The Making of an EV Advocate: Page 2 of 2

Design News has a long conversation with EV advocate Chelsea Sexton to learn how she became an electric vehicle champion, and where she sees the EV market going.
The GM EV1 (1996-1999) was the first electric vehicle from a mass-production automaker in the modern era. (Image source: General Motors)

Dark Times

“The mid-2000s were darker years—there were still some things going on, but it was mostly off the beaten path stuff,” said Sexton. “From a vehicular standpoint, there were a few little automakers, but the main thing in the mid- to late-2000s, before the new generation launched, was the years of Prius conversions into plug-in hybrids.” Prius owners could purchase aftermarket kits that would increase the battery capacity of their cars to allow more pure EV range. “I was still involved, but those were the years that were primarily advocacy. There was a lot of policy work driving the conversations,” she explained.

The next generation of EV started in 2011 with the introduction of the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf and with the 2012 launch of the Tesla Model S. “I was really happy for the Leaf and the Volt. At the same time, we were obviously, understandably, a little bit skeptical,” said Sexton. “What was frustrating was for years after 2011 (along with Tesla), it was just those same three automakers. There were no sincere entrants beyond those three companies for years,” she said.

New Generation

Today, a new generation of electric vehicles is beginning to arrive with much longer range (over 200 miles). Every major automaker has made it clear that electrification is in their mid- and long-term future plans. “Yes, there are companies, especially on the premium side, that are aiming at longer and longer range. And there are cars like the (Chevrolet) Bolt that are aiming at longer range while trying to remain reasonably affordable. There is still a legitimate, but often overlooked place for things like the new Nissan Leaf, with a 150-mile range but still trying to get the price down—not trying to be all things to all people,” Sexton said.

While Sexton can appreciate the engineering that is applied to the design and building of electric vehicles, she does not believe that it is only technology that will result in the acceptance of EVs. “We tend to get so obsessed with really granular things like battery cost parity, and assign all of future EV success to that one thing. It doesn’t matter what the costs of batteries are to some degree, because the success of electrification—and by extension, autonomy and a lot of other related technologies—is far more dependent on other things, like geographic distribution, emotionally compelling marketing, and stuff that is not necessarily within the wheelhouse of many engineers. But it matters very much to their careers and the success of their company,” Sexton explained to Design News.

Chelsea Sexton will provide the second-day keynote address at The Battery Show in Novi, Michigan on September 12 from 9:45-10:30 am. Her talk, “Driving Toward the Tipping Point in EV Adoption,” will explore her take on the three most important (and surprising) factors that the EV market needs to consider as it moves forward. It promises to be enlightening to both engineers and marketers whose success depends upon the public acceptance of the electrification of transportation.

Senior Editor Kevin Clemens has been writing about energy, automotive, and transportation topics for more than 30 years. He has masters degrees in Materials Engineering and Environmental Education and a doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in aerodynamics. He has set several world land speed records on electric motorcycles that he built in his workshop.

The Battery Show logoNorth America's Premier Battery Conference.
The Battery Show, Sept. 11-13, 2018, in Novi, MI, will feature a keynote speech from Chelsea Sexton, along with more than 100 other technical discussions covering topics ranging from new battery technologies to thermal management. Register for the event, hosted by Design News’ parent company UBM.


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