Minnesota EV Group Hosts Region's First Major Electric Car Expo

By · May 18, 2011

Minnesota has not been known as a hotbed of EV activity in the past, but things are starting to move forward here. A fairly new and fast growing public/private partnership, Drive Electric Minnesota, has over 20 organizational/business members including Xcel Energy, GE, and Best Buy, and we are getting more membership requests every month. When it comes to nationwide EV availability, the Midwest is considered to be a second-tier market, but even if we won’t be the first ones to get the vehicles, we are working hard to move things in the right direction to make Minnesota “EV ready.”

Minnesota EV Expo

On May 6 - 8, my company, PlugInConnect, organized an EV Experience event—not related to GE’s events that share the same name—as part of the 10th Annual Living Green Expo at the Minnesota State Fair Grounds. For the first time in Minnesota, everyone from key decision makers to the general public had an opportunity to see plug-in vehicles, charging infrastructure, and even a functioning solar charging system. The most exciting aspect was the chance to experience test rides in various EVs and plug-in hybrids. An invitation-only EV Experience Preview on Friday afternoon hosted by Drive Electric Minnesota kicked off the weekend, then the EV Experience continued on Saturday and Sunday for the general public.

Minnesota EV Expo

It turned out to be a very successful event. We gave about 1,200 EV test rides throughout the weekend. Chevrolet provided four Volts and we even had one Volt owner bring his own car for display on Saturday and Sunday. The City of Saint Paul gave rides in their Ford Transit Connect Electric, which is one of the first electric Transit Connects in everyday use in the nation. The City of Saint Paul is planning to purchase two more this year and other cities and counties are buying a half dozen more. These vehicle purchases are subsidized by Xcel Energy, which is one of the lead clients for Azure Dynamics. Tesla Roadster rides were also in high demand. I personally had fun piloting a Roadster on Sunday when the owner—who very generously gave over 300 rides to people with his own Roadster—took a lunch break. With a Roadster Sport, it was pretty easy to demonstrate to everyone taking a ride why EVs rule.

Minneapolis-based Rego Conversions brought also an impressive selection of plug-in hybrid conversions to show and test ride. They had several Prius Gen 2s and one Gen 3, a 2011 Toyota Highlander, a Ford Fusion and a Ford Escape. On two wheels, we had Zero Motorcycles’ Zero DS and Zero MX for display and many people were intrigued by both the mechanical simplicity of the bikes and the concept of a quiet ride, which makes it possible to enjoy off-road fun without bothering your lakeside neighbors. The Minnesota Electric Auto Association presented Chevrolet Corvette, S 10, Ford Focus and Geo Metro conversions and gave some test rides.

Minnesota EV Expo

The event also attracted a lot of media attention. The EV Experience area and its exhibitors were featured in about 30 segments throughout the weekend on local TV stations. One of the focal points of the area was the 4.2kW solar carport by Innovative Power Systems that provided renewable energy to power the rides. At Minnesota’s latitude, this size PV system can provide electricity for about 17,000 miles of emission-free driving per year. Charging infrastructure by Coulomb Technologies, ClipperCreek, and Eaton was used often and every time one of the vehicles stopped to charge during the driver’s break there were a lot of people interested in seeing how it all works. So far, there are six public Level 2 charging stations installed in the Minneapolis/St Paul metro area, and about 25 more will be installed this summer. Most of these will be installed by the City of Saint Paul, and a half dozen will be solar charging stations. GE also took part in the Friday Preview event, sharing more information about the EV Experience Center they are planning to build in Minnesota.

During the weekend, we also gave four presentations about EVs: Will your Next Car be Electric?; Getting Minnesota EV Ready; Converting Cars from Gas to Electric; and Charge Your Car with Solar and Save. Overall people were eager to learn more and we had great discussions. See more pictures from the event.

Minnesota EV Expo

I think this event was another important step in educating people and laying the groundwork for meeting Drive Electric Minnesota’s goal to get 15,000 electric vehicles deployed in Minnesota by 2015. I’m optimistic that things are starting to pick up speed here in the Midwest.

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