How an Oklahoma Oilman Became a Champion for Electric Vehicles
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How an Oklahoma Oilman Became a Champion for Electric Vehicles

“This is the drivetrain of the future. This is the new cell phone.”

It's not surprising that someone would start a National Drive Electric Week. What is surprising is that a red-blooded oil tank truck driver in a deep red state would come out passionately for a cause more associated with Silicon Valley than Muskogee.

John Gallagher is an Oklahoma oil man through and through, delivering oil from the well site to the pipeline, which then puts it in the hands of consumers. But Gallagher has been moonlighting with a new passion: electric cars.


He's rallying not just for more electric vehicles, but for better electric cars and smarter approaches to their deployment and marketing. Motherboard chatted with Gallagher to find out what brought him to the electric fold, and how others might cross over.

MOTHERBOARD: What was the inception of the National Drive Electric Week? How did you decide to get the ball rolling on that?

John Gallagher: I saw all of the documentary Revenge of the Electric Vehicle. I saw that people were driving their car in sunshine. They had solar panels, and they had electric vehicle, and it just made sense to me. In the oil field, I don't work on a rig. I'm a truck driver. I pick up oil at the well site, and I take it to the pipeline.

My comparison: I'm pretty sure that a pig farmer eats steak every once in awhile, or a rancher likes some chicken every once in awhile. I'm not against oil. I just think that there's something new on the horizon, and that's electric vehicles.

How do you think it can complement some of the petroleum-based energy in your world view? Would there be both oil and electric vehicles side by side?

I think the first step is the twin motor, some people might call them plug-in hybrid. It's the best way to get a vehicle down the road. My grandpa always wanted to have a V8 internal combustion engine in his vehicle. He came from a generation where that was the best. It was the most reliable. It had the most horsepower. I think just the future is a vehicle that has both an internal combustion engine and batteries. The upper end manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes and Porsche have proven that. The rich always get the coolest stuff first.


For sure. I think it's going to be a while before I'm going to be able to afford a Tesla in any way, shape or form.

Me too, but I'm planning on making mine. I'm going to figure out a way to make it.

What do you think is needed to get the United States ready to more fully embrace electric vehicles?

They just need to be made aware, that's it. They just need to see it, touch it, feel it. I think that the automotive manufacturers don't fully get it. The one that probably gets it the most, besides Tesla, is General Motors.

I see things that Ford is doing, or Toyota, Hyundai, or Honda. They just don't get it. They're talking about fuel economy and fuel mileage. There's a lot more to electric vehicles than just how many miles it gets. It's better for the consumer. There's a lot of freedom in not going to the gas station. There's a lot of freedom in not caring about what's going on in the Middle East or if the price of oil went down five cents or it went up five cents.

"There's a lot more to electric vehicles than just how many miles it gets."

I have two missions really. One of them is spread the word to people like myself that just didn't know. Really my job is relatively easy because of the new vehicles coming out, especially this year. The Tesla model X, the Volvo XC90, which is an SUV, and the Chevy Volt, those things could sell here. They could sell in the middle of America. They could sell in Pennsylvania.


Do you think there are changes that need to be made even on the dealership level to make these more possible? I know there's a lot of states trying to prevent direct sales from Tesla.

It's disruptive for the dealership. It makes me think of the record companies that just didn't want to address the changes in their industry. Then there's newspaper, going down the line of industries that's been disrupted. Automotive dealership is going to get disrupted.

I think in the past, the Chevy Volt was back at the alley somewhere at the dealership. If you walked in, you wouldn't be able to find one, you'd have to ask three or four people. They just weren't excited about selling the Chevy Volt. I think with this new Chevy Volt, the dealerships are not going to be able to hide it. It's going to be so popular. Even with gas at $2 a gallon, it's going to be very popular.

It's not going to be rolled out until the 2017 year, so it's going to take a little while. The ones that adapt the fastest to a new business model are the ones that are going to succeed. I'm concerned about the manufacturer like Chevrolet who's doing an excellent job with this future vision, but General Motors, such a behemoth, that it's not going to be able to fully adjust. I'm concerned about that. The smaller company is going to be able to be more flexible or foreign companies from foreign lands would be able to be more flexible and adjust faster.

How many years do you think we're out from a more full embrace that's beyond a niche product like Tesla into something that's more widely deployed on the road?

I don't really know. In a lot of ways, I don't get myself concerned about that because I think people that concern themselves about how fast, how fast, get themselves frustrated. Whether I do anything or not, I think we're going to go down that road. If I keel over and die next week, I think we're still going to go with electric vehicles, but my job is just to promote it, is to move it up somebody's priority list.

Did you have any other thoughts?

I said there's two things that I had purpose to do. The other thing is to give encouragement to those early adopters who has been fighting this good fight for a long time, to give them encouragement that you don't have to just talk to a liberal tree hugger about the electric vehicles. An oil spill worker in Western Oklahoma would be interested in electric vehicles, especially a plug-in twin motor. General Motors should start thinking about taking that technology they put into the Volt and put it into a Chevy Silverado, a truck, a Cadillac Escalade. It's time that we start talking to everybody, not just the choir, about electric vehicles. That's it.