Driving (on) Clean Energy: Touring the Midwest in an EV

This is the first blog in a series about our Midwest electric vehicle adventure.

The Great American Road Trip has assumed many forms: desert voyages inspired by the writings of Edward Abbey, courageous Jim Crow-era journeys by Black drivers like Victor Hugo Green, expeditions along the Pan American highway... Today, as states gear up to respond to the climate crisis, the Great American Road Trip will change in a new way: future journeys won’t include stops at the gas station.

Families and friends will instead forge memories in electric vehicles (EVs). They will enjoy sing-alongs and roadside farm stops while lowering the pollution burdens of the communities they visit along the way.

We’re excited about the broad benefits that EVs can deliver. That’s why we’re concluding our yearlong climate and clean energy fellowships at NRDC with an EV road trip across the Midwest. Over the next 10 days, we will drive a Chevy Bolt through six key Midwestern cities—Detroit, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Chicago. We’ll make detours, pit stops, and visits along the way to explore exciting developments in transportation electrification in the region, a region with a rich automotive history and iconic road trip landscapes.

Large manufacturing plants and Henry Ford’s assembly line may come to mind when thinking about the US automotive industry. This legacy plays an important role in the EV story. Major US automakers are pledging to go big on clean cars, unveiling new models, and building better batteries every year.

As a result, the EV sector creates high-qualify jobs in everything from vehicle manufacturing to the installation of charging infrastructure. This trend will only continue as disruptive startups re-envision delivery vehicles, rideshares, batteries, and more. And, of course, EVs also advance the basic benefit of clean air, enjoyed by all.

Electric vehicles aren’t just booming in California. They’re also taking off across the Midwest. From EV clubs in Columbus to free rideshares in Cincinnati to electric buses on Chicago streets, our road trip will highlight some of these stories. It will also examine state, local, and utility initiatives that can advance electrification and make trips like ours even more achievable.

We also want to demonstrate that EVs are already capable of long-distance travel. A lack of public awareness about EVs is one of the biggest barriers to more widespread EV adoption. How better to get the word out than to hit the streets?

As the fuel of Great American Road Trip changes, so too will conceptions of who EV drivers are. Another roadblock to EV adoption is the still-too-powerful myth that EVs are made exclusively by and for an elite few. In fact, racially, culturally, and socioeconomically diverse stakeholders are essential to both EVs and EV policy—another point we’ll focus on.

We’ll write about what we find in a series of blogs describing our trip’s progress and exploring various topics relevant to clean transportation. You can look forward to hot takes on the state of EV policy and adoption in the Midwest, relevant jobs and manufacturing considerations, the need to electrify all types of transportation (not just light-duty passenger cars), and more. You can also keep an eye on our trip in real time and see how much fun EVs can be by following @electricroadtrip2019 on Instagram.

Other blogs related to our adventure include:

Driving (on) Clean Energy: Touring the Midwest in an EV

State of the States: EVs and EV Policy in the Midwest

Road Trip Report: How Ohioans Buy EVs (It Should Be Easier)

Avoiding Range Anxiety with an EV Road Trip Checklist

Road Trip Report: Midwest Cities Move Multimodal

Midwest Electric Vehicles in 5 Maps

About the Authors

Ada Statler

Schneider Fellow, Eastern Region, Climate & Clean Energy program

Madhur Boloor

Schneider Fellow, Analysis Team, Climate & Clean Energy Program

Patricia Valderrama

Director, Nevada Policy, Climate & Clean Energy Program

Samuel Garcia

Schneider Fellow, Midwest Region, Climate & Clean Energy program

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