Recently, I attended the Business of Plugging In Conference in Detroit and had some initial thoughts about electric vehicles and advancing the industry.

If plug in electric vehicles (PEVs) are to become a reality and adopted by consumers, the industry needs to work together to advance technology and adoption.

Here are some thoughts from the conference I thought were particularly solution-oriented, yet realistic:

It’s absolutely imperative that automakers develop PEVs that consumers can’t NOT buy, that consumers HAVE to have. Think consumer electronics here. There has to be an emotional connection or desire to buy, beyond the desire to do good and benefit the environment, or the desire to save money over time.

Scott Becker, senior vice president, administration & finance, Nissan North America, Inc., said that PEV “pragmatists” are inclined to want to own a PEV for various reasons, but they need to have an economic equation that makes sense for them and need an offering of vehicles that meet their needs and create a strong desire to buy.

As I stood in line during the ride-and-drive, next to the Chevy Volt, the Nissan Leaf was one of the most popular traditional OEM cars among the attendees. It will take a lot of investment in design/styling and researching consumer desires and emotional connections to get to the kinds of cars consumers will want.

As far as the industry, it’s not just about the batteries or asking the government for incentives or legislation or about having THE solution and keeping information close to the vest. Becker further emphasized that all of the different entities need to stand together in order to be successful. Why not share information if it will ultimately create a more competitive and lucrative environment?

Most importantly, we need to have open and consistent dialogue and communications across the board – a true collaborative effort between corporate, research/design/engineering, marketing and communications, dealers, utilities, consumers, etc.

Ed May, director of business development for Itron, Inc., discussed a list of necessities to ensure success of the PEV market, but what stood out to me most was the need for messaging and education that ultimately benefit the mass markets.

On a very grassroots level, something, or rather, someone, who got me motivated during the conference was Brian West, CEO of Concept Factory, which does touch screen user interface design for various uses (the company more recently worked with Ford Motor Company to develop MyFord TouchTM and MyLincoln TouchTM. West, who is also an owner of a Tesla, was kind enough to voluntarily and independently bring his personal car to the show and allow conference attendees to ride-and-drive it – simply because he wanted to help get the word out and give people the opportunity to test drive an electric vehicle. One down to earth, generous man, helping spread the word – imagine what could be done when we all combine our efforts and knowledge.

There’s a lot that needs to be done in order to get to a society that relies less heavily on traditional oil-based engines, and PEVs are not the single solution. But we’re talking about it, and people are doing the work. By collaborating, and involving communications teams in on the process as early as possible, we’ll get there faster.

—Jenn Korail