By Zan Dubin-Scott
I’m standing on the sidewalk in the sun, proudly gazing at 70-plus vehicles lined up and ready to go for a history-making event–the world’s first electric vehicle parade–when my phone rings. A group of us early adopters had organized the procession, reaching out to every EV owner we knew within spitting distance of L.A. This was 2009, a full year before the first mainstream mass-produced EVs had hit the road, so we mostly had Toyota RAV4 EVs. Little else had been delivered in any significant number.
It didn’t matter. We knew we were doing something downright groundbreaking and EV champion Sen. Fran Pavely, the author of landmark global warming legislation, led off our press conference. We did get some media coverage for that. But not a single news camera stayed for the unprecedented parade without tail pipes, which was key to our hopes of raising awareness at a time when the very future of EVs was far from certain. When I answered my phone, a regretful TV-news reporter in a city known for its smog told me a crash on the 405 would take precedence. They wouldn’t come.
Disappointed but undeterred, we went to work and launched National Drive Electric Week (originally called National Plug In Day), thinking we would have had a better chance of coverage had our parade been part of a nationwide observance. Turns out we were right.
This year, like so many before it, NDEW, comprising some 220 events, was the subject of dozens and dozens of print, digital and broadcast pieces from Maine to Maui extolling the many benefits of EVs.
Of course, we have a ways to go with awareness. For instance, data show that “filling up” an EV at home is cheaper than gas in every single state in the nation, according to one study. Yet, only 42 percent of Americans think so.
But, with over 40 EV models on the American market, manufacturers are on track to sell one million EVs in the U.S. this year, which would be another historic first. Of course, that kind of electric enthusiasm is palpable at every NDEW event and, clicking on any NDEW news story, practically jumps off the screen, whether reporters come calling from Boca Ratan, Wichita, Pittsburgh, Niagara Falls or Santa Monica.
As an example, WKYT, a CBS affiliate in Frankfort, Kentucky, proudly showcased an NDEW event “right here in the bluegrass.” In the limelight: E. Gail Chandler, who just bought her first EV at age 80. Chandler’s a member of Evolve Kentucky, an EV group that’s installed more than 130 free chargers in the region and has her eyes on a sustainable future. “I’ve always had a lot of interest in the environment,” she said, crediting her Appalachian roots. “I think we’re stewards and I think we have responsibility to the next generation.”
Not to be beat, an ABC outlet in Asheville, North Carolina, informed viewers that EVs aren’t just for commuting, showing off name-brand battery-operated heavy equipment such as a bulldozer-like wheel loader with a big front bucket to move construction rubble around. The station reported that a local clean vehicle coalition held a week’s worth of NDEW events, inviting the community to learn about the “improved safety and reduced operations costs that electric equipment can bring to job sites.”
“The industry sees this transition; it’s going to be a learning curve for all of us, so the people who operate the equipment, those who manufacture it — companies like Volvo, Caterpillar, John Deere — all of them are starting to make this equipment to get the job done out in the field,” said Sara Nichols, regional planner at Land-of-Sky Regional Council.
Mayor Gary McCarthy of Schenectady, New York, likewise told his city’s Daily Gazette that internal combustion engines are on the way out. Schenectady, which hosts a major annual NDEW, is busy installing chargers and recently purchased 62 electric golf carts to replace the gas-burner get-arounds at its municipal golf course, reaping substantial savings.
“We’re following the trend,” McCarthy said. “All of the auto manufacturers have set standards to shift their manufacturing away from internal combustion. They’re going to electric platforms and we want to be part of that transition, both in terms of residents who live in the community but also shifting our fleet internally. The reality is that the variable operating costs of electric vehicles are roughly half that of an internal combustion engine.”
Again, if we had our way, CNN would make something of a bluegrass celebrity of E. Gail Chandler, show how electrified tractors may be as important as Teslas to the future of transportation, and quote Mayor McCarthy from upstate New York on EV costs savings.
Change is never as fast as some of us would like.
But, some good news comes via Consumer Reports: CR’s largest-ever national survey of U.S. adults showed that more than a third of Americans would definitely or seriously consider buying or leasing an electric-only vehicle–which is the highest positive response rate to a CR electric car poll ever.
We like to think that a dozen years of NDEW celebrations, and all the awareness they’ve brought, helped to bring about that milestone.
We know one thing: CR’s study also showed that far more of those who said they would buy an EV had been a passenger in one. Not to toot our own horn, but that’s what Plug In America has been saying from the start. Getting butts in seats is the most effective move of all, and that is exactly what National Drive Electric Week is all about.
Let’s keep giving them something to talk about.
Zan Dubin-Scott, co-founder of National Drive Electric Week, was city captain of a virtual 2023 NDEW event featuring the first-ever EV video from Yellow Dot Studios, the production studio run by filmmaker Adam McKay, known for such hits as “Don’t Look Up.”