Electrify Expo Long Beach
A Festival Of And For Electric Vehicles
The future is electric. A visit to the Long Beach stop of Electrify Expo, the nation’s largest electric vehicle festival, proved it doesn’t have to be boring.
By Glenn Oyoung
Thu, Jun 8, 2023 01:31 PM PST
Images by author Glenn Oyoung if not noted otherwise.
A Short Transportation Electrification Primer
Before we get to all the cool electric vehicles I saw at Electrify Expo, let me risk having your eyes glaze over by providing you with some legislative and regulatory context on how we got here and why I don’t think we’re going back. For reasons which would take me more than one article to discuss, the electrification of transportation has become a highly political and divisive issue – similar to the overall issue of climate change as we’ve seen from decades and to what I anticipate has begun with the electrification of household appliances. Despite the contentious political climate, the policy groundwork has been laid for Transportation 3.0 – an electric (and likely, autonomous) future on our roads and freeways.
California Air Resources Board (CARB), the regulatory body that brought us catalytic converters, the check engine light, and Zero Emissions Vehicles (ZEVs) — and the bane of every internal combustion engine (ICE) tuner looking to build a hopped-up speed machine, emissions be damned — historically sets the tone for auto manufacturers when it comes to emissions.
From the 1950s on, CARB applied for hundreds of waivers from the EPA which essentially allowed California to regulate even stricter emissions than the federal government thereby setting the tone for autos nationwide to be cleaner and more fuel efficient. Over time automotive OEMs made the decision to make one car for the whole nation, rather than to tool up to comply with California and tool up for a car for the rest of the nation. The federal government, notably the EPA, has been more than happy to have California serve as the (electric) rabbit in the sustainability dog race.
With that as a lens, Governor Newsom’s Executive Order N-79-20 in 2021 requiring 100% of new car sales to be comprised of ZEVs by 2035 and CARB’s accompanying Advanced Clean Cars II regulations portends a not-so-distant future in which cars, light duty trucks, and motorcycles will be electrified. ZEVs can be plug-in hybrid [PHEV], battery electric [BEV], and hydrogen fuel cell.
At the federal level, the Inflation Reduction Act allocates billions of dollars towards building EV charging infrastructure. President Biden signed Executive Order 14037 in August 2021 directing the EPA and other regulatory agencies to target 50% of new car sales to be EVs by 2030. The European Union (EU) leads the US in EV adoption (17% vs. 5% market share), and requires that 100% of new car sales to be ZEVs by 2035.
Inspired (or pushed, depending on how you look at it) by these policies worldwide, and by a brief EV SPAC-craze in which companies like Lordstown Motors, Fisker, and EVgo garnered incredibly high valuations, legacy OEMs like Ford, GM, VW, Hyundai/Kia all publicly committed to an EV-centric future and have accordingly released more and more EVs to the market.
Some consumers are excited by this electrified future. Some bristle at the idea that they are being regulated into this future, and question how much costlier and cleaner this will be. Like any adoption curve, in between these two customer segments lies the 80% of the general population. These folks are generally just trying to fend off the permacrisis we’ve been in, focusing on coming out of the pandemic, battling inflation one Costco trip at a time, and generally not super engaged or very clear on what this electric future means to them other than they’ll deal with it when they have to — whether that is truly 2035 or 2055 or somewhere in between.
If You Build It…They Will Need to Be Educated
While the last three years have brought on a flurry of activity in the transportation electrification space – we’re still in the nascent days of mainstream adoption. Though there are more BEVs than ever before available, and Ford’s recent announcement of a strategic alliance with Tesla to open up Tesla’s industry-leading fast charging network portends consolidation in the confusing charging standard arena, the average American consumer still needs a whole lot of education around EVs and EV charging before they ditch the tried-and-true ICE machines in their driveway.
This is where Electrify Expo comes in. Billing itself as “North America's largest electric vehicle festival filled with over 1 million square feet of the world's top electric brands,” Electrify Expo aims to be the place where consumers can “experience and drive E-Bikes, E-Motorcycles, E-Scooters, E-Skateboards, & E-Watercraft” and “learn about everything electric.” That is a tall order, and this show delivers in six cities across the US – Long Beach, San Francisco, Washington D.C., New York, Seattle, Miami, and Austin.
When BJ Birtwell founded the show back in 2019, I remember thinking to myself what a bold move it was since the vehicle choices at that time were pretty slim. I wondered how he was going to build a whole show around Tesla, the Chevy Bolt, the Prius plug-in, and maybe some hybrids? Fast forward to 2023, and my questions have been answered. Today there are 40 BEVs available in the US, a red-hot e-bike market, and home charging stations have become much more affordable and ubiquitous.
An Electric Wonderland
Upon arriving at the Long Beach Convention Center, I was struck by how expansive Electrify Expo’s footprint was. My first stop was the Toyota booth, where I saw the new Prius in person. It wins in the most-improved in the looks department, and also shows the value of in-person auto shows. It looks even better in person than it does on the internet.
The new RZ at corporate sibling Lexus was a standout for me — much more attractive and upscale than the Toyota bZ4X with the plastic cladding (for the last time designers: that screams Pontiac Aztek, please use very sparingly or not at all). My wife Jen also came as my impromptu consumer research participant – and she liked the RZ too. We both decided we need a Rose Gold car in our stable at some point because #rosegoldgoals.
Other OEMs were on hand to show off their EVs — BEV and PHEV alike — including BMW, Volvo, and notably Tesla. The latter is interesting in that Tesla lately is pulling out all the stops in terms of consumer engagement — heavy discounts, the aforementioned charging station tie-up with Ford, and now participating in Electrify Expo.
I had the chance to test drive the Chrysler Pacifica PHEV as well as the VW ID.4 on the streets of Long Beach. I’d been an internet jockey for years on these vehicles, and getting the behind the wheel of each minutes after each other was pretty darn fantastic. Electrify Expo provides an opportunity for back-to-back comparison that you wouldn’t easily replicate on your own as a typical consumer.
If you plan your trip right, you could literally test drive a dozen EVs without driving across town to dealer after dealer and returning home to a flurry of CRM-triggered e-mails.
A new twist on the expo is Electrify Showoff, a show within a show. Showoff is the work of award-winning show car builder Neil Tjin, an accomplished car tuner and automotive influencer.
Electrify Showoff focuses on promoting the burgeoning EV car culture and showcasing customized electric rides like the recipient of the “Best EV Conversion Award,” Conductive Classic’s 1964 Ford “Galax-E.” The team made the trip to the LBC all the way from Idaho. Galax-E is a super clean show car replete with plexiglass window on the floor to provide a clear view of the Tesla Model 3 electric motor and drivetrain in the rear.
Yokohama is the presenting sponsor of the Showoff and their race rig was flanked by a bevy of modified Teslas on one side and racecars on the other including Travis Pastrana’s EV Nitrocross RX rally racecar and Unplugged Performance’s “Dark Helmet” Model S-Apex time attack racecar.
Speaking of tires, Bridgestone was also on hand to debut their first-ever EV-specific tire, the Turanza. Made of 50% recycled and renewable rubber, the Turanza has sustainability squarely in its crosshairs. It is engineered specifically with the heavier weight of EVs in mind provide more tread life and low rolling resistance for maximum MPGe.
If e-bikes are more your thing, Electrify Expo has a slew of brands for you to try on multiple courses including asphalt and even a mountain biking testing ground. I gave Aventura X's Vespa-like e-scooter a test ride, and a word of warning: these things have a bunch of torque. I made a mistake of accidentally hitting the accelerator and almost said goodbye to my arm! Lethal Weapon impression aside, I had a blast cruising around the convention center with the palm trees and lake full of pedal-boat swans in the distance.
I stopped by CAKE for a while to admire how far e-bikes and e-motorcycles have come. Their Bukk model was my favorite, aesthetically, with its clean futuristic design giving off minimalist Scandinavian vibes.
There is literally an e-bike for everyone, whether you’re trying to give off the café racer look, you’re into launching off dirt ramps, or you’re a kid. Ensuring the whole family was included, organizers provided a test course for kids to try bikes and one to try electric karts.
Infrastructure, Infrastructure, Infrastructure
If it isn’t leaping off the page, let me make this clear: the team at Electrify Expo has made quite possibly the most fun consumer experience for EV enthusiasts and EV curious consumers, at a time when the industry needs it.
That being said, it’s all fun and games until you run out of charge. Charging is key. What can I say, once an EV infrastructure guy, always an EV infrastructure guy. Range anxiety isn’t quite what it used to be now that any decent BEV should come with about 200-mile range, that being said home-based charging is key for most people to make the switch. The OEMs all had charging stations on display and product specialists were trained to help EV newbies understand the various charging standards and levels.
Public charging is also a key problem to solve for – for both folks like renters who don’t have access to home-based charging as well as folks going on long-distance trips. Some of the pain points of the current state of EV infrastructure in the U.S. are the varying reliability of charging networks as well as the location of public charging stations – often relegated to dimly lit industrial areas. Neither of these are conducive to consumers embracing electrification – particularly for women, families with young kids, or seniors – all key auto-buying segments.
I had a great conversation with the folks at Rove, who are creating dedicated EV charging areas with Level 3 charging that are replete with food, coffee, Wi-Fi and workstations. Luxurious AMEX Centurion Lounge meets sleek & fun WeWork meets strategically placed Pilot stops. They plan to roll-out 20 of these charging centers in Southern California in the next year including La Mirada, Long Beach, Costa Mesa, and Torrance.
Worth a Visit
Will there be some point where every auto show will only feature EVs? If regulations go as planned, then logically, yes — somewhere in the next decade. That being said, I haven’t seen one yet that has hit the balance of education, fun, and automotive enthusiast subculture that Electrify Expo has thus far.
If you’re thinking of EVs – or even if you’re not and you’re just curious what the hype is all about – I highly recommend a visit to Electrify Expo the next time they come by your town.
For more information check out Electrify Expo and Electrify Showoff.
Source information for in-article graph: International Energy Administration (IEA,) Electric car registrations and sales share in China, United States, Europe and other regions, 2016-2021, IEA, Paris, IEA. License: CC BY 4.0
About The Author
Glenn Oyoung is a marketer based in Los Angeles. Glenn’s lifelong passion for cars is rooted in playing with Hot Wheels, and has continued into 1:1 scale. He’s the former marketing director of American Racing, author of ‘vehicular alphabet books’ “C is for Car” and "P is for Petersen" in collaboration with the Petersen Automotive Museum. His passion for cars extends to his role as the founder of the monthly car meet Carcadia at Route 66, the most diverse car meet in the San Gabriel Valley.