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Alternating Currents: Eco mode needs to Chill

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Branding is everything. Any car with an ‘eco mode’ is immediately setting itself up for failure. Your brain instantly knows that you’re sacrificing something for the sake of economy, perhaps for the sake of the environment. It’s never really very clear what you’re sacrificing, but the glowing green leaf symbol on your dashboard makes it quite clear that you have reduced throttle pedal input and reduced power output at your beck and call. 

It’s amazing how oppressive that little symbol can be. If I paid for all of that power, why can’t I use it whenever I want? What do you mean I have to be cognizant of the environmental and ecological impacts of my decisions? That’s not the American way. Consumption, especially that of the conspicuous variety, is encoded in our DNA. I can’t leave my car in eco mode during a regular commute, what if I need to enter an impromptu drag race to save my life? Eco mode infringes on my freedoms. 

No, the little leaf symbol is bad marketing for eco mode. Americans don’t want to make sacrifices or experience inconveniences to change anything. Can’t we just donate five dollars to a podcast’s Patreon and call it a day? The daily activism of driving in eco mode is just exhausting. We don’t want to change anything about our daily habits to make the world better, just keep hoping that someone more important will figure it out. No, I’m not going to vote for them. 

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The little eco leaf symbol is like your car’s version of Microsoft’s Clippy. It’s there every day asking you why you aren’t better at things? “Oh, it looks like you were trying to commute using as little energy as possible, would you like some help with that?”

No, just let me drive! Can’t you just let me live? In fact, because you asked me that, I’m going to jam the throttle to the floor for a while just to spite you. This is the American way. 

And yet, it was an American company that managed to figure out the branding that eco mode needed. Tesla gave eco mode a Fab Five makeover and made it all about self care. Instead of beating you about the head and shoulders with an overbearing guilt-inducing leaf symbol and eco language, Tesla figured out that people would be more willing to use an eco mode if there was something in it for them. Enter ‘chill mode’ and just relax a bit, my dude. 

Electric powertrains are naturally quite eager and jumpy. My wife commented recently that driving a Tesla Model Y in normal mode feels like the car is going to get away from her. She went so far as to call it ‘sociopathic’ in its acceleration. That instant torque delivery is unnerving to someone who has been driving ICE cars for their entire adult lives. After shifting the car into chill mode, she was much more comfortable driving. 

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Chill is a much more appropriate moniker than eco. The vast majority of people won’t see any appreciable benefit to being eco, especially if it means losing out on acceleration and extralegal cruising highway speeds. Chill is there for you, to support you, not to hold you back. Chill is your new best friend. 

Driving an electric car means less noise, vibration, and harshness. Rolls-Royce and Bentley have spent decades chasing an ever more relaxing atmosphere, but EVs came in and surpassed them with so little effort. Adding to the relaxing driving experience of an EV by popping it into chill mode is just the logical conclusion. 

It’s hard to get kids to eat their vegetables, so sometimes you have to hide them in other stuff. That’s the effect that branding it chill mode has. Drivers will use an eco-friendly mode of driving because the benefit is right there in the name. “Of course I want to chill, I just got off a 10 hour shift and I’m so stressed, thanks chill mode!” It’s a natural move. 

I’ve said this before, but if electric cars are going to catch on, it’ll be on the manufacturers to convince consumers that it is in their best interest. Not only that, but EVs will have to be perceived as having not only a benefit over traditional ICE cars, but also zero perceived downsides. Consumers, especially those in this country, won’t put up with an inconvenience for the sake of eco-friendliness. 

For EVs to really make an impact, eco needs a rebrand. It’s time to convince drivers that electric isn’t just the future, it isn’t just better for the environment, it isn’t just the new normal. Take a page from Tesla’s book and make electric cool, luxurious, relaxing, and tech-forward. Don’t advertise the eco, advertise the chill. It’s all about branding. 

Written by Bradley Brownell
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