EV Lovers and Learners Meet
National Drive Electric Week (NDEW) is an annual celebration of electric cars, which has grown larger and more popular each year since its inception in 2011.
This year, NDEW ran from September 9 to 17. I attended three events—including one I hosted.
San Mateo Event – Saturday, September 9
I began my NDEW adventure on the first day of the nine-day NDEW “week” in San Mateo, California, not far from my office. I thought I’d not simply attend, but participate. The organizer asked me if I was willing to take people for rides in my Chevrolet Bolt EV—I said, “sure!”
I arrived about 45 minutes early and staged my car at one end of the event near a driveway that took me to the main road. The plan was for people interested in a ride to sign up and I would take them on a two-minute trip around the neighborhood. Someone was already waiting for me at noon when the event started.
So, I took my first person for a trip around the block, per the instructions and map I was given. We spoke about a few of the car’s features, and how even though he was a large man he felt OK in the famously narrow seat of my Bolt EV. I took a second person for a ride, too, and then, when I came back, I took a few moments to step away. I got an offer from John, the owner of a Tesla Model S, to drive his car. What a fun little ride that was.
When the next person stepped up to my car, he asked to drive, and I thought, “Well, if John let me drive his fancy Model S, maybe I can let this guy drive my Bolt.” So, from then on, I had a driver every time—although I had some riders, too—in the back seat.
As it turned out, the Bolt was the most popular car in the ride pool, so I spent nearly all of the three-hour event in my car. That’s OK. My goal was to provide a positive EV experience to help entice more people to buy or lease them. I think my car made a good impression on the people who drove it.
There were booths and other cars on display, but with my car’s popularity, I didn’t get a chance to see them. I would get a chance to do that later in the week.
My Event at Work – Wednesday, September 13
I work for Marketo, a Silicon Valley marketing software company. We have a couple of dozen electric car drivers, so I thought it would be a great idea for National Drive Electric Week to invite our fellow employees and other tenants of our shared buildings to see our cars.
It took some planning and organization to get this going, including help from my two EV buddies, Robert and Joe, support from Srikant, a company VP and Bolt owner, assistance and encouragement from Shun, who guided my internal event process and participation from Keith and Candice, who filmed and photographed my work event.
On event day, we displayed 13 electric vehicles at our show. Attendees had a chance to meet the owners/drivers, who shared information and their enthusiasm for plug-in vehicles on a pleasant, but slightly windy afternoon.
While enjoying a free lunch of sandwiches and wraps from iJava, attendees checked out the EVs, starting with Chevrolet’s award-winning all-electric Bolt EV, two generations of its plug-in hybrid cousin Volt, and the spunky little Chevy Spark, which was brought by an enthusiastic neighbor.
Other cars included the pioneering Nissan Leaf, the unusually styled BMW i3, cute Fiat 500e, impressive Tesla Model X and fun-to-drive Volkswagen e-Golf.
Surprise automotive “guests” included a tiny 2008 Tesla Roadster—the first Tesla model—and one of the limited-production Toyota RAV4 EVs.
I learned a few things about staging events. I kept it simple, but overall, the event helped gain exposure for EVs at my company. If we’re successful, there will be waiting lines at our 12 charging stations before long.
Cupertino Event – Saturday, September 16
My third event was in Cupertino—deep in the heart of Silicon Valley. From the promotional materials on the NDEW website, I expected a lot of action. I decided to forego any driving and I had no hosting duties. I just carried my notebook, met people, and investigated what was happening in the various booths set up in Parking Lot B of De Anza College.
I parked next to an identical Blue Bolt in the parking lot, already a good sign. Arriving right when the event started, there was plenty of room. So far, the event area was uncrowded.
The first thing I saw was a printed archway, stating that the Electric Auto Association was celebrating 50 years, and that this was the 45th Annual Rally and Show. The pioneers of EV enthusiasm must have been building their own vehicles, because that’s long before you could walk into a dealership and drive an EV home!
The event featured several historic EVs, from a rare 1997 GM EV1 saved from the crusher to two incredible oldies—a 1916 Detroit Electric and a slim 1905 Studebaker from the very early days of motoring. Electric cars had their heyday early in the 20th Century, but when gasoline became widely available and good roads expanded, demand dropped off and by the 1920s, they were gone.
The EV1 is the star of the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car. It was a valiant, but ultimately short-lived experiment at the end of the last century by GM to build a viable electric car. The one shown, from the Sacramento Auto Museum, was gorgeous, although it appeared the electric motor had been removed. If GM had followed up that model and put their engineers to work on EVs 20 years ago, they could have been the overwhelming leaders by now. Perhaps introducing the excellent new Bolt is some form of penance. Many Bolts were there.
Rod Diridon Speaks
I had a chance to hear Rod Diridon, Sr., speak about EVs. A retired politician and retired emeritus executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute, he has been a passionate advocate for and driver of EVs for decades. His cars have including a converted Porsche 914, two EV1s (from 1999 to 2002), and now, a Tesla Model S.
Stating that 40 percent of our carbon emissions come from cars and trucks, Diridon told the crowd matter-of-factly about the urgent need to cut our CO2 emissions now to slow down climate change. He said that scientists had said that we had 10 to 20 years left before irreversible radical changes in the atmosphere would make life difficult on the planet.
“When your grandchildren look you to you in the future, will it be a tear of happiness in their eye or of sadness?” he asked us. “They’ll ask you, did you try as hard as you could back then?”
I explored the all-new 2018 Leaf, which Nissan featured in front of its own fancy tent. While some folks entered information in to computers and claimed swag, I spoke with Nissan PR rep Steve Diehlman about the new car. The new Leaf is much more attractive on the outside, with contemporary styling, including a chrome V style grille and swirling horizontal wrap-around taillamps in keeping with today’s Nissan styling. Inside you’ll find a pleasant, but conservative design that helps remove any of the oddness of the old model. EVs are more common now, so there’s no need to make them look weird to distinguish them.
The new Leaf claims a 150-mile range from its 40-kWh battery, which is a significant improvement over the old one, but is not competitive with the new Bolt and Tesla Model 3. However, Diehlman countered that most people don’t really need more than 150 miles of range, and importantly—the new Leaf costs $670 less than the old one but has a 33 percent larger battery with 43 miles more range. A 60-kWh battery is coming next year. The bottom line is that the new Leaf is appealing, and with a price of about $30,000 before any rebates, is significantly less expensive than either of its longer-range competitors.
I walked by groups of same-marque models—a cluster of Teslas, a colorful rainbow of Bolts, a couple of Kia Soul EVs, and even a pair of tiny Corbin Sparrows. I also visited several booths from companies and organizations related to EVs.
Organizations That Joined the Program
Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCleanEnergy.org) explained how you can order up your household electricity from clean sources, such as solar and wind. My question was, how does PG&E separate your clean electricity out from the other electricity? The way it works is that there is one large “pool” of electricity that everyone uses. However, it is sourced in various ways. So, when you indicate you want clean energy, you’re requesting it at the beginning of the process. It flows into the pool, but you use “generic” electricity for your home and car. The goal is to increase demand for more cleanly generated power, eventually pushing out the traditional carbon-creating methods entirely.
Another interesting innovation is EVmatch (evmatch.com) a Southern California startup that facilitates people with home EV charging stations to make them available to other EV drivers, much as Airbnb does for homes. As a EV driver who’s a member, you can plan a trip in advance with your EV, accessing the additional home-based stations, which you can reserve as you travel. As a host, you gain income by renting out your station. And there are psychic benefits of sharing energy that are impossible to measure.
I asked EV Match CEO Heather Hochrein, “what if my charger is inside my garage?” She said the company was developing a way to remotely shut the charger on and off, so you could feed the cable under the garage door, and be able to turn it on for registered customers. A very interesting idea.
EV Charger Expert (evchargerexpert.com) had a booth, where Erin Finnegan explained the importance of installing your home charger correctly. Apparently, there’s an inspection required to do it right, and without that, it’s considered a fire hazard. I plan to check with them about installing my own home charger.
Silicon Valley Clean Cities (svcleancities.org) talked with me about the importance of clean air for health. They propose that you stop idling your car to improve urban air quality. I took away a small oval sticker that reads, “STOP Idling. START $aving.” It’s worth reading more about this South Bay non-profit.
On my way out, I bought a cool t-shirt from the Electric Auto Association.
Summing up, this was a great first year for me at these National Drive Electric Week events. There’s tremendous value in putting on and attending these meetings. Electric cars are here and readily available, but if people don’t understand their benefits and drive them, the cars can’t do their part to keep our planet a viable place to live for future generations. Making owners and experts available for conversation is the natural way to do it.
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