Driving electric is not only for the Tesla-class anymore. With Ford, Kia and other manufacturers in the game, accessibility is as much a part of the conversation as sustainability. That's the message the people behind Drive Electric Week hope to proliferate in over 250 events across the world this September. And since most people who have made the switch to electric vehicles (EVs) are super-excited about their lifestyle choice, they end up selling the concept better than any salesperson could.
"It's all about getting butts in seats," said Gina Coplon-Newfield, Director of the Sierra Club's Drive Electric Initiative. The Sierra Club is a founding national sponsor of Drive Electric Week, which started in 2011. "People need to see that these are real cars driven by real people. They're not futuristic. They're here today, and they're fun, they're quiet, they're clean, and they're a great driving experience."
That's why the test drives are at the heart of the Drive Electric Week experience. It's a no-pressure opportunity to get behind the wheel, usually facilitated by EV drivers as opposed to salespeople.
"The theory is that you're more likely to make the switch if you can talk to someone who's already done it," said Lauren Lantry, media coordinator at the Sierra Club.
"If we're trying to move away from fossil fuels, we have to consider the transportation infrastructure."
From September 9 to 17, events are popping up from Croatia to California. Last year, there were 7,500 test drives worldwide, and this year is expected to be even bigger. With exciting new technologies including the next generation Nissan LEAF, GM's Chevy Bolt, and the Tesla Model 3, EV enthusiasts have a lot to look forward to. But the main goal of the event isn't to preach to the converted, but to publicize the direction clean driving technology is going.
"Last year, EV sales grew 37 percent," said Coplon-Newfield, "and this year they're on track to grow even further. The sales numbers alone are a great indicator that interest is growing, but also, more and more models are becoming available."
Check out more videos from VICE:
Formula E is a worldwide racing organization where high-profile drivers race EVs in exciting contests, and it is raising awareness of the drivability, speed, and agility of these cars. With races from Hong Kong to Marrakesh to Paris, FIA President Jean Todt launched Formula E to demonstrate sustainable racing with the entertainment and thrill of motor racing at its core.
Still, work needs to be done on raising awareness about these vehicles and making them more readily available to everyday buyers worldwide.
"We did a report on the EV shopping experience," said Coplon-Newfield, "and we found that there was room for improvement. EVs need to be more available through inventory, salespeople need to be better trained, and they need to be more prominently displayed."
"It's fun driving past gas stations knowing we won't need those services, after having grown up being so dependent on them."
As federal regulations for clean energy unravel, some individuals feel it's time to take their energy consumption into their own hands.
"It's part of a clean energy future," said Lantry. "If we're trying to move away from fossil fuels, we have to consider the transportation infrastructure. We are still driving gas guzzlers, causing harm through asthma, planet disruption, and more. This is a key way we can cut down on emissions and improve quality of life. It's a personal way to make a change."
Ron Freund has been the chairman of the Electric Auto Association for the past 16 years. The Association itself has existed for over fifty years, and is a national sponsor of Drive Electric Week with the Sierra Club. Freund is also an enthusiastic EV driver.
"It's fun driving past gas stations knowing we won't need those services, after having grown up being so dependent on them," he said. "We fill up at home, and many electric drivers "make" their own fuel with rooftop solar at home."
Lantry says a big issue that people bring to the table is "range anxiety", where they fear they'll run out of battery and need a charge in a place where it's not available. She says that fear is one that rarely plays out for EV drivers. The number of miles an EV can travel on a single charge is constantly increasing, as is the availability of charging stations. Some communities, like San Diego, have incorporated building charging stations into their infrastructure improvements.
"A lot of big changes come with utility work," explained Lantry. "In San Diego, charging stations are now all over the city.The Sierra Club urges its members to push their public service commissions for charging stations when they're working on infrastructure projects.
Some of the most memorable events of past EV weeks have included ribbon cutting events to unveil new charging stations, politicians announcing new policies, reforms offering new rebates, or carpool lane access for EV drivers.
"Jerry Brown, governor of California, took the opportunity during Drive Electric Week 2015 to sign six EV-related bills into law," said Coplon-Newfield. "When the event is used as an opportunity to launch a new initiative, then it lasts beyond the day of the event. Then it's something that will impact many more over time."
But the highlight every year is in the many connections between EV drivers and those interested in making the switch.
"People who drive EVs love them," said Lantry. "We like to call them Evangelists. They love it and they can't think about going back, and they can't wait to share it with others. They want everyone to have this ability: they're fun to drive, they're cheaper to drive, and they're better for the environment."
Find outwhat's happening in your neck of the woods, and how you can get behind the wheel of an electric vehicle.