Plug 'n Drive to open a centre for free public EV test drives

GM Canada will send the Chevrolet Bolt, pictured, and Volt electrified vehicles to the soon-to-open Electric Vehicle Discovery Centre in Toronto's north end. Photo credit: GM CANADA

Plug 'n Drive, a not-for-profit organization committed to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles will soon open the Electric Vehicle Discovery Centre (EVDC) in Toronto’s north end, at 1126 Finch Ave. West.

“Try to imagine Science-Centre-meets-car-showroom,” said Cara Clairman, Plug’n Drive’s founder and president.

Plug’n Drive is touting the EVDC as the first facility in the world to focus entirely on providing experiential learning about EVs and the EV movement.

Utilizing a one-stop-shop approach, visitors will be able to learn about relevant government programs (such as Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan), the environmental and economic cases for moving to electric-vehicle transportation, charging and other day-to-day logistics of owning and operating an EV.

Visitors will also be able to test drive EV models that are already on the market.

Automakers will be charged a fee for having their EVs on site and available for test drives, but there is no charge to visitors or for the referrals that dealers will receive from the centre.

Clairman says the number of test vehicles and participating automakers are still to be determined.

“The inside space can only hold so many, but we’ll take as many as we can get for outside.”

Clairman started Plug’n Drive seven years ago, after becoming aware of a gap in how consumers learned about EVs. She designed Plug’n Drive to fill that gap.

Plug’n Drive has held test drive and learning events in Ontario and in five other provinces.

Cara Clairman, Plug'n Drive founder and president, says the new test-drive and learning centre is about exposing people to EV technology and not selling them cars. Photo credit: MICHAEL GOETZ

SELLING A CONCEPT, NOT A CAR

“It is totally different than going to a dealer,” says Clairman.

“We’re not really trying to sell you a particular car. We’re really trying to sell you a concept. Why are these cars good for the environment? How can they save you money? What’s the value proposition of electrified transportation? Why are we moving in that direction ... all things that someone would ask before making the switch. Communicating the features and details of the car? That’s what the dealers are really great at.”

The 6,000-square-foot (600-square-metre) facility, previously a solarium showroom, will also become the Plug’n Drive head office.

The opening is planned for May.

Plug’n Drive is funded by corporate sponsors, including Ontario Power Generation and other stakeholders, but recently received some Ontario government funding.

CORPORATE SUPPORT

David Paterson, GM Canada’s vice-president of corporate and environmental affairs, says the automaker supports the Plug’n Drive initiative and will send both Chevrolet Bolt and Volt models to the centre.

“We love what she is doing [and] we’re excited about the plans to create a home where people can do test drives.”

He says that GM likes that the Ontario Government helps to sponsor the initiative.

Getting mass adoption of EVs will require collaboration on many fronts, said Paterson. Among the most pressing concerns at this early stage are awareness and education, and he thinks the new centre can play a big role in both areas.

“In fact, we’ve encouraged Cara to expand the Plug’n Drive capabilities to other provinces.”

You can reach Michael Goetz at mikegoetz@rogers.com

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