Without a coordinated sales effort between solar vendors and auto dealers there is limited joint adoption of EVs and solar. Only about eight percent of people that purchased a LEAF through the program also installed solar, providing evidence that the program does not effectively promote the joint benefits of EVs and solar. SWEEP’s evaluation of the program recognized the importance of engaged vendors for EVs and solar. It is unclear how a more collaborative approach among these vendors could have increased joint adoption of solar and EVs. From the evaluation, it appears that the solar vendors and the dealership were not working hand-in-hand to simultaneously sell both products. Vote Solar was instrumental in selecting vendors and capturing initial interest in the program from residents, but the evaluation suggests that Vote Solar played a reduced role in the sales process as the project gained traction with potential car buyers. Initially the sales leads were funneled through Vote Solar’s online sign up, but as the EV portion of the program gained attention, more customers started going straight to the dealer. As a result, Boulder Nissan quickly became the face of the purchase program.
A local, engaged auto dealer is crucial to promoting and selling EVs. The SBCO program helped familiarize more of their salespeople with EVs. An engaged local auto dealership is needed for the EV portion of a group purchase program to be successful. According to a report by the Sierra Club, auto dealerships often lack the resources (time, training, and personnel) necessary to sell an EV. EV sales require an educated salesperson that can walk a customer through the benefits and differences of EV ownership compared to a conventional vehicle. The group purchase program made the EV sales process easier in some cases, because customers visited the dealership knowing about the program and potentially ready to buy an EV. Consumers responded positively to Boulder Nissans engagement with nearly 80 percent rating their experience purchasing a LEAF as “excellent.”
Boulder County, where Boulder Nissan is located, was by far the leader in Nissan LEAF sales throughout the course of the program. It is possible that if the purchase program had dealer partners in other counties then success might have been more widespread outside of Boulder. Solar sales were more evenly distributed than EV sales (see Figure 3 and Figure 4), in part because solar vendors were accessible to residents of more counties. Sunrun made house calls to provide price quotes regardless of the county, whereas purchasing a vehicle required a trip to Boulder Nissan.
Increasing the array of EV models and drive trains offered through the program can help attract more consumers. Eleven people that purchased solar through the program purchased an EV outside of the program. This would suggest that the program might have attracted more interest if it had offered more models than the Nissan LEAF. From the 57 survey respondents that participated in the solar portion of the purchase program but did not purchase a LEAF, over 90 percent said they would consider buying an EV in the future. This group also highlighted that vehicle range was still a critical barrier to adoption. The purchase program could have captured this interest by including plug-in hybrid electric vehicle and other all-electric models that offer different utility and/or more range.
Consumer outreach raises interest and helps to generate EV sales. Program feedback suggests that most purchases were initiated by program outreach through the media, their employers, and advertisements. Over 40 percent of people who bought a LEAF through the program were not even considering buying a new car, showing outreach helped develop new vehicle sales. Those surveyed that bought the LEAF indicated that the program could be improved in the future with better and more widespread outreach. A large share of the program’s media coverage (external) and employee-focused (internal) outreach was conducted in Boulder. Several large employers in Boulder, including University of Colorado Boulder, conducted outreach to employees.
To help overcome adoption barriers, outreach should directly address a consumer’s motivations for purchasing an EV, including charging availability to reduce range anxiety, available financial incentives, operational savings, and the environmental benefits associated with EV ownership. For those that did not make an EV purchase, but bought solar, monetary incentives, such as tax credits, weighed heavily in the purchasing decision.
Incentives and discounts are key to reducing financial barriers to purchase. Even with the financial discounts offered, high prices for EVs were identified as one of the leading barriers limiting program success. Press releases for the program focused on how the combination of incentives and discounts made the LEAF and rooftop solar installations affordable. Feedback suggests that larger discounts would have increased participation in the EV group discount. Other programs in Colorado have had similar success in using outreach to highlight the financial discounts for EVs. The Drive Electric Northern Colorado Program also offered a discount than the SBCO program on the base 2016 LEAF model ($10,000) for fleets that purchased two or more vehicles. The Drive Electric Northern Colorado has also organized an offer through the end of 2016 for a discount ($5,210) on the LEAF and bonus cash from Nissan ($4,000) if the consumer finances the vehicle through Nissan Finance. The Northern Colorado program generated interest through employer-based outreach and ride-and-drive events. When it was first offered, the program sold out of LEAFs and had to source from surrounding Nissan dealers.