Events plug electric cars; free test drives offered – SFGate

Posted: Saturday, May 17, 2014

You see them everywhere these days – cars that glide silently by and never stop to fill up for gas. Electric cars – one of those things that a friend of a friend owns.

But regional transportation officials are hoping to spark a surge in the popularity of plug-in electrics in the Bay Area by putting drivers behind the wheel of the clean, green cars at a series of events around the region.

The first of 20 events at which licensed drivers can take a spin in an electric car will take place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at San Francisco’s Marina Green Triangle, across from the Safeway on Marina Boulevard near Buchanan Street.

Cars from BMW, Nissan, General Motors, Ford, Tesla, Fiat and other manufacturers will be showcased, though sponsors of the Experience Electric tour aren’t promising which vehicles will be available at each event. They are, however, offering free tacos.

The idea of the events is to remove some of the mystique and misgivings surrounding electric vehicles, advocates said at a kickoff event at Luscious Garage in San Francisco’s SoMa on Tuesday night.

“Driving these cars used to be like eating your spinach,” said Richard Lowenthal, founder and chief technology officer of ChargePoint, a company that operates a network of charging stations. “It was considered a sacrifice to drive a car that was good for the environment and used a low-cost fuel. But it’s a sacrifice no longer. These are the better cars in the market.”

The new electric cars look like their traditional gasoline-powered counterparts and drive like them, except that they’re quieter – almost silent – and accelerate faster. Of course, as critics of electric vehicles point out, they also have a limited range before the batteries need recharging.

Electric-vehicle experts will be available at the events to answer questions about such things as the cost of an electric car, rebates and tax incentives, the distance the cars can travel before recharging, and how and where the cars are charged.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area’s transportation planning and financing agency, is sponsoring the electric vehicle events at a cost of $925,000. It’s working in conjunction with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and a consortium of electric vehicle organizations.

Randy Rentschler, a commission spokesman, said the idea of promoting electric vehicles came out of the controversial Plan Bay Area, which ties together land use and transportation planning in an effort to meet state greenhouse gas reduction goals. Part of the plan is to get more drivers who can’t or won’t walk, bike or take transit to switch to less-polluting cars.

“We didn’t want to just run a public relations campaign,” he said. “We wanted to do something different. We wanted to give people the chance to drive an electric vehicle, no strings attached.”

Rentschler acknowledged that electric vehicles aren’t for everyone, but said advances in the past few years have made the cars much more attractive to drivers.

“For a lot of people, it could be a car they’d use 350 days a year – just not when they’re driving to Lake Tahoe or Southern California,” he said.

Get plugged in

More information on the Experience Electric events is available at

Michael Cabanatuan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: Twitter: @ctuan


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