Charged Up About Electric Cars in the Bay Area

Campaign won over consumers one EV test drive at a time

Fun, fast and smart – those were among the top reactions expressed by electric vehicle (EV) test drivers at 27 ride-and-drive events held over the past two years in the San Francisco Bay Area as part of the Experience Electric #TheBetterRide campaign managed by the Center for Sustainable Energy.

Car shoppers and dealers alike agree that purchasing an EV is a little more complicated than choosing a standard car. But at these events, the public had an opportunity to skip the hassle of going to multiple dealerships and tryout various makes and models in one place.

Participants could simply check out the cars and see for themselves what driving electric feels like while hearing about the benefits of EVs from nonpartisan organizations and existing EV owners – asking questions in a no-pressure, no-sales environment. Experience Electric events spanned over nine counties, with more than 5,280 test drives taken mostly by people who had never driven an EV before. When they got out of the cars, drivers were smiling, excited and ready to know more.

Clearly, EV test drives, coupled with incentives and outreach, will move
the EV industry forward and help EVs spread on a massive scale. . . .

I recall one memorable driver at the Fairfield Total Home and Garden Show who wanted to drive the Mercedes-Benz S550e, but there were people ahead of him. With a little encouragement, he was convinced to try an available Nissan LEAF for his first EV drive. When he returned to the boarding area, he had a special offer pricing flier in his hand and a big smile on his face. He said, “That car is really something, I’m impressed. The price they are offering is a great deal. I’m actually going to trade in one of my cars and get a LEAF.”

These sorts of stories happened throughout the campaign. Clearly, EV test drives, coupled with incentives and outreach, will move the EV industry forward and help EVs spread on a massive scale. It’s just going to take some time for people to catch on to this new surge of high-tech personal transportation.

The events were funded by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Bay Area Air Quality Management District (AQMD) and conducted in partnership with Plug in America and Charge Across Town. They included community events, urban settings, workplaces, farmers markets and home shows. We even ran a special test-drive event in partnership with Pacific Gas & Electric at the San Francisco Chronicle 58th Annual International Auto Show. Every event was an opportunity to make it real for consumers, a key objective for Orinda City Councilmember and MTC Chair Amy Rein Worth.

“It’s one thing to say that drivers can fuel an EV for only about 20 percent of the cost of a gasoline-powered car or that EVs can cut the typical driver’s operating and maintenance costs by $1,200 a year.” Worth said. “But these are just numbers until people experience for themselves how much fun these cars are to drive. EVs really are the coolest option on the road today.”

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, who also serves as an MTC commissioner and AQMD director agrees, “We’re confident consumers will go electric when they actually try the vehicles and hear from friends who have tried them.”

From each event there are many instances where the test drive really made an impact in changing a driver’s perception and resulted in people commenting on how great their EV driving experience was. Some even stated that they definitely were going to buy an EV once they experienced driving one for themselves.

The future of personal transportation is electric, and as EV prices drop and battery technology advances, EVs will drive into center stage and take the leading role – that’s the power of the next automotive technology wave. Are you ready to ride that wave?

EV Incentive Programs

The Center for Sustainable Energy administers EV incentive programs for California, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Check out the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program (California), Massachusetts Offers Rebates for Electric Vehicles (MOR-EV) and Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate (CHEAPR) for rebate details and qualified cars.

You can help CSE continue to promote electric vehicles by engaging with us on social media on the campaign’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. And in your hashtags, promote electric vehicles as #TheBetterRide.