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How to be an EV Evangelist

Fri, 20 Jan 2012 00:00:00 -0800

It was called a webinar but it seemed more like EV evangelism to us. Electric car advocacy group Plug In America spent an hour this week on the Internet telling 91 true believers how to spread the message of the kilowatt to those who still believed internal combustion was the only way to go.

“People need to be convinced that they will like a plug-in vehicles,” said Plug In America board member Chad Schwitters online. “We early adapters need to convince them.”

Though he never used the evangelism analogy (that was us), the parallels were obvious. There were even (again, our interpretation) Phillistines mentioned. Schwitters said those already driving electric cars and plug-in hybrids would run into a fair number of non-believers and outright critics who would spout claims based on things they'd heard or assumed instead of on facts.

“You will run into a few unpleasant people,” Schwitters told the faithful. “Particularly online.”

Hey, we know about those guys.

Schwitters divided up the naysayers into groups.

The “free market advocates” decry the government subsidies EV buyers receive in these early adoption years. Schwitter said to point out to them the much larger subsidies, with no end to them in sight, that the oil industry gets. Some EV subsidies, for two and three-wheeled EVs and for some charging docks, have already expired, he said. Oil and many other government subsidies go on forever.

Then there are the “lovers of internal combustion".”

“Take them for a ride,” Schwitters said, to show them how car-like an EV or plug-in hybrid is.

The “anti-environmentalists” believe the government will force people to make enormous sacrifices, they will state that electric cars are coal-powered and, perhaps worst of all, “They will call you a greenie.” Ouch. You can respond by pointing out that no one is being forced to choose an electric car. As for coal, the “longer tailpipe” argument that claims generating stations are as dirty or dirtier than gasoline cars, Schwitter says to point out that electricity generation is getting cleaner all the time. Some areas of the country don't use coal at all. (On the EPA's website there's a link where you can look up the percentage of power in your area generated by different means. Southern California Edison lists no coal-fired sources, for instance.)

“Pragmatists want a proven, cheap, reliable transportation device,” Schwitters said. “They question the cost of EVs and plug-in hybrids and they say they're going to wait for the next generation of plug in cars to decide.”

For them you can point out the cost of a Mitsubishi i, Schwitters suggested, which, after tax incentives, can cost less than $20,000. And those waiting to buy are also gambling on the future price of gas, which may be more likely to go up than down.

The “mainstreamers” don't want to make any sacrifices at all, don't post online and tend to ask questions rather than assert facts. For them you can explain the low-cost of some EVs, the savings you realize over buying gasoline, and, as with almost any person you encounter, pro- or anti-EV, “take them for a ride.”

Tom Saxton, another Plug In America board member, who has five years experience answering such questions, was also part of the webinar.

“The first question people always ask is ‘What's the range,' followed by ‘How long does it take to charge,” he said. “I usually tell them it charges overnight while you sleep, same as your cell phone. It's way more convenient than going to a gas station.”

As for range, Saxton says you can assume you'll be hard-pressed to get less than 70 percent of the EPA range for your car.

“(The range) is never less than 50 miles and rarely less than 60 or 70 miles,” Saxton said, referring to the Nissan Leaf. “It's possible to go 130 miles in a Leaf.”

For questions about operating in cold climates Saxton tells people even in cold temperatures in stop-and-go traffic it takes five or six hours to drain the battery.

As to safety, Saxton points out that modern electric cars have to meet the same government crash standards as any other car, but notes that so-called neighborhood electric vehicles like the GEM do not and it's important to point out the differences between EVs like theLeaf and neighborhood electric vehicles.

Cost-to-drive questions are tougher.

“It's hard to answer,” Saxton said. “The average U.S. rate for electricity is 11 cents per kWh. So that's the same as 121 mpg. Rates vary from a few cents per kWh to the 20-cent-per-kWh range. But even at 22 cents/kWh you're still getting 60 mpg. We expect gas prices are going to go up, so that makes EV prices even better.”

For those who want to know if an EV will work for them, Saxton suggests keeping a daily log of your driving.

“Write the odo reading down every day then do the math,” Saxton said. “If you're under 50 miles a day range, a Leaf is going to be a good thing for you.”

Saxton tells people that a multi-car household might want one EV and a single-car household might want plug-in hybrid.

Ultimately, Schwitters said, especially in online discussions, it's important to “Stay polite and helpful, even when they're not. You're providing answers for a much greater number of people. Show your enthusiasm. It does rub off.”

But most of all, “Give people rides if you can.”

The entire webinar will be available for replay on within a week. In the meantime, go forth and charge.

By Mark Vaughn