First Ride In A Tesla Model S Converts Petrolhead & Inspires Him To Start An Electric Vehicle Festival

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BJ Birtwell founded the Electrify Expo in 2019. However, he had to wait to host the first event until 2021 due to coronavirus-induced lockdowns. He already had a background in organizing and producing large live events, including concerts and live brand activations. A lot of the events he ran were in the motorsports and powersports industry.

He grew up modifying and customizing cars and spending a ton of money making cars look cool and tuning them to go faster. As an auto enthusiast and a “petrolhead,” he used to think that electric cars didn’t have a soul. He says he felt like, “If I can’t hear the rumble of a V8 or the sound from an inline 4 Turbo, you can forget about it, you are never getting me behind the wheel of that car.”

Then something interesting happened in 2016 when he got behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S for the first time. That is when he had a lightbulb moment and realized, wow, electric is the future. It dawned on him that he really needed to drive one to realize just how superior electric cars were and this hands-on experience is what he needed to really get it. That is when he realized that for more car enthusiast petrolheads like him to get it, as well as people in general, a first-hand experience with electric cars can really be one of the best ways to raise awareness about electric cars and get more people into the wonderful world of electric mobility. Armed with his long history and experience in organizing and producing big live events and shows, he decided to make one focused on electric mobility. That was the beginning of Electrify Expo.

BJ wanted Electrify Expo to be different from a lot of the auto shows where people are looking at cars behind a velvet rope, and quite often these events tend to be very constrained events in convention centers. Most of the time, if they have product demo experiences, they are brief and held in the basement of a convention hall, for example, or quick drives through start and stop traffic in the downtown area near the convention center. This, to him, did not offer the best experience. He then decided to make an electric vehicle show that is more along the lines of a festival environment and totally outdoor. This would be bundled in with music, food, culture with a proper festival vibe. People attending the festival would get a good chance to really test drive as many cars as possible around the festival grounds as well as in the nearby suburban areas, with several roads closed for real thrilling driving experiences in some of the zones.

In 2021, the first three events of Electrify Expo were held in Orange County, Miami, and Austin. Then in 2022 they grew to five events, adding Seattle and New York. This year, they have grown again to seven events, adding Washington, DC, which was held last month on 22 and 23 of July in Long Beach and San Francisco, California. Orange County was not on the roster this year.

The next event is being held in Long Island, New York, at the Nassau Coliseum on August 12–13. Electrify Expo has managed to get most of the auto manufacturers in the EV industry to come and exhibit and give demo drive sessions with a wide range of vehicles, which is pretty impressive in just the third year since the Expo started.

BJ Birtwell says a lot of automakers are seeing that they get a lot of throughput and a lot of demo rides at these Electrify Expo events. They are always maxing out on their demos and have been incrementally adding more cars to the demo rides section of the Expo. The OEMs are seeing this as an event to really get behind and support. It is this support from the auto manufacturers that has really help propel the Expo to become the largest electric vehicle showcase event in North America.

It is not just cars and SUVs and trucks. There is also a bike track. The show promotes micromobility, showcasing electric bicycles, scooters, and skateboards. Electric motorcycles also feature prominently. Of course, given his background, there is a large exhibition section called Electrify Showoff, “The Epicentre of EV Customization.” It is focused on EV personalization and is the breeding ground for customization trends. Showoff features the world’s most radically customized EVs and inspires Electrify Expo attendees with ideas of how they can customize their own rides. It is kind of like an Xzibit-style “Pimp my ride” exhibition but for EVs. Since inception, Electrify Expo has managed to double participation from automakers. The automakers are bringing in more cars and have expanded the footprint of their exhibitions and stands and display. He says many automakers are now treating Electrify Expo as an anchor event in their calendars.

The Washington, DC, edition of Electrify Expo covered a million square feet, and the automakers really came through with a lot of vehicles and exhibits to bring the festival to life. BJ says the goal of the Expo is really just to promote EV adoption by raising awareness. He says a lot of the people are really coming out to the Expo to try stuff before they buy stuff. These are people who are probably midway through the purchase funnel, and by the time they leave after trying out all the EVs, they will have a good idea of which ones they want to buy. He added that attendances at the Expo keep growing and numbers have gone up to 40,000 visitors per event. Most of the people attending the Expo say they have never been in an electric car before, and the Expo experience is actually the first time most of them get behind the wheel of an electric car, truck, or bike. BJ says about 90% of the people say that they are first-timers in terms of experiencing an EV.

I really like these kinds of events, as they are one of he best ways to raise awareness and promote adoption.

Images courtesy of Electrify Expo

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Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai

Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since.

Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has 778 posts and counting. See all posts by Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai