He's new to the job, so long-time electric vehicle drivers might be willing to give Joel Levin some slack. Why might they have to consider such a thing? Well, the new executive director of Plug In America doesn't own an electric car.
It's understandable. To get to his previous job, Levin used a bicycle and public transportation. Now that he's with PIA, though, he's currently conducting an experiment - going to different dealerships for test drives - and hopes to buy one soon. In his visits, he told AutoblogGreen, he's discovered that not every company with an EV in its lineup treats the customer the same way.
"Even if you don't care about the environment, the case for EVs is pretty compelling." – Joel Levin
"I don't want to name names, but by and large, there are two different poles," he said. "You can walk into the dealership and start talking to a salesman who knows a lot about the vehicles and the rebates and the charging infrastructure or, on the other hand, you can go into a dealership and maybe they don't even have an EV in stock or the salesmen don't have the energy to sell you an EV." In other words, PIA's new director is quickly learning what many EV drivers already know: it's a jungle out there.
Levin said that he's hearing all about the realities of buying and living with a plug-in vehicle from the PIA membership. "Our organization, we are the drivers," he said. "We have 17,000 supporters. The people in the organization are some of the most knowledgeable about the vehicles. We want to reach out and expand our network, but we already have our super users."
Some of that outreach will come in a few weeks, when PIA helps organize the National Drive Electric Week (which is actually international at this point). While PIA has been, for a long time, more focused on potential buyers and drivers than getting salespeople excited to push more EVs, Levin said PIA does get dealerships involved with potential customers through an event called Plug In At Work. This is where PIA goes to a big employer and offers its employees test drives of new EVs during their lunch hour. It's mostly dealerships that bring the cars to the workplaces, Levin said and, "When people drive them, there's a pretty high conversion rate."
Some people switch to electric drive for environmental reasons, Levin said, and some do so because EVs are great vehicles. Some like the lower maintenance in an EV. "Even if you don't care about the environment, the case for EVs is pretty compelling," Levin said. "They're not expensive any more, plus you don't have to go to the gas station ever again, unless you have a plug-in hybrid. They're powerful vehicles.
"The great thing about EVs is that they essentially get cleaner over time. With the Clean Power Plan, the grid becomes cleaner and has lower carbon emissions. That's been happening in California and now it's going to happen nationally. So, even if you drive the same number of miles, your carbon footprint goes down."
Levin previously worked at Climate Action Reserve and co-started Feeva Wireless. He said that the environmental argument is just one that he hears from his members. In his new job, he's constantly listening, and wants to make sure that the voice of the drivers and the voice of the consumers is heard as Plug In America goes about attracting new EV drivers, he said. The big questions, he said, are "How do we reach new people? How do we make vehicles that work for them, a charging infrastructure that works for them?"
In some ways, PIA doesn't have to work as hard as it used to. There are more and more EVs available on dealer lots, especially in California. "It is an exciting moment," Levin said. "I think things have really changed for electric vehicles. It's not just a small group of people any more. Over 300,000 EVs have been sold in the US. It feels like this is a key moment for EVs and Plug in America is really in a critical place to make all this happen. What's really exciting about EVs is that so many people are supporting them. It's become like mom and apple pie."