A steady stream of people of all ages descended on San Francisco's Marina Green on a windy Saturday in mid-May to get behind the wheels of the latest electric vehicle (EV) models. The event was the first of over 20 “Experience Electric” ride-and-drives slated for cities throughout the Bay Area.
Sponsored by a partnership of government agencies and EV promoters, the traveling showcase is designed to make it easy for locals to quickly sample their EV options by bringing the models together in one location, saving buyers the time and hassle of hopping from showroom to showroom. Once they test-drive an EV or two or three, the theory goes, drivers will be more likely to invest in one.
The concept is working, if the San Francisco event is any indication. In one afternoon, some 300 potential customers tried out everything from the relatively low-cost smart USA mini electric cars to the all-electric BMW i3, the electric hybrid Cadillac ELR, the Ford electric Focus, 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 campaign sponsors — 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 consumers' concerns about EVs’ range, the ease of charging up and the costs of vehicle purchase. 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. —Brenda Kahn