Silicon Vally NDEW event sets world record – will EV Events like this last beyond past the early adopter phase for electric vehicles?

From the viewpoint Silicon Valley’s award-winning National Drive Electric Week celebration yesterday, electric cars are becoming mainstream.  Our region is enjoying the highest rate of electric car sales in the country, and for our 2014 NDEW event we had the intention to have the largest assemblage of electric vehicles anywhere.  While we achieved that goal, what sank in for me is the rate of change in electric vehicle adoption.

The official count we had 507 electric vehicles in our EV Parade, officially certified by the Guinness Book of World Records staff.  As a participant, looking over the sea of electric cars you see in that picture, I thought surely we’d had 700 or so cars in the parade.  The Guinness representative did say he had to rule out various classes of vehicles – the plug-in hybrids, or the electric bicycles, didn’t count because they aren’t powered solely by electricity.  Likewise, they only counted the vehicles that made the full distance of the parade (about 2 miles).

The previous record, Stuttgart Germany, was 481 vehicles, set in May 2014, and the previous record was closer to 400 vehicles, set somewhere in Canada in April 2014.  Silicon Valley is throwing down the challenge to any other group around the world who thinks they can beat our record.  Go for it!

What’s important isn’t that one group or another currently holds the record.  Instead the importance is that this is a sign of the growth of electric vehicle adoption.

The field broke open in late 2010 – a mere 3 1/2 years ago – when Nissan and GM showed bravery in launching sales of the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt.  What’s happened since is an ever-increasing variety of manufactured EV’s from an ever-lengthening list of manufacturers.

What had been a conversion-car-only event – the Silicon Valley event was in its 42nd year.  Let that sink in.  The age of modern electric vehicles is 3 1/2 years old, but the Silicon Valley EAA has held this rally every year for the last 42 years.  My Karmann Ghia, the spot of red in the picture above, is one of the conversion cars built before the mass market EV’s started to be sold.  Before 2010 the Silicon Valley EV rally was, therefore, predominantly conversion cars.

As I’m having to increasingly explain – before Nissan/GM/Tesla/etc started complying with our wishes for electric cars, many of us were so desperate to drive electric that we built our own.  But, since 2010 the attendance of conversion cars at the EV Rally has fallen precipitously while the manufactured EV’s have simply taken over.

Upon arriving at the Rally it was difficult taking it all in.  First was the entrance to the rally, with cars backed up on Stevens Crk Blvd for a few blocks just trying to get onto the De Anza Univ campus.  Then, seeing the size of the space we’d rented from the University, triple the area we’d rented for the 2013 EV Rally.  And, the 2013 Rally seemed like such an enormous jump over the 2012 Rally, which seemed like a huge jump over the 2011 Rally, and so on.  Are you seeing the pattern?  That the size of the Rally has grown hugely since 2010?

Parking in the lot, and seeing the sea of cars, was mind boggling.

It wasn’t that long ago that the people who went on to launch Plugin America were picketing GM, Toyota and Honda operations in Southern California over plans to take back and crush all the electric cars.  That was less than 10 years ago – and are viewable in the movie Who Killed The Electric Car.

Aside from the size .. and the Guinness Book of Records thing …

 

 

This is Stella, a solar powered electric family car built by a student team from a university in the Netherlands.  It’s really built for the solar races, like that one in Australia.  Unlike the typical solar race car, this one actually has some utility because it can carry four people and some cargo.  On the other hand it sits very low to the ground and I don’t think it would be very comfortable.

Cool

Did I say there were lots of cars?  Yes, indeed there were.  Of all kinds, including multiple instances of some very rare electric cars.

In the picture above you see two TH!NK’s – a blue one next to a red Fiat 500e, and a red one squeezed between a Fiat 500e and two read Leaf’s.  TH!NK is a Norweigian electric car company that’s gone out of business many times and been rescued from bankruptcy each time.  They have a lot of cool ideas, such as extensive use of recyclable materials.  A couple years ago they’d planned to set up a large factory in Indiana, and go into large scale production, but the company went bankrupt, again.  The stock of cars were on sale for a ridiculously low price, and a bunch of them were bought up by local EV aficionados.  I’m kicking myself for not getting one.

Because Silicon Valley has so many EV’s on the road, every make/model is present in our local fleet.

That includes cars that aren’t even on the market yet – like this Kia Soul EV.  The person who brought it works for Kia in product planning on the Soul EV.  It was one of the press vehicles, and we were only allowed to touch it and sit inside, not to drive it.  It’s cool to have seen it in person.

One closing thought is that regardless of getting a world record setting crowd, there were lot of local EV owners who didn’t participate.  During the parade I personally saw several Leaf’s driving separately from the parade.  Presumably there’s lots of EV owners who didn’t know about the rally, or didn’t care enough to participate.

Many of us at the rally agreed that there’s a lot of people in the area for whom their electric car is just a car.  They represent an incoming wave of EV owners who are more mainstream, and who we want to see as the second wave of adopters – the early followers.

The EV Rally is definitely an early adopter sort of event.

The other closing thought is that lots of areas around the U.S. have a long ways to go before reaching the phase of the early followers beginning to buy electric vehicles.  Event reports I’m seeing on Facebook show lots of much smaller events around the country.  I’m guessing those smaller events were primarily staffed by early adopters, and in those areas EV adoption hasn’t reached far enough that the early followers are buying in yet.

The last closing thought is – will these rally’s survive beyond the 2017-2020 time frame when we expect electric car manufacturing to ramp up tremendously?  Tesla keeps promising a half million electric car sales per year by 2020.  It’s likely the other car companies will do something similar?

At that sales rate, Tesla (and the other car makers) has to definitely reach way beyond the early adopters and start gaining real mass adoption.

But if the Rally remains an early adopter event will it fizzle out?  What will these rally’s do to survive into the era of real mass adoption?

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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