn’t as high as it was a year ago. Remember the feeling of pins and needles waiting for every news items related to the first Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF to reach the market? General Motors and Nissan were pumping out a press release and video almost every day, or so it seemed. The EV revolution was imminent.
The buzz continued right until the first cars were delivered, and it didn’t stop in the new year. In fact, it was magically coordinated with a rise in gas prices. At the beginning of September 2010, the average national price for a gallon of gas was about $2.70. By January 2011, it was nearly $3.00—and from there it climbed to just under $4.00 by the beginning of May. It’s still relatively high these days, hovering between $3.60 and $3.70—but the year’s peak is behind us. (Of course, we’re always an oil spill, supply disruption or political action away from a new historical spike.)
Google shows the same (and even more dramatic) fluctuations for searches for “hybrid cars.” But electric cars enjoyed more buzz based on the novelty of the electric drive technology.
The Google trends are, or course, just one data point, and there is a certain amount of seasonality in all web searches.
All of the excitement about electric cars culminated for me with the delivery of my Nissan LEAF. In the first few months, every electric mile was entirely new and exciting. It’s still absolutely wonderful, but sometimes I catch myself feeling normal driving around in near silence, without burning any petroleum, and with complete disregard for gas stations.
Another buzz-kill is the sales numbers for the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF. The low numbers make the early steps toward 1 million plug-ins by 2015 feel more like a slog than a marching parade. July sales numbers came out today. They reveal only 125 Volt sales, off from its peak of 606 units in March. Nissan reported 931 LEAF sales, down from its peak last month of 1,708 units. I know the Japanese earthquake is taking its toll on the supply chain for hybrids and electrics, but it’s disappointing nonetheless.
A slow rollout of public electric car charging, a reduction of the California EV tax rebate, another near death for Think, the delay of sales of Coda, and still no media access for the Fisker Karma are further examples of slow going on the electric car highway. Even the exciting unveiling of new BMW plug-ins didn’t have the sizzle it should.
Maybe it’s just the dog days of summer that has me feeling like this. Or maybe I need an afternoon espresso. Or maybe, without really noticing, we’ve entered a new phase of the electric car movement: less buzz; more reality; hard work of increasing the number of units rolling out of factories; the even harder need for patience waiting for more models to arrive—and most of all, continued work to educate the public about the importance of getting off oil, and the pleasures of driving electric.
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