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Get "Butts in Seats" Part 1: Electric Auto Association
Feb 20, 2013 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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You haven't heard from us on CalCars-News in a while. Thanks to you, our 7,000 subscribers. We hope that you, along with other plug-in drivers and advocates, have been giving test-drives of the new mass-production PHEVs and EVs. That's the best way to build support and demand -- which we've been doing by launching Below you'll find our article from the front page of Current EVents, the Electric Auto Association's newsletter. If you like or drive plug-in cars, join EAA! (It was formed in 1967 and now has 82 chapters.) Details below on the EAA's Annual Meeting this Saturday, which you can attend remotely. (This is the first of two messages -- the second one will be about Plug In America, the other national plug-in organization.)

The Annual Meeting of the EAA is at 1PM Eastern/10AM Pacific Time, Call in to hear it and watch the presentation) at

2013: The Year Test Drives Spurred EV Sales By Felix Kramer,

Who'd have predicted, looking back from year-end 2013, the way the prospects for EVs surged in a single year?

Until 2012, most car shoppers didn't even put EVs on the list. They heard EV and thought, "underpowered, unproven, unaffordable." Also, "unavailable and unseen." (Most people didn't pay attention to the plug-in flavors -- BEVs, PHEVs, EREVs -- and just called them EVs.)

How did all that change? What made the difference?

In 2011 and 2012, over 70,000 North Americans who'd awaited "real EVs" for as long as they could remember finally got the cars of their dreams. Until then, only a few thousand lucky drivers had managed to hang on to the short-lived EVs that automakers had briefly produced. Others had built their own or had converted hybrids to plug-ins -- trying anything to run on electrons and get the industry to evolve.

This all changed when the mass-produced Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF arrived. Then came a supercharge: upstart Tesla's full-sized, long-range Model S was applauded as the 'iPhone on wheels', and it nabbed Car of the Year awards. Owners and journalists who risked saying, "EVs can be better than gasoline cars!" began to get respect.

Other automakers like Toyota, Honda, Ford, and Mitsubishi also delivered great EVs. But they still weren't all-in. Few on their management and PR teams drove EVs daily. Their marketing efforts reflected their caution. Their ads didn't show people in their EVs having fun, or enjoying the benefits of driving gas-free. It looked like many were getting ready to announce sadly that "demand just isn't there."

Meanwhile, most drivers still barely knew about EVs. People across the EV industry were scrambling to create a breakthrough in public awareness.

Finally great minds began to think alike. Drivers, advocates, and salesforces all noticed how much they looked forward to showing off their cars. They told stories about buyers stepping out after test drives with the "EV grin."

EV owners began to realize that every sidewalk question, and every neighbor's or co-worker's comment, was one more opportunity to drop a keyfob in a new pocket. People they'd taken for drives, then forgotten about, returned to say, "Thanks! Because of you, I bought an EV."

The new marketing mantra became "get butts in seats." Dealers went from showing parked cars to getting people behind the wheel. Nissan retained Chelsea Sexton, an inspiring and fearless EV advocate, to improve its messaging and marketing, and expand engagement with its drivers.

Plug In America built on its Electric Driveway Parties program and started to organize Plug In At Work ride-and-drive events, joined by electric company reps to answer nitty-gritty charging questions. Electric Auto Association chapters began to organize local programs to reach out in their communities to both everyday and influential people. The Sierra Club, the only chapter-based U.S. environmental organization, began to sponsor national and local events. And National Plug In Day expanded to many more locations.

Then the Electric Auto Association, Plug In America, and CalCars founded with initial funding from EAA and the Electrification Coalition. This new "utility" for the entire EV community signed up EV drivers and made it easy for EV-curious people anywhere to go for a spin with nearby EV drivers. also encouraged drivers to list their EVs with carsharing services like Getaround and RelayRides, to expand the ways owners could reach interested drivers, while benefitting from pre-screening and full insurance protection for rentals.

EV drivers who had committed to give one test drive each week -- and to follow up with at least one EV-curious person all the way to a sales contract -- began to trumpet their successes. Legislators cited their own test drives and public enthusiasm as they pushed for EV incentives.

News and photos of hundreds of thousands of test drives percolated through social networks. Uninformed and misinformed reports had a harder time getting traction as they were quickly squashed by readers commenting, "I don't own one yet. But my test-driving experience, and what I heard from EV owners, doesn't match your claims."

By the end of the year, tens of thousands of buyers had decided to sign up for the cars of the future that are here now. "No one wants to buy EVs" sounded as out of date as "they're just glorified golf carts." And EVs started moving out of the early adopter niche to become practical products for mainstream markets.

Who got lots of credit? The EV drivers who'd become ambassadors in their communities -- and partners with auto dealers. As Plug In America's Board President Chad Schwitters had said, "If we want the market to grow -- or if we even just want to make sure the market doesn't go away! -- we have to do it."

So -- will this scenario turn out to be wishful thinking? As a current or future EV driver, you can help it come true. If you haven't yet done so, we invite you to join the EV organizations. If nothing is going on yet near you, why not take the lead? Don't worry that some questions might stump you. You'll find answers from these organizations -- and from fellow drivers as together you show off the driving electric experience. Then, a few years from now, you'll look back and say, "I helped our country get off gas."

Felix Kramer, an environmental entrepreneur, founded in 2012 and in 2002.

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