In February 2020, a team of 39 DriveElectricTN staffers and volunteers managed a large electric vehicle (EV) Ride & Drive at the Knox News Auto Show. This included 35 student volunteers from the University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK). Attendees had the chance to test drive five different EV models and eight different EVs over the three-day event held at the Knoxville Convention Center. The DriveElectricTN EV Experience™ at this year’s show was principally organized by Virginia Salazar Buda, Coordinator of the East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition’s DriveElectricTN program. The program is housed and supported by UTK’s Institute for a Secure & Sustainable Environment.

ETCleanFuels staff worked alongside student volunteers from the University of Tennessee Knoxville to spread the word about Ride n’ Drive opportunities and explain the benefits of EVs to Auto Show attendees.

“Even the most electric-skeptical folks I’ve met have changed their minds about electric cars when they actually get behind the wheel and drive one,” says Buda. “This program is geared towards folks who haven’t experienced the thrill of driving an EV before. Lots of people believe that EVs are underpowered go-karts; they’re not. Once they drive an EV, they’re surprised at how fast they are, and how much fun driving can be again.”

The EV Experience™ is a “Ride & Drive” initiative – one of over 20 EV-related projects that DriveElectricTN is spearheading – which connects event attendees with local EV owners and auto dealers who offer new and used EVs in their stock. Participants can ask questions of real-life EV owners, learn about charging options, explore the different types and models available, discover how much money they can save on fuel and maintenance costs, and then test drive one or more EVs to experience the fun of driving electric themselves. 

ETCleanFuels Co-Coordinator and EV owner Daniel Siksay poses with his first EV, a smart fortwo ED Cabrio.

“Our Knox News Auto Show event was our most successful event to date,” reflects Daniel Siksay, Co-Coordinator at ETCleanFuels and EV owner at the event. “Personally, I had the chance to engage with hundreds of people and offer dozens of test drives to folks. It felt great to share my passion with them and show Knoxville that EVs are viable options for them and their families.” 

Another essential aspect of the EV Experience™ initiative is asking participants to complete Pre- and Post-Drive surveys about their perspective on electric vehicles. The data collected shows just how significant an effect direct experiences with EVs have on individuals. The surveys yielded that on the question of “What is your perception of EVs?”, the ‘very positive’ option went from 51.2% in the pre-drive surveys to 90.4% in post surveys. Said another way, 40% or respondents moved from any of the lower four options (somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative, and very negative) to the ‘very positive’ choice. 

DriveElectricTN Coordinator Virginia Salazar Buda and ETCleanFuels Executive Director Jonathan Overly talk with Auto Show attendees about why EVs are the vehicles of the future.

Similarly, in response to the question “How likely are you to consider an EV as your next vehicle?”, answers of the ‘very positive’ option doubled – climbing from 30.4% to 59.0%.  Organizers and volunteers engaged with many more people explaining the environmental and financial benefits of driving EVs and answering wide-ranging questions from the curious public.

Through this and other projects addressing EV a) awareness, b) infrastructure, c) related policies & programs, and d) vehicle availability, DriveElectricTN hopes to spur Tennessee to reach 200,000 EV registrations by 2028 and establish Tennessee as an electric transportation leader in the southeastern US. 

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