We’re finally here: one million electric cars sold in America. In this blog post, we look back at how far we’ve come, from the early days of Tesla Roadsters, RAV4 EVs and EV1s to the multitude of excellent electric models on the market today. We asked a few of the many women and men who led the EV movement to reflect on this milestone and the journey to get here.
I remember dreaming with my husband, David Raboy, another early EV advocate, as we were huddled in the back of our 1999 Ford Ranger NiMH in the bitter cold of the Central Valley fog during the Sacramento vigil to prevent Ford from crushing our truck, that one day most cars would not have a tailpipe, that these vehicles would help craft a world free of oil. While we have hit 1 million cars, we are still seeking that tipping point. True, David and I get the giggles when we sit at an intersection and car after car have a hybrid engine or are full BEVs. It is a joyful feeling to hear so many EV hums! However, we do not lose sight that EVs need to be a greater portion of the market share to make a difference in our worst challenges, such as epidemic asthma rates, climate change and contaminated ground water from fracking.
As a Native (Yoeme) and Latina, one of the best things I see is the increased diversity of EV drivers. EVs provide benefit to all. For people with low incomes, the low cost of EV ownership saves precious dollars. For communities of color who bear much of the pollution burden, EVs can displace idling from commercial trucks at ports. There are new faces, but the EV smile is the same. Like us, they know EVs can make the world a cleaner, safer, more equitable place. As David always said, EVs will change the world.
The first thing we did when we were lucky enough to buy a home in 1997 was to install solar panels. With energy from the sun we searched for an electric car and finally leased a little Ford Think!City in 2002. Even with its 35-mile range and a gas car as a backup, we found we did more than 90% of our driving in the Think! There was no turning back. Why drive on dirty, geopolitically nefarious gasoline when we could drive on cleaner, cheaper, domestic electricity?
Like other EV pioneers, we had to scramble when all the automakers repossessed and destroyed most of the plug-in cars by 2004. For a year we drove a couple of conversions (gas cars converted to electric) before we were able to buy one of the few used Toyota RAV4 EVs that had been saved from destruction by EV activists who founded Plug In America. We ditched the gas car and haven’t looked back. When Nissan launched the all-electric Leaf in 2011, we sold the RAV and bought a Leaf to support the new EV industry. Today we lease a Chevy Bolt EV that regularly goes 250-270 miles per charge. The one-million-EVs milestone couldn’t have been reached without drivers and government regulators demanding them. Let’s accelerate the change!
With the rapid rise in the number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the streets and freeways nationwide today, it’s nearly impossible to go anywhere in the greater Silicon Valley surroundings without seeing them in multiples at once. During any random interval, it’s easy to count a wide variety of EV brands at intersections, in parking lots and even on the freeways. Seeing fleets of car carriers leaving the Tesla factory loaded with Model 3 cars, as well as hearing that the best selling mid-size sedan in September was that car certainly warms my heart. I look forward to the day when internal combustion engine drivers are the minority and gasoline pricing no longer stirs anxiety. What started 20 years ago with a few models being offered has now blossomed into worldwide recognition that personal mobility’s continued explosion can best be achieved through electrification. As the US decides whether or not to roll back fuel efficiency standards, the Europeans are continually tightening their requirements, which could lock out U.S.-made cars if they don’t qualify. Such shortsightedness by policymakers regarding our competitiveness! Big power companies, too, need to adjust to the fact that big oil could be dethroned as they rise in importance, instead of being a background player in society. We have entered a new era irrevocably and this trend will surely accelerate in the coming months. We drive electric, and you surely can too!
After waiting about six months, I finally received my first electric car in August 2001. The legendary EV1 was no longer available, but I could get a plastic, two-seater with 50 miles range built in Norway by a company owned by Ford. No other EV being attainable, I said yes. Driving an electric car daily changed my perception of energy, cars and the clean society that I now understood was possible. One month later 9/11 happened. The urgency of the transition to renewable, domestically produced electric power for transportation was painfully dramatized. A period of gloom ensued, for the world, of course, but also for electric transportation, as car makers and the government turned its collective back on the proven technology I was now using every day to move about Northern California. The 2002 Toyota RAV4 EV I began driving in 2004 today in 2018 has 98,000 miles on its original battery and I still use it daily. What greater proof of the viability of electric cars can one ask for than the continued use of a 16 year old electric car its manufacturer expected to die and wanted to crush. The even greater proof is the fact that in 2018, with nearly one million plug-in cars on the road in the US, the electric car is truly reborn, never to be killed again.
Plug In America grew from the seed of activism, planted when California decommissioned the zero emission vehicle (ZEV) requirement. By the early 2000s, when automakers sent the first EVs to the crusher, some of the drivers of Th!nks, EV1s, Ranger EVs and RAV4 EVs decided to say “No!”
I joined this group to help with rallies, write press releases and make banners with colleagues at Rainforest Action Network and Global Exchange. We merged the global justice activist movement that shut down the WTO in Seattle and saved the last remaining redwood forests into this small but profound effort to save America’s last remaining ZEVs.
From 2001 until 2003, we changed the narrative from “mourning EVs” into “action to defend EVs.” We organized a “car sit-in” in Sacramento—for seven days we refused to leave the last Ranger EVs until Ford sold them back to the lessees, including my friends, the late William Korthof, as well as Dave Raboy and Heather Bernikoff-Raboy. Our next vigil was more intense—for over a month, we camped outside GM’s lot in Burbank where EV1s were to be crushed, then targeted Toyota, which tried to eliminate RAV4 EVs.
To a large extent, we won. Some cars were crushed, but many were saved; under public pressure and media attention from our actions, Ford and Toyota reversed course and many EVs we saved are still on roads today.
Galvanized by growing attention, Plug In America emerged as a powerful organization that grew into a partner for automakers and policy makers. From our beginning as dedicated volunteers, we have written books and reports, lobbied politicians, held teach-ins and are relied on as experts on EVs.
Always, at our core, is our commitment to petroleum-free, pollution-free EVs. This expertise is now used to design best practices for charging infrastructure, determine effective policies and develop strategies to bring dealers, utilities, and drivers together to make EVs accessible.
Last week, I met a 20-year-old Plug In America supporter who bought a first-generation RAV4 EV on eBay and is thrilled with the car and excited to help Plug In America with its advocacy.
Today, it may seem like EVs were a foregone conclusion. But if we hadn’t intervened, his generation wouldn’t know about electric cars and certainly wouldn’t have an affordable, used EV to drive. Thank you to everyone at Plug In America, past, present and future, for making his EV experience possible and for making this driver one in a million!
It all started back in the late ’60s when I was an Idaho teenager pumping gas at one of my dad’s many Bob Nicholes Oil Company gas stations. I remember breathing in the lead-laden fumes every time I pumped gas or checked oil levels. And I recall thinking, “There’s just GOT to be a better way.” At the end of every work day, my uniform would reek of smelly, gag-inducing gasoline.
So when my friends, Lisa Rosen and Doug Korthof, actually loaned me their sporty, silver EV1 for a week in 2001 to commute to work, I jumped at that chance. And suddenly it all came together: My youthful intuition had been correct! After all those decades I had stumbled onto that long-awaited “better way” through the generosity of my two friends and a little silver GM car with a plug.
Shortly after the loan that changed my life, my husband Howard leased a 2001 Toyota RAV4 EV through his optometric practice. And I — I jumped on it! That zero emission RAV4 became my personal commuter car. Toyota, however, was less than pleased when we refused to return the leased RAV at the end of the five-year lease for crushing. Our refusal to return the fully-functioning RAV for its appointed date with the crusher became a highly publicized PR disaster for Toyota. And after a number of relentless protests at Toyota dealerships and the freeway chase of a Toyota transport loaded with doomed RAV4 EVs headed for the crusher, Toyota acknowledged this PR disaster by allowing small corporate fleet lessees to buy out their leases and also allowed larger fleet lessees like Southern California Edison to continue leasing hundreds of its fleet RAVs.
The upshot? Thanks to dontcrush.com, which predated Plug In America, I got to keep my hard-working, emission-free RAV4 EV and so did many others. It was a great victory, and my RAV4 EV continues to function to this day, though our two RAVs have mostly been supplanted by two long-range Tesla Model 3s. Who says David cannot go up against Goliath and win?
I bought my first electric car in 1990, a converted Datsun with a 25-mile range and lead acid batteries I had to fill with water every 10 days. A few years later, I bought another backyard conversion with a range of 50 miles. In 1996, on its first day, 21-year-old Saturn EV specialist Chelsea Sexton leased me the EV1. It was the first electric car from a big car manufacturer and it drove like a dream with 100-mile range.
Until then, I only knew three people with EVs. Leasing GM’s EV1 began a community for me because Chelsea invited me to EV1 events where I met other drivers. Here and there, I saw a battery-powered Ford Ranger, Toyota RAV4 or Honda EV Plus, which meant joyous waving and honking as we acknowledged each other. It was like meeting someone in a far-off country who went to the same college. But it wasn’t until 2003, when California’s Air Resources Board decided auto manufacturers didn’t have to sell zero emission vehicles anymore, that I really got to know my EV community. I couldn’t lease my EV1 again because GM didn’t want to make EVs if it didn’t have to—in fact, all EV drivers with OEM cars lost them once their leases ended.
Enter Chelsea Sexton again. She was an EV1 specialist that knew a lot of drivers and a lot about GM. She called me about a protest outside a Burbank, CA facility that was warehousing EV1s. That led to a 27-day vigil to protect them from being taken to the crusher. It was the wettest time in LA in years, but at least two EV enthusiasts always kept watch outside, joined daily by sign-carrying supporters. We lost that battle after arrests and the crushing of EV1s, but we won the war: activist drivers formed a community and were now unstoppable. Plug In America was created and soon became the world’s largest nonprofit advocating for electric cars. Then, the perfect storm of an oil crisis and the documentaries Who Killed the Electric Car? and An Inconvenient Truth turned the tide of public opinion towards us—regular consumers now wanted EVs, not just us techie tree-hugger early adopters. Tesla’s 250-mile-range Roadster and then the Model S made electric cars cool. No one thought EVs were golf carts anymore.
Fifteen years later and almost three decades since my first electric car, I rejoice in seeing EVs on the road. There are so many, there is no longer that feeling of belonging to a special group who knew the future needed the magic of EVs. But this is better: the one millionth car just hit the road, which is more important than the first. The future is here, and it is battery-powered.
When you’ve seen the few thousand EVs in the beginning of the modern EV era get snatched back and literally crushed, it’s gratifying beyond belief that one million EVs have been sold in the U.S. Honestly, I thought it would happen sooner, but I’ve always been an optimist. Human nature being what it is, the transition has taken much longer than it should have, but with the quickening pace of Tesla’s Model 3 deliveries, recently out pacing all of BMW’s sales for the month of August, the exponential growth of deliveries is finally upon us.
It has taken the herculean effort of a brash, 40-something renaissance man to kick start the transition. We are lucky to have Elon Musk to thank for that. With California and European regulators pushing the laggard legacy automakers to get with the program, and Tesla leading the way by stealing market share, the giant ship is finally beginning its turn to clean, renewable energy.
Electrify everything and clean the grid. Yes, we can do that. We will do that!
According to the calculations of Plug In America’s chief science officer, Tom Saxton, somewhere in the U.S. on October 10, probably late in the morning, someone purchased a plug-in vehicle, becoming the one millionth customer since 2011 to do so. We should be both humbled by and agitated at this milestone. Selling a million widgets would seem cause for any manufacturer to celebrate. Selling a million life preservers, doses of penicillin, or nicotine patches, on the other hand, sounds a bit more foreboding. It’s too early to celebrate. We haven’t yet solved the critical problem of fossil fuel addiction. Climate catastrophe is real and pressing. A million is a great milestone and long overdue but, until we get the word out to all consumers that they have the power to say “yes” to a technology that will change the world, we have 262.6 million more sales to go. Stay focused, spread the truth about driving electric and we’ll get there!