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MEET: Mobile EV Experience

Plug‘n Drive first set up its MEET trailer in the Ottawa region, during October 2020. Photo: Plug‘n Drive

Plug‘n Drive’s MEET initiative is designed to bring the world of EVs to consumers across Canada.

Plug‘n Drive, a North York, Ontario based non-profit organization that’s committed to spreading awareness regarding electric vehicles with the aim of maximizing their economic and environmental benefits—recently launched its Mobile Electric Vehicle Education Trailer (MEET)—a portable EV Discovery Centre that’s designed to be transported from one location to the next.

MEET is the result of a Government of Canada plan to spread awareness about electric vehicles among consumers. Federal Minister of Natural Resources, Seamus O’Reagan announced a $100,000 grant to fund the program, which was awarded to Plug ‘n Drive.

According Plug ‘n Drive President & CEO Cara Clairman, the concept came about after looking at cost effective ways to spread awareness regarding EVs in different markets across Canada.

She notes that due to Canada’s population base, the concept of a true bricks and mortar facility like Plug ‘n Drive’s headquarters in North York, Ont. (a Toronto suburb) doesn’t always make sense, especially in smaller communities.

Complimentary program

“You really need a large city to support something like our facility in North York,” says Clairman, who notes that initially, Plug‘n Drive decided to complement the science centre/EV showroom aspect by creating a roadshow and taking vehicles across the country, stopping in one location for a few days at a time.

“This was great,” she says, “but we realized that for some towns and cities, one or two days wasn’t really enough.” As a result, Plug‘n Drive decided to develop a hybrid model, that was a combination of a roadshow/test drive experience and also a mobile science centre, effectively creating a smaller and more portable version of the North York facility—MEET.

As initially envisioned, MEET was designed to incorporate not only EV test drives, but also interactive, on-site learning displays and provide attendees with a chance to chat one-on-one with EV ambassadors. The plan was to keep the MEET trailer in one location for several weeks to ensure maximum exposure, before moving it on to another location.

Yet, just as the program was ready for rollout, COVID-19 became a reality. As Clairman notes however, because MEET had been designed from the outside as an outdoor experience, only minor adjustments to the original program were required.

Online appointments

Currently, interested participants have to register for an appointment on the Plug‘n Drive website (plugndrive.ca/meet/) in order to attend and while it is an outdoor event, they are also required to wear masks at all times while taking part in the experience.

“If we do have people that simply wander up during our MEET events, we ask them to schedule an online appointment,” says Clairman.

Due to COVID-19, appointments are pre-booked online and mask wearing is mandatory. Photo: Plug‘n Drive

With the Canadian winter starting to strengthen its icy grip on the country, Clairman says that, as an outdoor program, this can present some challenges. MEET first opened in Ottawa at the end of October in 2020 and as of this writing, appointments were still available for November 27 through 29.

For 2021, the schedule hasn’t yet been formally announced, though Clairman did say that it is likely to begin on the West Coast during February—the milder temperatures allowing the ability to facilitate outdoor exhibits early in the year.

Greater awareness

Autosphere also asked Clairman that despite the challenges Canadians have faced as a result of COVID-19 and the closing of businesses to regular traffic—including the Plug‘n Drive centre in North York, which is currently on an appointment only basis—how awareness around EVs has been evolving.

“It’s been interesting,” she says. “From what we’ve seen, demand worldwide for EVs appears to have rebounded faster than for gasoline vehicles. During the pandemic, we’ve seen the air quality improve a lot because people weren’t driving as much and those that were in a financial pinch are looking more closely at the cost savings they can get from an EV.”

Clairman notes that with more infrastructure being built and the range of EVs improving, plus the fact that people are working from home more and driving less, the appeal of EVs appears to be growing.

“We have actually seen more cities reach out to us about the MEET program,” she says, which is most certainly encouraging.

Affordability

Yet some barriers do remain. Range anxiety (although declining) is still a factor for many consumers and so is the perceived purchase costs of an EV.

According to Clairman, myths such as these often come down to a lack of awareness, particularly related to purchasing costs of EVs.

“Because EVs as a technology are seen as relatively new, many consumers don’t realize that there is a very good supply of affordable EVs on the used market,” says Clairman. “I think this is a good option for many people and something that’s important to remember.”

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