Chevrolet Bolt EV being charged outside Go Forth electric-car showroom, Portland [photo: Forth]
One of the challenges in getting car shoppers to consider plug-in electric vehicles is the education required.
Tesla attacked this problem head on, opening its stores in malls and other sites where potential future buyers could dip their toes in and start to learn about electric cars without being pressured to sign on the line.
But at all other carmakers, the number of electric models is swamped by conventional gasoline cars, and salespeople often don’t have the necessary knowledge to explain them properly.
To address that problem head on, a handful of electric-car education centers has now opened in various North American and European cities.
The Northwest Electric Vehicle Showcase in downtown Portland opened in May of this year, with trained staff and multiple makes and types of plug-in electric vehicles on the floor to show the range of options available.
Program director Zach Henkin said that the store team has already learned or reinforced several key points during the store’s several weeks of operation.
Rendering of future electric-car showcase in Portland, Oregon, operated by Forth (nee Drive Oregon)
Electric utilities are your friends. Utility companies, Henkin said, have a vested interest in boosting electric-car ownership, and they make great partners for a physical showcase.
Forth partnered with Portland General Electric, which helped to arrange the lease of the storefront.
Utilities can also help with marketing and promotion, he suggested, through their regular contacts with their customers and via other industry partners.
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Test drives are absolutely key. An obvious draw of the showcase is a fleet of vehicles that members of the public can take on test drives.
There’s just no substitute for the experience of touching, feeling, and driving through local streets behind the wheel of a new electric car, Henkin said.
(In less polite company, the process is known as “getting butts in seats” to experience the cars viscerally rather than simply hearing dry presentations about their advantages.)
The Go Forth staff has already found that flexible options are key when it comes to getting members of the public to sign up for drives.
As well as walk-in appointments, Forth uses the online scheduling site SquareUp to let test drivers choose their most convenient drive time.
Drivers who want to rent a vehicle for a weekend or longer can do so through the Turo site.
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Charging is crucial to explain and experience. Charging methods, locations, and options for electric cars is a huge mystery to most potential EV owners.
While longer ranges of 200 miles do a lot to assuage range-anxiety fears, charging a car remains a new and unfamiliar experience for most people—and because the elapsed charging time is longer than filling up a gas car, people are wary.
To tackle this problem inside the showcase, Forth installed several different charging units for visitors to handle, including plugging them into cars on the floor. They can see and feel plug and handles, and learn that they’re easy to manipulate.