Electric Cars Could Thrive in the Second Car Market


Until I spent some time at the L.A. Auto Show last month, I hadn’t really thought about the electric car as potentially finding a niche as the second, or even third, car that a family would buy. The idea is that a consumer owns a traditional internal combustion engine car for longer or more spontaneous trips, and then in urban or neighborhood settings, a consumer might opt for an electric car as a second option.

A variety of auto makers are actually vying for the second car market for electric vehicles, instead of competing head-to-head with traditional car makers for an internal combustion engine replacement. Think, with its Think City urban EV, is publicly stating that it’s not trying to compete directly with the Nissan LEAF or GM’s Volt, but rather, the Think City will shoot to be an eco-friendly, gas-free, additional car. Volvo’s President of Special Vehicles, Lennart Stegland, also told me at the L.A. Auto Show that Volvo, too, is looking to offer its C30 EV as a second or third car option.

While EVs as an additional car won’t necessarily make as dramatic a dent in carbon emissions as EVs replacing traditional cars, the early market could offer a foothold into consumers’ homes, particularly because the first generation of EVs will be met with some trepidation.

Consumers are expected to take a cautious “wait and see,” approach to the first generation of EVs, according to a survey from Pike Research. In other words, look for that effect that happens when consumers wait for the second-generation of the iPod or iPhone to come out before buying one in spades for the first generation of plug-in cars. As John Gartner, analyst with Pike, put it, “It could easily take several years for mainstream car shoppers to get comfortable with the idea of electric vehicles.”

Beyond the “second car market,” EVs could find an easier sell with fleets for companies and governments. GE pledged to buy 25,000 EVs over the next few years, which would be the largest single purchase of electric vehicles to date.

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