A Volkswagen AG (VW) Buzz electric cargo truck sits on display at the IAA Commercial Vehicles Show in Hanover, Germany. (Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg)

What Can Your Electric Vehicle Do For You?

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- This week’s news brought plenty of evidence that the electric vehicle market is maturing. As they get cheaper and better, and as manufacturers take advantage of the vehicles’ newer, simpler drivetrains, we need to ask: What can an electric vehicle do better for me than a traditional vehicle can?

Audi AG unveiled its flagship EV, the E-tron sport utility vehicle, which comes with 1,000 kilowatt-hours of free charging from Electrify America LLC’s network, enough for at least 10 full charges. Renault SA announced its Ez-Pro concept, an autonomous vehicle “designed to be used not only by logistics and delivery professionals but also by craftspeople, entrepreneurs and traders.” Porsche AG is touting its fast-charging system’s “compelling business case for a wide variety of operators.” And Proterra Inc., a privately held maker of electric buses, took in $155 million in new investment led by Daimler AG, with plans to expand into the school bus market.

Trade press and company news releases are often highly technical. They focus on things such as range and charging standards. This week’s news had a new tone. It’s a shift in thinking, from what technology does for the vehicle to what vehicles can do for us. In every case, electric vehicles can do it better.

For Audi, the “better” thing is … free stuff! One thousand kilowatt-hours of free charging could last for months (or longer) given that many owners would be charging up at home most of the time. Filling stations can hardly match this offering, given there’s no fuel network to pipe gasoline to your home, though you can have it delivered. For Renault, it’s flexibility. While my Bloomberg News colleagues called the Ez-Pro “the weirdest driverless vehicle you’ve ever seen,” it makes perfect sense, and it looks like a quieter, more flexible way to conduct the last mile of business. It also doesn’t seem that novel, given that design firm IDEO created a similar concept four years ago.

For Porsche, it’s making charging clean, easy and convenient (and aesthetically pleasing, too). The charger as design feature might seem a stretch, but something that is pleasing to look at and pleasing to use will attract customers who can spend money on other things besides electricity.

For Proterra, “better” might mean experiential, but it’s more than being pleasant to use. There are 480,000 school buses in the U.S., according to the American School Bus Council, and they transport 25 million students every school day. Every internal combustion bus that carries students also brings with it air and noise pollution; an electric bus would bring none of the former and almost none of the latter.

Electric vehicles are maturing rapidly. That maturation means we need not focus so much on what technology can do to improve electric vehicles and instead focus on what electrified vehicles can improve for us.

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