Electric Vehicle Consumer AdoptionTraining Mobility Ambassadors
April 13th, 2023
How we put nearly 12,000 people behind the wheel of an EV by 2020.
One of the ways that Smart Columbus plans to grow electric vehicle (EV) adoption 5X by 2020 is to provide opportunities for people test drive electric cars of all varieties in a low-pressure environment.
We have developed a Ride & Drive Roadshow strategy that put nearly 12,000 people behind the wheel of an EV by 2020.
Alex Slaymaker, Smart Columbus Ride & Drive program director, says that the events have an immediate effect on those who take part. “It’s common for me to receive emails after Ride & Drive events about associates going electric as a result of our events,” Slaymaker says. “Some even go out and buy the car they test drove the next day!”
Below is a list of some of the best practices our team has identified by implementing the Ride & Drive program that can help your organization influence people most likely to purchase an EV.
1. The majority of our Ride & Drive events are at local employers.
We decided to focus on bringing Ride & Drives to large employers in the Columbus region based on the hypothesis that a high concentration of early adopters work at these companies. Since 2017, we’ve held 75 percent of our R&Ds at workplaces as compared to events open to the general public.
Smart Columbus hired Civitas Marketing, a marketing firm known for creating meaningful experiences with its events, to produce and manage our Ride & Drive events. Lauren Eckles, Group Account Director for Civitas, has staffed and led more than 70 Ride & Drive events for Smart Columbus. She says it is important for every Ride & Drive to be tailored to each company culture because it ensures that it is more than just a fun time with coworkers. Yes, people have fun, but they also learn how EVs can fit into their lifestyles.
“Corporate environments are a pretty intimate setting. So, people feel very comfortable there. They're very excited. They have their friends with them and it becomes a really friendly, inviting experience for everyone,” Eckles says.
Many employers hosting a Ride & Drive are part of our Acceleration Partners program, through which, we encourage large organizations to engage and activate employees on initiatives that promote EV and smart mobility adoption. The leadership at each company select a Mobility Ambassador to work directly with the Smart Columbus team to put programs in place, tailored to their corporate culture.
When planning a Ride & Drive, Mobility Ambassadors receive a digital toolkit including templates for letters from leadership, flyers, newsletter content and videos for breakroom TVs, making the promotion of the event plug-and-play. Mobility Ambassadors are most effective when they leverage a cross-departmental internal team for launching Smart Columbus aligned efforts, including planning and hosting their R&D. Smart Columbus and Civitas visit the employer worksite weeks before the event to plan out routes and strategize asset placement. Planning is frequently held in conjunction with representatives from facilities, HR, internal communications and other departments.
“It’s important to give our Acceleration Partners ownership and excitement over what they're doing and what they're bringing to their campuses,” Eckles says. “We want their Ride & Drives to be a personal experience, so that their teams can buy into the Ride & Drive as an event and then the Smart Columbus initiative as a whole.”
So, when Ride & Drives are scheduled, events are promoted by both leadership and mobility ambassadors to employees based on their workplace culture. Since many people spend just as much time with their coworkers as they do their families, we find that they are comfortable riding with others and asking questions.
2. Ride & Drive staff become experts about Smart Columbus and EVs.
Product specialists are hired by Civitas to be in the right seat during drives and answer questions about EVs during test drives. Eckles says that all of the staff hired received weeks of in-depth training on EVs and Smart Columbus, with periodic trainings and formal feedback sessions during Ride & Drive season.
“In addition to training on Smart Columbus, we bring in our OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to actually talk to our staff and educate them on specific vehicles,” Eckles says. “We want them to learn from experts. We want them to be highly engaged and have a direct line to someone who could answer questions.”
3. Drivers are educated through every step of the Ride & Drive process.
When drivers receive the email confirming their drive time, the EV education begins. They receive links to get more information on EVs, charging and Smart Columbus. When they arrive at the Ride & Drive, they attend a short pre-drive education discussion where they learn about EVs, charging and Smart Columbus.
“Having that friendly face at every touch point, in the pre-drive education is high energy, because our education leads talk to a group of 20 or 30 people at one time. The education leads are cracking jokes and finding that commonality between each big group,” Eckles says. “Next, drivers are brought to the car where their product specialists are there to greet them and take them on the road to show off all the cool features of the EVs.”
After their test drive, drivers are greeted by volunteers, often other coworkers who signed up to assist for the day.
“The post-drive survey is typically where we use volunteers, and these are usually the most social people on the corporate campuses. The drivers end their experience with someone they know,” Eckles says.
Survey data is used to better understand attitudes toward EVs and how the test drive experience changes perceptions about driving electric.
“Our volunteers are super excited to say, ‘how was your drive? Tell me what you've learned.’ And drivers get to take everything they learned in the last half hour and tell volunteers about it while they're taking their survey.”
4. We offer a variety of vehicles to fit drivers’ lifestyle and budget.
We bring a fleet of 10 to 15 EVs to each Ride & Drive, depending on the size of the campus and interest expressed prior to the event. Eckles says it's important to have a variety of vehicles, whether it's price point, features, style, battery electric or plugin hybrids because everybody is looking for something different.
“Someone might have never been in an EV and wants to go all in and drive a full electric car. We also see a lot of people who are excited about driving a specific model because they want to buy it,” Eckles says. “There are other people who are looking to test out a lot of different cars—maybe one for fun, and one that's more practical. It gives them just a holistic view of what EVs could potentially be for them.”
5. We encourage multiple drives and coworkers can ride along, too.
Now here’s where focusing our Ride & Drive efforts on large employers can make the most impact. Many drivers invite their coworkers to ride along with them when they schedule their drives. If there is more than one driver in a vehicle, drives are directed so drivers can safely switch seats with other riders during the route.
“It becomes a really incredible experience for everybody because they get to chat about the car and experience together in real time. They can be both a rider and a driver and it feels very practical for someone's everyday life, especially if they're in the cars with their friends,” Eckles says.
When we launched our multi-driver approach, our drive capacity increased from about 117 drives per event to 351 per event. We also began to see workplace events where hundreds of drives were happening in a day. In 2018, ten of our events completed more than 180 drives in one day—the most drives in one day was 276. Events are 9am-4pm with a one-hour lunch break.
We also encourage drivers to pick more than one car to test drive at an event. When drivers receive confirmation emails, they are prompted to schedule additional drives. Also, at the Ride & Drive event, people often become interested in more cars after their first test drive.
“Instead of exposing 100 people to EVs in a given day, we're able to double that number or more, which is incredible,” Eckles says.
Also see the 2019 Practitioner's Guide to Ride & Drives to get more insight on how to plan your own events. Read the Ride & Drive Roadshow Final Report to get more insight on the program's impact.
Sign up here to stay up-to-date on the latest from Smart Columbus.