Future of Travel

How an EV-themed festival is trying to convince America to ditch gas guzzlers

“We saw an opportunity…to build a festival-like show for all things electric to help drive adoption,” Electrify Expo’s founder told Tech Brew.
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Electrify Expo

4 min read

BJ Birtwell says he used to identify as an EV skeptic.

Now he runs Electrify Expo, which bills itself as “North America’s largest electric vehicle festival.”

What happened in between? To start, the self-described “car guy” got behind the wheel of a plug-in model—and now he’s a full-blown enthusiast.

“A lot of car guys are skeptics. We have this notion that because you can’t hear it and maybe smell it, it’s going to lack a soul,” Birtwell, Electrify Expo’s CEO and founder, told Tech Brew. “If I couldn’t hear the rumble of the V8… forget about it; you’re never getting me behind the wheel of that car. I had made up my mind about electric cars before I had even driven one…Once I drove one, I had my light-bulb moment. And I was pretty much all-in on electric after that.”

Now, Electrify Expo’s mission is to inspire a similar journey for others. And just like Birtwell’s a-ha moment, the idea is to get people in an EV and let the experience speak for itself.

Birtwell, leveraging his background in live event production, started Electrify Expo in September 2021. It’s grown to an eight-stop US tour; so far this year, it’s hit Orlando, Phoenix, and Long Beach. Next up? Denver, followed by San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and Austin.

“We saw an opportunity in the space to build a festival-like show for all things electric to help drive EV adoption,” Birtwell said. “The best way to do that was through experiences.”

And by experiences, he doesn’t mean what’s traditionally found at auto shows—namely, cars on carpets in convention centers.

Electrify Expo aims to up the voltage via interactive experiences like test drives and vehicle demos that are typically spread across about a million square feet outdoors during weekend events. There’s food, live music, kid-friendly attractions like electric go-karts, custom vehicle exhibits, and opportunities to try out all things electric—not just cars, but scooters, motorcycles, bikes, and more (there are even electric surfboards). Birtwell likened the vibes to “almost like SXSW meets CES.”

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The events appear to be an attractive proposition for the companies that make electric products; automakers like Rivian, Hyundai, Kia, Fisker, and Ford have shown up with display and demo opportunities. At the Long Beach festival, for example, Rivian brought its newly unveiled R3X, and Ford showed off its F-150 Lightning’s bidirectional charging capabilities by powering its display area with the truck’s battery. In a press release ahead of the festival in Long Beach, Kia America’s COO, Steven Center, called Electrify Expo “the best place to learn about the benefits of hybrid and electric vehicles.”

Amazon, too, has gotten in on the action, sponsoring a “recharge zone” that serves as a Q&A hub.

It’s these experiences that Birtwell hopes will spur “light-bulb moments” for people thinking about switching to battery power. One of the motivations behind the event was to help address the consumer confusion around aspects of electrification like charging and battery range that he observed as EV sales started to soar a few years ago.

The market is now going through some speed bumps as US consumers remain wary of EVs because of concerns about affordability and charging, among other reasons, but Birtwell is optimistic that adoption will accelerate as people get more familiar with plug-ins, infrastructure improves, and the technology advances.

He expects Electrify Expo to do about 250,000 demo rides this year and serve about that many attendees.

“We’re not here to tell people that they need to go electric,” he said. “What I really want to do is just provide a million square feet of experiences for people to come and…check out electric and see if it’s for them.”

Keep up with the innovative tech transforming business

Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.