By Joe Wachunas, Forth
In the last few years, three separate nonprofits opened up electric vehicle (EV) showrooms in Toronto, Canada; Portland, Oregon; and Columbus, Ohio to help the public experience and learn about a range of electric transportation options in a unique, no-pressure, brand-neutral atmosphere.
Since opening, these centers have hosted tens of thousands of visits and test drives. Forth recently issued a report studying the effectiveness of showrooms in accelerating EV adoption. There are many lessons learned to help other cities and organizations consider whether, why, and, if so, how to consider opening an EV showroom of their own.
The Entire EV Landscape in One Spot
Electric vehicles are different from the gas guzzling transportation most of us grew up with, so people have questions when considering them.
Dealers and automakers haven’t done a stellar job of answering these questions. In fact, 74% of dealerships in the US still don’t have any electric cars, and 70% of consumers prefer to avoid dealerships. As a result, nonprofits like Forth (Portland, OR), Plug’n Drive (Toronto, Canada), and Smart Columbus (Ohio) have experimented with showrooms to help fill this gap. All three organizations have created compelling educational centers where staff are ready to answer any and all questions visitors have about electric transportation in a no-pressure environment.
For example, when consumers ask about charging, Plug’n Drive’s Discovery Centre in Toronto provides an entire “charging zone” that displays a variety of home charging setups and even sells units to the public.
When consumers ask about EVs, staff in Forth’s showcase, in Portland, OR, walk them through the trip-planning process with full-scale electronic displays of charging apps, like PlugShare, and Level 3 charging stations so visitors can see and test fast charging systems.
In response to basic questions like “What is an EV?” in Columbus, OH, the team keeps the conversation accessible and free of industry jargon, to help them quickly understand the cost savings associated with owning and charging one.
Comparing & Test Driving Many Different Brands at Once
Nonprofit EV showrooms offer a unique service in which consumers can compare different brands in the same spot. Toronto’s showroom has 16 electric cars that visitors can test drive. Forth and Plug’n Drive also let consumers rent some of their cars for multi-day trips, so they can experience home charging and/or planning a trip with charging stops to see if EVs are right for their lifestyle. Forth publishes a guide on current EVs on the market. Smart Columbus offers something similar, going so far as to include where EVs can be found at local dealerships.
These resources help the general public understand the dramatic increase in EV options from all automakers and that the future of EVs is not one brand (unfortunately, something most people still believe).
Community Events to Celebrate EVs
Forth, Plug’n Drive, and Smart Columbus also host events (though all have gotten creative amidst COVID-19) where consumers can experience, in real time, the rapidly evolving world of electric mobility. From product launches to hosting EV owner conversations, local tech meetups, employer green team meetings, and even corporate planning retreats, these centers are hubs of activity that give a space for clean transportation to thrive.
All three organizations also combine their physical showrooms with outreach in the community. They bring vehicles to community events throughout their regions and have offered thousands of the EV-curious a chance to learn about and test drive vehicles.
Finally, in the time of COVID, these teams are turning to webinars to continue their outreach. Forth is presenting free webinars on everything from the top EVs on the market to electric bikes and motorcycles, while Plug’n Drive is doing EV 101’s focused on used EVs.
Does all this effort produce results? In surveys taken a couple of months after visiting Forth’s Portland showcase, 45% of respondents had bought an electric vehicle. Plug’n Drive’s numbers were similar, with 30% reporting having purchased an EV, and 60% reporting that they planned to make a purchase in the next year.
General EV sales in these regions have also increased substantially in the last 3 years and surpassed the ambitious goals that these nonprofits set for themselves. In Columbus, consumer likelihood to purchase an EV also grew by more than 20% since the Columbus Experience Center opened. The Portland region’s overall EV sales greatly exceeded Forth’s initial goal.
So is your region ready for an EV showroom? If so, any of these nonprofits would be happy to share additional lessons and recommendations and discuss whether it makes sense for your community. Plug’n Drive in Toronto believes EV showrooms work best in bigger cities, where there is a higher concentration of potential visitors. Smart Columbus recommends that communities “think carefully about the location and their staffing approach. Such a space requires its own dedicated team who is available to work outside typical business hours and are trained on EVs and public engagement with diverse audiences.” Forth recommends that groups look for a location that combines ample parking with public access. Communities should also weigh spending funds on a showcase with the approach of doing ride and drive events in the community.
However your community decides to promote electric transportation, EV showrooms have proven to be an effective educational resource, one tool in a tool kit to drive faster adoption of clean mobility.
Images courtesy of Forth, Smart Columbus, & Plug’n Drive
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