Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Best Buy Wants to Become Top EV Seller; Educating Customers is Key

By Steve Puma      August 9th, 2010    8 Comments
Best Buy is now selling the Brammo EnertiaWhen it comes to innovation, Best Buy continues to surprise me with with just how far ahead they are of every other big-box retailer. For example, they are currently the leading retailers of electric bikes and scooters, and have recently added Brammo motorcycles to the mix.
However, Best Buy's long-term strategy includes much, much, more than adding a few two-wheeled EVs to their huge selection of computer, electronics and appliance products. As I learned from Chad Bell,  Best Buy's director of emerging business,  the company believes that, by educating its customers about electric vehicles, it can become a preferred destination for them to purchase EVs of all kinds, up to and including highway-capable cars that one might normally expect to purchase at an auto dealership.
Through Geek Squad, the company provides repair and maintenance of the EVs it sells, and  is beginning to provide services related to EV charging stations.

Best Buy sponsored electric motorcycle
At the recent Plug-In 2010 International Conference and Exposition, Mr. Bell represented Best Buy in a panel session called: "Innovative Business Models in the Electric Vehicle Industry", which also featured representatives from electric motorcycle startup Mission Motors, and EV infrastructure startup Better Place.
Mr. Bell explained that, as Best Buy has grown, so has its ability to impact the communities it serves. Its large number of retail stores, with their high access to consumers, gives the company its significant reach.
At the same time, he related, "Transportation is experiencing a paradigm shift on a global scale, as the industry move towards a more sustainable power model, and a behavioral change to customized solutions." Electric Vehicles are a good fit for Best Buy, for a number of reasons, one of those being that they have a lot in common with many of their other products, “Electric cars are basically computers on wheels."

Best Buy now selling electric vehicles.

Mr. Bell noted that Best Buy was already well-positioned to become an early EV leader. In a December, 2009 poll, 240 people where asked, "Where would you think to buy an electric vehicle or scooter?." The leader, by far, was Best Buy (7%), outpacing Amazon.com (3%), and, surprisingly, beating out motorcycle dealerships (3%), bicycle shops (3%), and even Wal-Mart (1%).
However, since EVs are a completely new market, one that customers are unfamiliar with, this emerging business model will only drive long-term value for Best Buy if the company can successfully communicate the benefits of sustainable transportation to its customers. The best way to do this, is through education. "Our mission is to take a leadership position in alternative transportation by educating the customers about better ways to get around."
Like any smart car salesman, Best Buy knows that there is no better tool for educating customers than letting them try out an electric bike or motorcycle for themselves, so having customers test drive the vehicles is critical for success, along with quality after-market service, which will be provided by the Geek Squad.
(One interesting concept, related by Mr. Bell, was the notion that EVs, and specifically electric bikes, could have plenty of unexpected benefits for customers. For example, he related a story about a customer who could not ride a standard bicycle, due to back problems. She was quite ecstatic to find out how easy an electric bike was to ride, and that, if she had one, she would be able to ride along with her children, something that she had not previously been able to do.)

Currie Bikes at Best Buy

Mr. Bell laid out the company's strategy for moving into different segments of the EV market, with each successive entry representing a larger market opportunity, and requiring a larger education effort for Best Buy. This education process starts with currently available product offerings, starting with non-licensed electric bikes, such as the A2B, and then moving into motorcycles, such as the Brammo Enertia.
The next step is to begin testing out early-generation electric cars, such as the Mitsubishi i-MEV, and, in 2009, four i-MEVs were painted in Geek Squad livery, and are currently part of the fleet. Rick Rommel, senior vp of emerging business, told BNET's Jim Motavalli, “We like what we see...They're pretty good and our agents like them."
Subsequent steps include bundling car-sharing programs, such as Zipcar, with its EV products, offering access to the company's on-site charging infrastructure (used to charge Geek Squad vehicles) , introducing Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs), such as the Miles ZX40S or the GEM, and potentially introducing, mass-production, full-speed, electric automobiles.
Although they appear to be off to a good start, the success of Best Buy's strategy is certainly not a given. As Russ Finley of Grist.org points out, "customer support is critical for retail sales, however, they are about to embark on a steep learning curve. Many bikes will be returned because they don't meet the near infinite variety of customer expectations. A 300 pound guy who thinks he is getting a scooter will not be pleased to find his range is only five miles..."
Of course, this is all the more reason why customer education is so important.

Car Makers BMW & Mercedes Turning to Electric 2-Wheelers

LONDON, UK – Almost simultaneously BMW (Mini) and Mercedes (Smart) launched electric 2-wheeler concepts recently. Both are scooters, but in particular the Smart study model (photo) stands out as it looks like a very ‘light’ urban scooter.
It’s said that the Smart e-Scooter concept is closer to being a production reality compared to the one from Mini. In particular because it’s addressing people that are already targeted by Smart dealers as they are looking for short-range city transport.
BMW’s Mini car division unveiled its stylish electric scooter concept in London last Thursday (photo). Three different versions of the scooter concept were shown which are inspired by the Mini cars. Adrian Van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President of BMW Group Design who heads up the Munich-based design team behind the project, said:
“The Mini Scooter E Concept represents an electric vision of the future as urban mobility takes a new direction by Mini. The Mini Scooter E Concept is true to our brand values of distinctive design, intelligent functionality and customization and builds further on these characteristics by combining driving pleasure with sustainable technology into the first two-wheel concept of its kind for Mini.” Two out of the three new e-Scooter concepts will be on show at this week’s Paris Car show.

Paul Blezard


Putting the brakes on pedal power


Bicycles give way to automobiles, but e-bikes keep two-wheel tradition alive

A member of China's People's Liberation Army rides an electric bicycle in Beijing. The
A member of China's People's Liberation Army rides an electric bicycle in Beijing. The "e-bikes" are especially popular in big cities, where urban realities provide at least some disincentive to car ownership. (Nelson Ching/bloomberg News)

Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 
Of all the signs of China's growing prosperity -- the gleaming new office towers, the glitzy shopping malls and designer boutiques -- perhaps the most visible is on Beijing's streets and highways, where noxious traffic jams have replaced the free flow of bicycles.
Domestic sales for cars and sport-utility vehicles passed a million a month in November, making China the world's new automobile capital, at the expense of one of the world's great bike cultures.
Bicycles were ubiquitous in Beijing not long ago -- the preferred mode of transportation for millions of Chinese. Major streets boasted wide bike lanes, sidewalks carried ample parking space for bikes, and bikes usually had the right of way at intersections. But lately, public space for bicycles has been shrinking under the tyranny of the car.
"The drivers are very aggressive. They won't wait for you for a second," said Wang Litang, 65, a retired government worker who still takes his singing thrush on long bike rides, the cage dangling from the handlebars, a common Chinese practice. "The road belongs to them now."
But the battle of the byways is not over yet, as two-wheeling enthusiasts have a popular new competitor in the marketplace that is giving the car a run for its mileage. It's the electric bicycle, or e-bike, which operates on a rechargeable battery. While China is on target to sell more than 12 million cars this year, it is also on track to sell 20 million e-bikes, if trends hold from 2007 and 2008, when 20 million e-bikes were sold each year. E-bikes are proving most popular in Beijing and other big cities, where some commuters are realizing that owning a car may bring a certain prestige as a sign of affluence but also comes with gasoline prices, parking fees, the odd traffic ticket and the notorious traffic jams.
"My family bought our first car in the 1990s, but we sold our car last year," said Bai Liping, 45, a saleswoman in an insurance company and an e-bike rider. "Having a car is not that convenient, compared with an e-bike."
Besides the lower costs for parking, and the convenience of whipping quickly through intersections, she said she spends far less on maintenance than she did on a car. E-bikes need their batteries recharged overnight, and the battery typically lasts about a year before needing to be replaced.
They are also relatively inexpensive, from about $219 for the smallest models to about $366 for the largest, fastest variety.
"The real sweet spot will be if China's e-bike explosion leads to the development of electric cars and the infrastructure for charging these e-vehicles," said Alex Wang of the Natural Resources Defense Council office in Beijing, and an avid e-biker. "China is probably better positioned to make this leap than any other country in the world."
But interviews with several e-bike owners showed that convenience, not the environment, was foremost in riders' minds. "It only takes us 15 minutes from here to our store," said Zhang Shu Mei, 39, who was at Beijing's Eastern Suburban Market loading up her e-bike with goods for her grocery store. "We feel freezing riding on this e-bike in the cold wind. But there's no other choice. What would we ride if we don't use this?"
The growing popularity of e-bikes also seems to be threatening the dominant position of traditional bicycles, at least in the big cities. According to the China Bicycle Association, the peak for traditional bicycle sales in China was in 1988, when 40 million bikes were sold. That number has steadily dropped, and it has stabilized at around 20 million locally, with more Chinese bikes sold for export.
The nature of the bicycles being sold here has changed, said Niu Qing, general manager of the bicycle association. Urban Chinese are increasingly buying mountain bikes and multi-geared bikes, to be used for weekend recreation, instead of the old-fashioned commuter models.
"The bike is transforming gradually from purely a traffic tool to an entertainment and body-building measure," Niu said, adding that predictions of the death of the bicycle in China may be premature. "The industry is not going into a nose dive like people think," he said. "It will never vanish."
There may be one unintended side effect of the explosion of e-bikes and fewer people going to work through pedal power: According to the Health Ministry, 22 percent of Chinese adults are overweight and 7.1 percent are obese. In the cities, those numbers rise to 30 percent overweight and 12 percent obese. The statistics mark a dramatic rise from the 1990s, the ministry said.
"People are lazier than before," said Jin Shan, director of the sports culture research center at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences. "Before, no matter how far it was, the bike was your only choice. Changing from bikes to cars and e-vehicles is one reason Chinese people are getting fatter."

South Seattle Community College Offers Electric Vehicle classes

Seattle, Washington — South Seattle Community College, in partnership with the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association, is offering a number of non-credit electric vehicle classes, including a six-day Electric Vehicle Conversionworkshop. Taught by a group of experienced instructors who have converted over two dozen vehicles, the six-day workshop guides students through the complete process of converting a vehicle from a gasoline engine to electric power. By the end of the workshop, the group will have completed one running electric car conversion capable of highway speeds, with a 30-60 mile range on one charge.

Electric Vehicle Conversion Workshop
Instructor: Ed Stegall
An intensive six days hands-on learning class that teaches the basics in converting a gasoline engine to electric power.
8 am – 5 pm M T W Th F Sat March 22-27 $899
Additional non-credit Electric Vehicle classes:

Electric Vehicle Safety Systems
Instructor: Roger Wright
Learn how to keep your electric vehicle safe; how a DC system works, what parts go into it, and why you should have these parts.
9 – 11:30 am Sat February 27 $35
** Enrollment is still open for the February 27 class. **
6:30 – 9 pm T May 25 $35

Introduction to AC Drives for Electric Vehicles
Instructors: Dan Bentler and Frank Jump
Learn the advantages and disadvantages of DC and AC motors. Gain valuable insight and knowledge of how AC drives work and how to apply them to vehicles. Class will provide hands-on operating demonstrations of motors and variable-frequency drives and other motors using bench-top equipment VFDs.
9 am – 4 pm Sat April 24 $65

Electric Vehicle Component Technology for Conversion
Instructor: Cory Cross
Learn about what parts go into a conversion and how they connect to each other. Strong emphasis placed on learning to read schematics and understanding why the parts are connected that way.
6 – 9 pm Th May 13 $45

Electric Vehicles – Batteries
Instructor: Stephen Johnsen
Topics include: general overview of popular suitable batteries for EVs; comparison of costs and specs on various batteries available; calculating the kWhr rating of my pack; how to extend battery life; charging and recycling of batteries.
6:30 – 9 pm T May 18 $45

Electric Bicycles
Instructor: Ed Stegall
Go through the process of actually converting a normal bike to electric. Class also covers bike safety, bike laws and basic maintenance and tips for doing your own conversion on your own or with a kit.
Class fee of $99 includes two sessions.
6 – 9 pm Th June 3
9 am – 4 pm Sat June 5
Electric Vehicle classes fill quickly and interested students are encouraged to sign up early.
Register online at www.LearnAtSouth.org, or call (260) 764-5339 for more information.

South Seattle Community College
The college’s Continuing Education division offers 150 classes each quarter, ranging from computer skills to cooking to home repair. Designed to fit into busy schedules, these classes offer the lifelong learner variety and flexibility, with online and classroom instruction.
Seattle Electric Vehicle Association (SEVA)
The Seattle Electric Vehicle Association was founded in 1979, with a mission to educate, demonstrate, and proliferate electric vehicles. The interests of SEVA members represent a wide spectrum of Electric Vehicle interests range from fast dragsters to NEVs, from home conversions to Teslas. For more information, visit the website at


Related News

Charge Your E-Vehicle at McDonalds… Soon

McDonalds announced that it was building the “first green restaurant” in Cary, North Carolina.
Gizmodo reported that McDonald’s says the facility will not only be built using all green construction materials, but will be complete with free-to-use charging stations for your electric vehicle.
McDonald’s has recently changed much of its packaging to be more eco-friendly. They have also attempted to reduce the amount of pesticides in the potatoes they purchase for their fries. (McDonald’s is the largest buyer of potatoes in the United States.)
North Carolina ranks twelfth among adults in obesity rates, and fourteenth among children.
One of the biggest obstacles to electric vehicles is the availability and the difficulty in finding charging stations outside of your own home.  Perhaps more restaurants will follow McDonald’s lead.
Posted on 19 July 2009

1 Comments For This Post

  1. Ahmet Says:

    Hi, interesting topic – I have just bought an electric bike that I use to get to work everyday. I Just plug in at work to recharge it and then cycle home.
    Absolutely love the bike, it was cheap and simple to use. I got it from http://www.elecbikeco.com they seemed good but I am sure there are many other companies out there too.
    Good luck