“Experience Electric” Initiative Brings the Latest EV Models to the People

Government agencies and electric vehicle (EV) promoters are encouraging Bay Area residents to “Experience Electric” by test-driving the latest plug-in and hybrid cars.

Visitors at the “Experience Electric” event at San Francisco’s Marina Green check out the 2014 Fiat 500e. Photo by Noah Berger

By Brenda Kahn
Published: June, 2014
Government agencies and electric vehicle (EV) promoters are encouraging Bay Area residents to “Experience Electric” by test-driving the latest plug-in and hybrid cars. And campaign sponsors are making it easy for locals to quickly sample their EV options by bringing the models together in one location, saving potential buyers the hassle and time of hopping from showroom to showroom. 
In all, more than 20 “Experience Electric” ride-and-drive events are planned around the region. The concept is working, if one of the early events in San Francisco is any indication. A steady stream of people of all ages descended on S.F.’s Marina Green on a windy Saturday to get behind the wheels of everything from the relatively low-cost smart USA mini electric cars to the all-electric BMW i3, the electric hybrid Cadillac ELR, the Ford Fusion and C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrids, the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, the all-electric Nissan LEAF, and the all-electric Fiat.
Jeff McMurtry of Fiat of San Francisco said visitors at the San Francisco showcase were willing to wait anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour to take a spin in his company’s all-electric car, a relatively petite model that nonetheless can fit four people. He estimated that he would make five sales as a direct result of the San Francisco ride-and-drive event.
That kind of talk is music to the ears of the sponsors of the campaign — the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and a consortium of EV organizations including the California Center for Sustainable Energy, Plug In America and Charge Across Town. The sponsors aim to spark an EV revolution in the Bay Area by exposing residents to the joys of giving up their combustion engines. The traveling showcase also gives manufacturers the opportunity to allay some of the concerns about EVs’ range, the ease of charging up and the costs involved. Participants are also briefed on the substantial governmental subsidies that are making EVs a cost-effective choice.
One likely EV convert is San Francisco resident Giselle Bosc, who said she is “urgently in the market for a car” because her conventional car was totaled three weeks prior. By 3 p.m. or so, she had driven five of the models on hand at the Marina Green.
“The fact that I could test drive this amount of cars is fantastic,” Bosc said. “I am so happy that I saw the newspaper article today” that alerted the public to the EV ride-and-drive event.
At the events, potential buyers are treated to free drives, free tacos and a pressure-free experience. “They appreciate the low-pressure sales environment,” said Jordan DiGiorgio, project manager at the California Center for Sustainable Energy, the agency tapped to implement the campaign with the help of a nearly $1 million Climate Initiatives Program grant from MTC. “It’s more about their being educated than being pressured to buy a car. They were hanging out, and I’m impressed how many people came with their kids.”
While the sponsors are driven by mandates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, drivers who get on board with the program stand to reap gains in the form of reduced operating and maintenance costs and in many cases zilch gas costs, a largely silent but peppy ride, and the satisfaction of knowing that with each trip, they are doing their part to protect the Earth. 
Look for future Experience Electric Ride and Drive events at: http://energycenter.org/experienceelectric/events

Left: An “Experience Electric” participant gets behind the wheel of the all-electric BMW i3. Dealer representatives were also around to answer any questions. Right:Uniquely suited for easy parking in the City, the smart USA mini electric car attracted much attention. Photo by Noah Berger