The Saturn's First Public Exhibit
The Mechanicsburg Earth Day Festival

On Saturday, 24 April 2010, I drove my electric Saturn to the Mechanicsburg, Earth Day Festival. It was kind of a last minute decision to do this since the car has only been "drivable" for a few weeks. Furthermore, I'm a bit disappointed with the power and range so the car is really still a work in progress and I dreaded the onslaught of "what is the range" questions.

I contacted the Earth Day Festival coordinator, Susan Kiskis, and asked if she'd like to have a home built electric car displayed at the event and she was more than happy to accommodate me with a free 10x10 booth space.

Having never done this before, I went into this event with minimal expectations and a bit of anxiety.

There was only a couple of weeks to get ready, so I cleaned up the car, finished some minor electrical updates under the hood and reinstalled the radio and some panels in and around the dash. The car looks finished -- no dangling wires, no missing parts, it's vacuumed, waxed, and Armor All'ed.

I prepared a single page handout, printed on front and back, that addressed what I expected to be the most common questions about my Saturn, EV conversions and electric vehicles. A printable pdf of that handout can be seen here.

Finally, I created a 10 minute video showing some of the highlights of my conversion process from beginning to end. While the video does have sound, I used subtitles rather than a narrative. The complete video can be viewed here.

On Saturday morning I loaded up the Saturn and drove it to downtown to the Earth Day Festival, backed diagonally into my rather tight 10x10 space, set up a table with a portable 15" TV/DVD player popped the hood and waited for the event to begin.

The first person I talked to, was a woman who loved her Prius and was unimpressed with the range of my car. The second person, was a young man in his 20s. After I explained the EV conversion to him he asked if it would have been easier "to just buy one."

Then there was a lull in the level of activity for about 15 minutes, at which point I realized that it was not quite 9 am and the event hadn't started.

It turned out to be a really good day. I had many great conversations and met many different people with various levels of knowledge on the subject of electric vehicles and technology. To my surprise, I even met a local person who had built an electric vehicle back in the mid 70's -- he still has it, but it got too rusty to be inspected.

Most people would walk past my car and not even stop or glance under the hood -- however, anyone that did stop would talk to me for 5 - 15 minutes.

The handout that I made covered most of the questions that were asked. Even though I had a stack for anyone to take, only the people who were really interested got one. I gave out about 25 handouts -- the event organizers claim over 1000 were in attendance.

The most common questions related to range. This, of course, made me cringe because the honest answer for me right now is about 15 miles.

I was asked a few times to spin up the motor because people wanted to hear what it sounded like.

Many people mentioned the Nissan Leaf and only one person mentioned the Chevy Volt and that was in the form of a joke. No one that I asked knew what a Tesla was.

Media Coverage

The camera man for WHP, our local CBS TV station, walked right past my display and didn't stop. A photographer from the Carlisle Sentinel (news paper) stopped by and took a bunch of pictures and talked with me for a while. Two pictures made it onto the online version of the Sunday news -- but, no pictures appeared in the printed paper. This was fine with me because my biggest fear of the day was that I would be giving and on-camera interview and get asked some question out of left field and put my foot in my mouth. The online Sentinel article can be seen here.

What I learned for the next time

The video did not go over very well at all, no one watched it. It was too hard to see in the daylight and it was too long for this kind of an event. It would have been better to have a poster with a few clearly labeled 4x6 pictures.

The 10x10 booth was too small, this was my fault. When Susan offered me the booth, she asked if that would be enough and I said yes. I should have asked for 2 spaces so I could have positioned the car at a better angle to show the driver's seat and the fill hole with an electrical plug.

Finally, I would have liked to see some of the other technology booths grouped together with mine. There were solar electric and heating companies there but I was in between the Anderson Window company, aggressively registering attendees to win a free $25,000 home makeover and a carnival game for children. I think most people walking by thought I was selling something or that my car was part of the Anderson Window display. This is not a complaint, just an observation. I was happy to be there and the space was given to me long after the deadline for exhibitor registrations had passed.