Home » Here’s What Happened When A Bunch Of Michiganders Went To Drive New Electric Cars

Here’s What Happened When A Bunch Of Michiganders Went To Drive New Electric Cars

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People aren’t logical. Neither is car buying. If you want to win people over, you need to appeal to their hearts and meet them halfway. That’s been the thought rattling around my head since attending June’s DTE EV Ride and Drive event.

The Southeast Michigan utility company DTE gave people the chance to schedule two 15-minute-ish test drives from a selection of eight electric vehicles. I learned of the event thanks to 3wiperB posting about it on The Autopian’s Discord channel for Detroit, and at the last minute, I scheduled my ride and looked forward to a morning of electrified fun.

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DTE Energy is Michigan’s biggest utility company, with 2.2 million customers. As the future of transportation appears to have a large electrified element, it’s probably best that power providers are ready to meet the needs of electric drivers.

What’s The Angle?

As for why DTE would want to host a test-drive event, a spokesperson said in a statement, “We want to accelerate our customer’s EV journey through programs and resources to help them understand the benefits of switching to an EV.”

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Photo: John Gustin

One of the “road signs” at the event more or less spelled out why the EV transition is a big win for utility companies. In an all-electric future, utilities would essentially replace oil companies as the primary supplier for our country’s locomotion go-potion. DTE argues that the power it provides is generated in the state, keeping the profits in the state and allowing more money to go toward local workers.

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It’s a compelling idea that I hadn’t thought about until then, and in theory, it could be good for state-level economies. Per Statista, gasoline sales at public stations added up to $654 billion. If even a fraction of that is replaced by EVs, that’s a lot of new revenue for utility companies, which is probably why they’re even paying people to buy EVs.

It’s An EV Buffet!

DTE works with manufacturers and dealerships to provide test vehicles for EV Ride & Drive events, and the test-drive vehicles were put into three groups: Truck, with a Ford F-150 Lightning and GMC Hummer EV available for seat time; Car, with a Tesla Model 3 and Kia EV6 ready for attendees; and SUV, which offered the largest variety of models with Chevrolet Blazer EV, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Tesla Model Y, and a Cadillac Lyric at the ready.

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Photo: John Gustin

The event I attended was held in the parking lot of the Liberty Center in Troy, Michigan. I had scheduled my test drive for 8 a.m. Saturday, June 8, and first up, a GMC Hummer EV. DTE had the area decked out with an auto-show-quality booth and a unique check-in system. In addition to them checking my ID and taking down some personal information, I had to blow into a yellow stick-shaped breatherilizer, while being careful not to touch it to my lips.

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Photo: John Gustin

Once past the front desk, it was like a Disneyland for car-loving adults. There were roped-off lines with signs for which line goes with what vehicle. Even better, if no one else was in line for their scheduled appointment, you could hop in and test drive more than just the two EVs you registered for.

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Photo: John Gustin

A DTE-contracted driver went over the basics for adjusting the mirrors and starting the vehicle. The route lasted about 12 minutes, covering a bit of stop-and-go city driving before briefly hopping on I-75 to get a feel for the acceleration, road noise, and driving dynamics at high speeds.

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These Drivers Rule

I have to say, the drivers for these events are the unsung heroes. They’re incredibly patient while dealing with people non-stop, and most of them are true car fans through and through. I’ve had event drivers range anywhere from former race car drivers to Stellantis engineers who moonlight behind the wheel for high-speed ride-along events, to longtime veterans of the auto show circuit, with stories that leave you bewildered and amazed.

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A DTE-contracted driver shows me how to adjust the steering vehicle on a Ford F-150 Lightning. Photo: Nick Hernandez

These Carrots Sound Pretty Good

The DTE reps had a job to do beyond showing us the test vehicles and dutifully informed us of the rebates DTE is currently offering for customers who buy an EV. The five main points cover their in-home charging installation program: a $500 Level 2 home charger rebate, a $1,500 purchased or leased EV rebate, special EV energy rate pricing plans, the Federal government’s $7,500 tax credit for vehicles, and up to $1,000 tax credit for chargers. In theory, if you stack DTE’s credit and the fed’s together, you could get up to $1,500 back after buying a charger, which should cover the purchase and installation costs for most people.

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Photo: John Gustin

I’ll share my novice opinions about it and the other vehicle’s driving dynamics in a future article, but it was impressive. A fancy white behemoth that weighs 9,000 pounds and moves quietly, without any straining or groaning, is kind of awe-inspiring and terrifying.

Meet The Test Drivers

I talked with a few people in line who were kind enough to share their thoughts on the event and the vehicles. Unsurprisingly, this was definitely an EV-friendly skewing crowd. All of them were at least interested in the technology, hence why they showed up at a random parking lot on a Saturday morning. And with the event being held in Troy, almost all had either worked in the auto industry or were related to someone who did. Attendees I spoke to in passing identified themselves as engineers for Bosch, Stellantis, a diesel engine firm, and one in the field of sewer maintenance.

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Autopian Nick Hernandez prepares to test drive a Model Y. Photo: John Gustin

Fabrice, Economics Professor At A Local University

Fabrice said he’s driven EVs for the past 10 years. He started with a Nissan Leaf and then got a Chevrolet Bolt and a Tesla Model 3.

  • He described himself as a climate activist, and that the EV transition, and pushing for improved local infrastructure, is important from a moral standpoint.
  • He believes cost is the biggest factor for mass adoption.
  • Fabrice also has some pretty strong thoughts about dealreship, and the lack of support with the transition to EVs, saying that “some sense needs to be knocked into them” by OEMs.
  • He had tried out DTE’s Chevrolet Blazer and found it less engaging than his Model 3.

Fred and Sue

Fred and Sue were an older couple in line for the Blazer. Their lease on a GMC Acadia was ending soon, so this event gave them their first chance to drive an EV. Fred was a little disappointed there wasn’t as much detailed information as he had hoped. “I thought they would be offering a lot of like information, for example, how electricity costs equate to the cost (of gas),” said Fred.What does it cost to drive an EV? What does it cost to charge the battery? What does it cost to replace a battery? What is the life of a battery? I’ve heard all kinds of horror stories but there’s none of that here, this is really just a chance to drive the EV.” I told Fred my back-of-the-napkin math came out to about 50% savings over gas, but that public charging could be expensive.

Tom K., Former Ford Employee 

Tom had signed up for the Cadillac Lyriq and Hummer EV test drives. He had previously done ride-alongs at auto shows, but this would be his first time driving an EV himself. His daily driver is a Cadillac CTS and he loves the design of it.

  • Tom believes EVs are “Getting there, yeah, real fast. I mean, it’s a way faster transition compared to the horse to (the Ford) Model A.”
  • He could see himself buying an EV in the near future.
  • Tom was curious to know what vehicle safety is going to look like in a decade, as most EVs are already plenty fast. “What are you going to tell a teenager, a 16-year-old? ‘Now don’t press the accelerator pedal too hard because you’re gonna snap your neck off’?”
  • Tom already owns one electric vehicle, his father’s 1972 John Deere Model 90 electric riding mower.

3wiperB

Three Wiper Bee is an Autopian from the Metro Detroit area. He used to own a first-gen Chevrolet Volt and now owns a BMW 330E.

  • He was partial to the Kia EV6, partially because it was the closest to a sedan/hatch of the options available, and he found it fun to drive.
  • He thinks a lot of manufacturers are leaning into aggressive styling to set their EVs apart from their ICE lineup, which might be a double-edged sword, potentially turning off consumers as much as it attracts them.
  • If he were to get a truck, he’d go with a PHEV so that it would still be practical to tow a camper.
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I don’t care what Kia says, the EV6 is a hatchback and the world is better for it. Photo: John Gustin

Jeremiah Tichy

Jeremiah’s an Autopian who attended Sunday’s session. He was kind enough to share his thoughts on The Autopian’s electri-city section of Discord.

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What brought you to the event?
We both wanted to drive some since I’ve only driven/rode in one (Taycan Turbo S) and my partner had zero experience. Also, (it was a) free event that we get to drive cars in, so automatically interested.

What do you drive?
I drive some hoopties, but my partner has a leased Escape that’s about to get turned in -1.5L of something going on under there- we brought the wagon out with us since the Mini has a cracked windshield that I don’t want to make worse before I can repair it

Are you thinking about getting an EV or an electrified vehicle in the near future?
I definitely am as soon as I have ideally a place to charge it; I would love to get a Leaf and put way too much work, money, and R&D into to make like 250hp and ~200 miles of range or a similar little thing with too much instant torque. maybe a heavily depreciated Lucid in like 15-20 years, or something similar

What did you think of the event overall?
I thought it was fantastic. It was very underpromoted for what it was, but it was done a lot of disservice with a lot of people signing up but never showing up for their drives. Had there been more advertising and more hub-bub about it, as well as more things to do while there, I think it would’ve gone a lot better and bigger overall. The one quiz that got you a DTE drawstring bag –woo- and being nosy around the two non-driving cars there -being the only other things to do while waiting for your next drive- was a dropped ball for sure. But really, this was a promotional tour I feel for DTE and the automakers there to just get people in the EVs and also for DTE to yap about the EV charger rebates and incentives.

What conclusions have you drawn from the event experience?
The practical items for these cars would much better be found out on a dealer lot where you can spend an hour sitting in all the cars, figuring out all the nuances, and learning what it’d be like to live with these cars. I’d give it a 7.4/10. not bad, we both enjoyed it, and the way to do test drives was back to back, switching driver and passenger each time. That way you aren’t waiting around all day for the second drive.

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My Take

I think I agree with Jeremiah for the most part. The event is mostly for DTE to promote its rebates, but going beyond that, it is likely the first and possibly the only time the general public will have a chance to try so many cars side-by-side, without being pressured to buy anything.

For those interested in EVs, test drives like this affirm that EVs can just be normal cars, just quieter and packing more torque. For those on the fence, driving one of these cars is fun! If it doesn’t win them over, it at least plants the seed that when EVs hit their price point and/or charging gets figured out, they can be viable daily drivers.

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And They Called Him Gearhead
And They Called Him Gearhead
1 month ago

I have to say, the drivers for these events are the unsung heroes. They’re incredibly patient while dealing with people non-stop, and most of them are true car fans through and through.”

You, sir… are a FRIGGIN scholar and a gentleman.

Hi, 13 year veteran driver for the automotive experiential space here.

I can confidently say that not once in my entire automotive review reading tenure have I ever read anything remotely acknowledging the contract staff (who often arrive before sunrise and leave after sunset) beyond just, “then the dude in the Chevy polo told me to go that way…”

As someone who has proudly worked as a professional driver, right-seater, SME and product specialist for over a dozen major OEs for more than a decade, those two sentences nearly made me tear up.

I’m just glad the drivers you engaged with were some of the real ones, clearly dedicated to their craft, that obviously left a good impression.

THANK YOU for taking two seconds to acknowledge a sector of workers who are almost always overlooked.

3WiperB
3WiperB
1 month ago

It was great to meet John and talk after. For me, I never turn down a chance to drive different cars for free. It was a great chance to drive a few cars back to back and I’m going again this weekend to another of their events to drive a few more. I’m signed up for the Mach E and the Equinox EV this time.

Santiago Iglesias
Santiago Iglesias
1 month ago

man, I live in Royal Oak and didn’t see anything about this. Definitely would have been cool to check out

3WiperB
3WiperB
1 month ago

There’s another this weekend at DTE’s headquarters in Detroit. Sign up here. https://dteevdrive.com/dteevrideanddrive22jnajq

I_drive_a_truck
I_drive_a_truck
1 month ago

I like this Fred fella. Clearly willing to learn and not drinking the Kool-Aid without asking a few questions.

50% savings over ICE, John? Show your math.

Balloondoggle
Balloondoggle
1 month ago

It would depend a lot on the individual situation. I can charge for free at work and a lot of the places I routinely travel to also have opportunities for free charging. When I do charge at home it’s $0.07/Kwh so I can easily claim a >90% savings over gas, but someone else who has to rely on DCFC might not see savings at all.

Cryptoenologist
Cryptoenologist
1 month ago

My current situation(ignoring my free charging at work) is my EV consumes ~28.6 kWh/100 miles, and my previous gas car consumed 3.33 gal/100 miles(30mpg). My off-peak electricity is .3 ¢/kWh, and gas averages $5/gal(almost always higher really). So a 100 mile trip in the EV costs $8.58 vs $16.65 for the gas car. I drive 50 miles round trip on my commute, so even if I pay for all of my charging I’m saving $20 a week on my commute alone. Since I mostly charge at work I’m actually saving double that.

Ben
Ben
1 month ago

DTE argues that the power it provides is generated in the state

Generated, maybe, but where is the fuel coming from? I’m pretty sure Michigan is not 100% renewable (or even close to it) and I bet the fossil fuels providing most of their electricity come from out of state.

And even if we do reach a 100% renewable power mix at some point in the future, are those solar panels and wind turbines being built in the state? I’d bet not.

I dunno, maybe it’s still better, but this feels like gas stations claiming to be good for the local economy because all of the gas is sold locally. It’s true, but it’s also super misleading.

Buzz
Buzz
1 month ago
Reply to  Ben

Michigan electricity generation:

Natural gas ~ 5,000,000 MWh
Nuclear ~ 2,300,000 MWh
Coal ~ 1,400,000 MWh
Non-hydro renewables ~ 1,100,000 MWh
Hydro ~ 80,000 MWh

Source: https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=MI#tabs-4

Agreed on all points. I have solar and I’m glad I’m producing my own electricity, but the panels were not domestically produced even if some installers were local. Sidenote, the company I used has filed for bankruptcy. Fun stuff.

PropWash
PropWash
1 month ago
Reply to  Buzz

I have 2 EVs now and I’m baby walking into home DIY solar. Used panels in my area can be had for about $.10 a watt. My small test system has already provided a “tank of gas” in the past 2 weeks. My solar ROI at this rate will be about 18 months if I cheat and calculate gas cost offset here in MI.

Harmanx
Harmanx
1 month ago

I wonder how many attendees changed their car purchasing choices from the test drive experiences.

Chronometric
Chronometric
1 month ago

I got thrown out when I asked if EVs come with Watts Linkages.

MarcK1973
MarcK1973
1 month ago

DTE? As in David Tracy Enterprises?

Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
1 month ago
Reply to  MarcK1973

DTE as in Don’t Trust Ever. The biggest supplier or electricity in Michigan, and the worst. Michigan has more and longer electrical outages on average than almost any other state. Power goes out around here for a strong wind, much less storms. They’re really good at sending out apology emails and holding “town hall” meetings, not so good at, y’know, keeping the power flowing. Oh, they’re also good at getting rate hikes. Maybe they should focus on keeping the power going before trying to drum up more business.

Superfluous
Superfluous
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Beckman

DTE forced me into moving my gas meter outside. They broke my furnace because the meter installers are not qualified to work with furnaces. Unsurprisingly, they refused to cover any part of the repair bill. They kind of suck. If anyone reading this has been told they need to move their meter outside, I’d suggest you continually reschedule and delay that appointment, eventually they will give up on that program. They’ve only done two houses on my street, and I don’t think anyone else on my block will be participating after my broken furnace ordeal, lol

Last edited 1 month ago by Superfluous
S13 Sedan
S13 Sedan
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Beckman

I’ve never experienced a multi-day power outage anywhere I lived until I moved to SE Michigan, I’ve had at least one multiple day long outage per year almost every year I’ve lived here.

I realize this sounds very “my dad works at Nintendo” but my dad works in the power industry, not for DTE but regularly talks with a lot of people who do work for them. The big improvements they keep running ads to brag about is actually just them doing the normal maintenance that they should have been doing the whole time but have been more or less completely ignoring for years now. According to him, the condition and tech of SE Michigan’s power grid is easily a decade behind the average grid on the east coast.

Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
1 month ago
Reply to  S13 Sedan

It’s why my last house and this one have whole-house natural gas generators. Having an outage in the dead of winter, which means no furnace (no electrics to fire it up) is not good.

S13 Sedan
S13 Sedan
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Beckman

Yep been there. It’s always fun going to bed with every blanket in the house on the bed while you’re dressed in pajama pants, t-shirt and hoodie, and thick camping socks.

My favorite DTE moments are making it through the night after the storm with power, then losing it in the morning when it’s beautiful outside and not having it come back on for another day and a half. Or also, having the power be off for a day, coming home to see it’s back so you run out to go grab something to eat, then come back home to find the power is out again for another almost full day.

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
1 month ago
Reply to  S13 Sedan

Hey now, that is PG&Es line!

they keep running ads to brag about is actually just them doing the normal maintenance that they should have been doing the whole time but have been more or less completely ignoring for years now:

Haranguatank
Haranguatank
1 month ago
Reply to  Knowonelse

Meanwhile, they’re spending all that sweet maintenance budget on sexy solar panels and wind turbines. Then they have the stones to blame climate change when they almost burn the whole state to the ground.

James Carson
James Carson
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Beckman

Sounds like Hydro One in Ontario. Crap service, eye wateringly high rates and a pure monopoly. What could go wrong. We had a 10 day outage year before last. The power goes down in our area at least a couple of times a year anywhere from a few hours to a day or more.
I have a 8.5kw generator which is enough to power the entire house. I keep 5-6 big gas cans filled just in case. I rotate the gas in the cans through the cars and tractor so I always have fresh gas on hand. We use Starlink (f elon) for Internet so we seldom lose it.

Last edited 1 month ago by James Carson
MY LEG!
MY LEG!
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Beckman

Sounds like the goons at Duke and FPL.

Duke Energy ran these real “america bald eagle baseball apple pie mom” ads about sending more linemen to Texas post-Harvey, while I was throwing extension lines to my generator to help out my neighbors because they were on week 3 of no juice after a hurricane (I was on city power, thank god).

Haranguatank
Haranguatank
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Beckman

Well just think of how much they’ll be able to hike your rates when everyone is relying on them for transportation too! What are you going to do? Buy electricity from someone else?

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
1 month ago
Reply to  MarcK1973

Distance To Empty EV

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
1 month ago
Reply to  MarcK1973

they’re rusting already?

JaredTheGeek
JaredTheGeek
1 month ago

People showing up are already BEV curious, but it may be enough to help them gain confidence in the technology. All it took for me was a test drive.

BagoBoiling
BagoBoiling
1 month ago
Reply to  JaredTheGeek

Same here. After renting two different BEVs I was sold.

Drew
Drew
1 month ago

This is a great way to show people some variety in the EV space and let them check some things out. I’d love to see more events like this!

I still think programs like Hyundai’s Evolve+ would do even better (rent an EV for a bit, decide it it’s going to work for you–it’s really limited and I’m not entirely sure they’re still offering it). Of course, those programs are few and far between, and probably not profitable enough for companies, but it’s a lot easier to feel like you can live with an EV if you actually try it for a couple months.

CuppaJoe
CuppaJoe
1 month ago

Am I the only one that keeps getting stuck on that Microsoft Copilot guy staring at me? Can he chill just a bit? All I want to do is finish my burrito and read Autopian. Jeez.

SNL-LOL Jr
SNL-LOL Jr
1 month ago

If they used a bit of black tape to cover part of the utility’s name, they’d have increased turnout by 10X.

Last edited 1 month ago by SNL-LOL Jr
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