Is Electrify Expo the Car Show of the New Millennium?

electric car charging with wind turbines
Electrify Expo: the Car Show of the New MillenniumViaframe - Getty Images
  • As traditional car shows decline and/or evolve, a new all-EV show called Electrify Expo has seen success targeting EV-specific buyers.

  • The show stops in seven cities across the country, starting with Long Beach, California, May 19-21 and ending in Austin at the Circuit of the Americas Nov. 10-12.

  • Legacy carmakers from BMW to Volvo are said to be signed up, though when contacted, not all had signed the paperwork yet. Other electric transportation entities from scooters to motorcycles to electric bicycles will be there.

The traditional car show may be dying or already dead, and the future could be less of an industry ritual and something more purely consumer-oriented. Early adopters may already be driving around in Nissan Leafs, Chevy Bolts and various Telsa products. But the vast majority of people by definition are not early adopters. Most people still pilot internal combustion-engined vehicles.

Those consumers could benefit from a way to experience EVs in a relaxed environment with no showroom pressure from sales professionals. Traditional auto shows are fast becoming more consumer experiences, with test drives available from a number of makes. For those seeking to learn about the coming transition to electric mobility there is Electrify Expo.

It's not just a car show.

close up of father with his daughter charging their electric car
Bring the whole family.Halfpoint Images - Getty Images

“It’s funny that you say ‘car show’ because we’ve tried to position ourselves as almost the antithesis to the car show,” said Electrify Expo’s founder BJ Birtwell. While a Super Bowl ad or a page in a magazine (remember those?) may hit a wide audience, a show like this is far more targeted.

“The way that we use our advertising revenues are really hyper-targeting people who have shown a digital footprint to be in market for something, whether it be a car, or motorcycle or whatever,” Birtwell explained. “So people are coming to the events specifically to try stuff before they buy stuff. These are not looky-loos, nothing behind the velvet rope. It’s a much different experience.”

Electrify Expo started out in 2021 with three events across the country that drew 40,000 people to learn about electric mobility. In 2022 there were five shows and 100,000 paying attendees. This year there will be seven shows with a forecasted attendance of 150,000 to 200,000.

Traditional big-time auto shows like Detroit, Frankfurt, and Tokyo have been transitioning from seminal industry events to more consumer-oriented affairs. Last November’s LA auto show, for instance, filled the spaces once held by different carmakers with lots of indoor and outdoor ride-and-drive circuits for Jeeps, Ram trucks, and myriad EVs. Subaru even had a dog-petting ranchito.

At the same time, the advance of the internet and more finely targeted campaigns to reach consumers have replaced the formerly million-visitor shows in getting customers to connect with carmakers.

Electrify Expo’s focus on EV-only exhibits is simply evidence of the increasing targeting of specific buyers, instead of the legacy advertising approach of mollycoddling the media then, on the public days, throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks.

“Electrify Expo gives us the ability to reach a highly qualified audience of people who are genuinely curious about electric vehicles and their benefits,” said a spokesman for Expo attendee Volvo, which announced earlier that all its 2023 models will be electrified. “At the same time, we’re able to learn about what these people want and expect out of electric vehicles, so that we can develop future products that deliver on our commitments to safety and sustainability.”

Electrify Expo has listed 13 major manufacturers of cars, trucks, and SUVs as participating in this year’s tour of shows, from BMW to Volkswagen, though when contacted, not all could verify they would be participating. But those are just the so-called legacy automakers—the Expo features every means of electric mobility short of an underground electric subway. Both Toyota and Lexus, perhaps a little late to the EV party, will be there.

"Electrify Expo gives us the opportunity to educate in-market consumers on our portfolio of electrified vehicle options in a family friendly and festival-like setting, and it has quickly become a vital part of the greater Lexus auto show schedule," said Vinay Shahani, VP, Lexus Marketing.

happy woman with disposable coffee cup charging car at station
Electric vehicle charging is covered at the Expo, too.Westend61 - Getty Images

In addition to the myriad scooter and electric motorcycle makers, there will be many, many electric bicycle makers. Last year’s shows had two electric surfboard makers, one skateboard manufacturer, and even ElectraMeccanica, the on-again off-again maker of that single-seater enclosed EV that started life 25 years ago as the Corbin Sparrow. So who knows what’s going to show up?

“We’re getting this cross-pollination of audiences,” Birtwell said. “People will come to our show looking for the latest electric bike, but then they’ll get distracted by a Kia EV6. And all of a sudden they’re demoing the EV6, and they have the kids in the back and the parents in the front and having a great time and now they’re reconsidering what they came to the festival for.”

And there are other distractions, too.

“All of our events are designed to be festivals,” Birtwell said. “Everything’s open-air, outside, full of music, good food, all these experiences—I mean, we’re a million square feet.”

With seven shows across the country, chances are there will be one near you. Here’s the list for 2023, including two new additions:

  1. Long Beach, California, at Long Beach Convention Center—May 19-21

  2. San Francisco at Alameda Point—June 24-25 *NEW location for 2023

  3. Washington DC at RFK Stadium—July 22–23 *NEW location for 2023

  4. New York City at Nassau Coliseum—Aug. 12-13

  5. Seattle at Marymoor Park—Sept. 9-10

  6. Miami at Miami Dade Fairgrounds—Oct. 14-15

  7. Austin, Texas, at Circuit of the Americas—Nov. 10-12

Are we at our electric future?

“We’re not at the tipping point yet, but we’re certainly getting close to it,” said Birtwell. “Everyone’s waking up to this idea that, ‘I’m going to be buying an electric vehicle, whether I like it or not, over the next five years. The car that I have right now I’m probably going to be trading in for an electric vehicle. So I need to get my hands around what it means to drive an electric vehicle, how it’s going to impact my lifestyle, and how to handle driving today.”

Are you ready to embrace your electric future? Let us know in the comments below.