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Perceptions of Electric Cars Are So Off, + Thanks To Tesla For Flipping People’s Perceptions

The positive effect Tesla Motors has had on the electric car industry is immeasurable. For various superficial reasons, many people have developed ideas of electric cars that are totally off base. Tesla’s vehicles bust those misperceptions wide open. And other electric vehicles are now following suit.

Electric cars have the potential for ridiculous torque and power. An electric car designed for such a purpose can crush any gasmobile off the line. Yet, many people think of electric cars as weak and “girly” for some reason. Thankfully, Tesla has changed this… even if the effect has not necessarily spread to some people’s overall perceptions of electric cars.

I was recently visiting my sister in NYC. Oddly, despite electric cars being one of the key things I write about, she was completely unaware of the electric cars that are on the market today. She thought electric cars were only small and unsafe (not knowing of a single model). This is rather insane, given that electric cars have the potential to be much safer than gasmobiles thanks to all the crumple space they can put in and a lower center of gravity (as you probably know, the Tesla Model S got the highest safety rating of any car ever rated in North America), and they of course don’t have to be small. There are now over a dozen electric cars on the US market, many of which are of an average size or larger.

My sister hadn’t actually heard of (or remembered hearing of) Tesla Motors, so she knew nothing about it. While that is something most of our readers probably cannot even fathom — I can no longer put myself in those shoes no matter how hard I try — that is probably the case with the majority of Americans.

So, I gave my sister a quick summary of the electric cars currently on the market and made sure to point out some big Tesla facts. Afterwards, she decided that she wanted a Tesla Model X. She then mentioned to some of her coworkers (she manages a restaurant in NYC) that she wanted an electric car. One of the guys she worked with (presumably a bit of a gearhead) said something along the lines of, “electric cars are so girly.” She responded that she didn’t want just any electric car but a Tesla Model X. He then responded something along the lines of, “Oh, Tesla, well that’s different. Tesla cars are great.” Presumably, Teslas are macho enough for him. (Note: I wasn’t around during this conversation, so I’m simply paraphrasing what I was told.)

My sister didn’t really understand how electric cars (even non-Teslas) could be “girly” — that the typecasting didn’t make any sense. That was also my response when I ran into this stereotype years ago. I have now gotten used to it and seem to have generally forgotten my initial bewilderment at it, but it still doesn’t make any sense — how can an entire type of car technology be “girly” (whatever that is)? I’m happy my sister reminded me how much of a “huh?” reaction I used to have to that stereotype.

It is interesting, though, that people like her coworker hold two completely different views of electric cars and Tesla vehicles (which are, of course, electric). What a contradiction. I would never picture someone really considering the Chevy Volt a “girly car.” The Chevy Spark EV is an electric car with excellent pickup/torque that many a power-loving man would love to drive. And plenty of non-girly guys love their Nissan Leafs, Renault Fluence ZEsFord Fusion PHEVsHonda Fit EVs, etc, etc.

But the initial concept gearheads and semi-gearheads seem to have of electric cars is the same as my sister’s male coworker. For example, I recently read a story in which the Tesla Model S flipped another such guy’s perception of electric cars. The intro to the article, by David Goodboy, is as follows:

Recently, I had the privilege of test-driving a new Tesla (Nasdaq: TSLA) electric sports car.

Growing up in the gearhead culture of Pittsburgh, I wasn’t expecting to be impressed. My uncle’s business sponsored a drag-racing team, and I spent many Sunday afternoons watching from the sidelines as an elementary school student. If you know anything about drag racing, you know the vehicles are fast, loud and extremely powerful.

This experience cemented in my mind the notion that if a car wasn’t loud, it couldn’t be powerful. Combine this experience with being a bit of a car nut myself, and there was no way that Tesla founder Elon Musk’s cars — with their relatively tiny engines and massive hype — were going to impress me.

Man, was I wrong.

From the second I sat in the driver’s seat, all my negative thoughts went out the window. The experience was mind-blowing. It was like sitting in the ideal environment, if a little sparse on the comfort side. It made every other car I had ever experienced seem like relics of the past. A giant iPad-like screen takes center stage with every needed metric and information being displayed in a clear, faultless fashion. Talk about the cool factor.

Needless to say, the performance was pure perfection. Acceleration, braking, cornering and just simple driving was better than anything I’d experienced. This completely changed my perception of what makes a car great.

Tesla is clearly flipping people’s assumptions on their heads, as are other electric cars (if perhaps to a smaller degree). This will likely continue for a long time. I’m sure many, many people have the same false impression of electric cars that these two guys had (and apparently can still have that impression, when not not talking about Tesla vehicles). Furthermore, most people still don’t even know Tesla Motors exists, and many probably don’t even realize electric cars are on the market. As I wrote the other day, driving an electric car for the first time, most people will realize they’re totally bloody awesome, and they’ll never want to switch back to gasmobiles.

Here on CleanTechnica, I think that most of us are convinced that electric cars are the future, and that they are even primed to blow up and take over the industry, similar to how smartphones took over the cell phone industry, and how cell phones took over the phone industry, and how laptops and tablets took over the computer industry. Yet, we clearly have a long way to go in terms of exposing people to electric cars and dismantling their false impressions of the vehicles. It’s sometimes daunting and sometimes disappointing, but it’s also exciting and makes me happy to be in the industry I’m in. I will definitely continue trying to find ways to connect with “normal” people, uneducated people, and members of my own family! I hope that you will do the same. Revolution happens through word of mouth (which these days may means clicks on the computer).

For related stories, keep an eye on our frequently updated Tesla tag.

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Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.


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