January 26, 2021
Could an electric vehicle (EV) be in your purchasing future? While EV sales made up approximately 2% of all vehicle sales in 2020, many of your neighbors and friends have either discussed EVs or actually taken the plunge. What’s the process like when deciding to go from the traditional gas powered vehicle to an alternative fuel vehicle? We invited a consumer to tell us exactly what the process was like going from gas powered, to hybrid, to fully electric. Listen-in as Brenna Kaminski, founder of the YouTube series, Space Coast EV Drivers, joins us to tell her story.
Donovan Woods: So again, welcome to Carpool Chats. My name is Donovan Woods. I’m the director of operations and marketing here at the Transportation Energy Institute. I’m happy to welcome a guest that we typically… How do I say this? We don’t typically have regular people on our podcasts, but I’m glad to do that to open up the audience to listen to what consumers have to say. To do that, we’ve invited Brenna Kaminski to be here with us today. Brenna is a cool person. I came into contact with her by one of our other contacts, Erica Myers, and she’s set it up the way most friends do. She’s great. She’s awesome. She knows what she’s talking about. So Brenna, there’s no expectation, there’s no weight on you, but welcome to Carpool Chats.
Brenna Kaminski: Thank you so much for having me today.
Donovan Woods: Absolutely. Absolutely. Brenna, the reason we’re having you here, again, it’s for consumers and I want the OEMs, the different research houses, different places to hear what consumers feel about electric vehicles. I don’t know many people that are as passionate about it as you are. You and Josh, you guys run a YouTube channel called Space Coast EV Drivers. Is that the right channel name?
Brenna Kaminski: Yeah, that’s right. So that’s actually… It started as a car club for people on the Space Coast of Florida, which is the Brevard County, Florida area. We started that, wow, it’s been a long time now, but it started as just a group where we set up a table and brought our own EV. And then it grew from there. So, it really grew from one person, one car to over 100 people. Now, we have a website, a Facebook page and we just launched the YouTube channel last year.
Donovan Woods: Okay. So, as a major YouTuber, I love YouTube. I’ve been on it since really the beginning. That’s how I really discovered shows like The Office and things like that, but the nice little clips. I came to find out five or six years ago that it’s also a place where you can find education. So, look at that. I think a channel like yours is useful because I’m a consumer and everyone that listens to this, although they wear their professional hats, they’re also consumers. So, what I find unique about you in particular is this, and it’s going to sound, I hope not sexist, but real, is that when people typically think about cars and they think about technology, it has always defaulted to the male. Correct? But here you are and your excitement is what I sound like when I’m talking about when I see a Tesla or I see something cool that I like. That’s how you always sound on every single episode of your show. I’ve watched probably the last six episodes, and I have some questions based on those episodes, but I’ll get started like this. Tell me what, and tell our audience what really got you guys, especially you into electric vehicles. What was the motivation behind that?
Brenna Kaminski: Yeah, sure. So I’ve always liked cars just in general, but it’s not just cars. I’d like trucks. I’d like to SUVs. I’ve had all sorts of different ICE vehicles in my time of driving, which has been longer than I want to talk about now, but I never really knew about them. It’s not like I built cars, but I had a real appreciation for things that looked nice, things that… These weren’t luxury cars, but just things I could appreciate. So, functionality and design and just nice things to look at. And so, in 2011, Josh, my now husband, but my boyfriend at the time was really into technology and really into a lot of things that I was like, “Yeah, whatever.” And then he got a Volt. He took delivery of the first Volt that came off the truck in Huntsville, Alabama at the time. So, he had gone to the dealership. He knew that it was coming and he’s like, “I want it and I want it right now.” It was actually really funny. For about six months, he wouldn’t let me drive it.
Donovan Woods: I understand that. Okay. All right.
Brenna Kaminski: He was like, “No, no, no, no.” And I’m thinking, “I’m a great driver. What’s the issue? Let me drive it. You’ve talked so much about this vehicle.” He really hyped it up. And then I started driving it and I was like, “Okay. Yeah, this one’s mine now.”
Donovan Woods: See, there it is.
Brenna Kaminski: Yeah, it went from that very first Volt, which was leased. He leased a 2011 or I guess it was a 2012 year, but he got it in 2011, late 2011. We moved from that one to a 2015. And then we moved from the 2015 to a Volt purchase in 2017. And so, that was our entrance into that plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, but it got to the point where 40 miles of battery just wasn’t enough. I didn’t even want to use the gasoline backup. I was like, “Nope, I want more miles. I want more miles.” During those years, we had been leasing because we knew the technology was advancing at such a rapid rate and the Volt was attractive. So, that was the other thing. It wasn’t an i-MiEV. It wasn’t the original LEAF. It wasn’t the things that you would look at and go, “Oh, no, what were they thinking? They really don’t want to sell these, man.” Yeah. So then they did the LEAF refresh. At the time, we needed a new vehicle, so that was in 2018, and we’re like, “It’s not ugly anymore and it gets more miles.” We’re ready to move from that 50 mile-ish range to something over 100 miles. So just in that whole time, we learned more. We started this club. We started connecting with people. We started running events with National Drive Electric Week, and it just really grew from there.
Donovan Woods: Your interest in the car, you liked cars, that definitely is going to help someone that would want to buy a different car and see them. But again, like you said, the style will be one of the first things people see, right? Even though, yes, I may want a cleaner earth in my mind. The electric is going to be better for the environment. That’s my thought process. It also comes down to what the car looks like. I don’t want to drive a car that’s ugly or just a little too unique. I don’t want to stand out that much. But when it comes to future purchases after the Volt, as you got further down, and you said 2017, were you the driver behind that or was that more Josh?
Brenna Kaminski: I think it’s a shared passion for us. So, it really was to the point of like, we know what we’re doing. We know how to find the charging stations. I don’t know that we were ever afraid, where a lot of people have that range anxiety. We had now driven an EV so long and tried so hard to keep it within its battery range, that transitioning to a battery electric vehicle with no backup, I didn’t have an issue with it. He didn’t have an issue with it, and it was really what’s available at the time. He had a reservation for a Model 3. But as you know, the Model 3 kept getting pushed and it was slipping. At the time, we really needed two vehicles. So we said, “Well, we already have a PHEV. Let’s supplement. Have the second one just be battery electric.” Actually, with the whole pandemic situation, I’m not working where I used to work. I didn’t have to commute. He’s working from home. He’s not traveling. We said, “You know what, we can get rid of the Volt and we’ll just have the LEAF.” So, I don’t know that a lot of people would be able to take that, that leap, but for us, we were so comfortable with driving electric that it was just a no-brainer.
Donovan Woods: Interesting. Okay. That backstory really helps because I think from the OEM perspective, and even from ours at Transportation Energy Institute, we’re always curious as to what the next step is. What got you into the market? How did you transition to go for, like you said, plug-in to fully EV? There were some time where range anxiety was probably something you thought about, but now going from what? 40, 50 miles to, with the new LEAF, I don’t know what year you have. Are you at 150 for your max? Okay. So I mean, that’s a lot for most people. We don’t think of it as a lot because as gas drivers, we typically just think of, “It’s got to be full. It’s got to be 300, 400 miles.” No one drives that much most of us with our weekly commute and things we do, so what’s provided by that EV is more than enough, I’m sure. But here’s a question for you. You spoke about a lot of self-educating. It was what it sounded like to me. Is that something that’s frustrating for you as an EV owner, I mean, wanting your friends or family or anyone in the community to take that dip or jump into that side of the industry? Is that something that’s lacking in terms of where to find education, how you can learn about the EVs without putting out $40,000 for a new car? What do you suggest? What would you say would be ideal as it relates to being educated about the technology?
Brenna Kaminski: So right now, and it really hasn’t changed much, especially in the past, even five years, seven years, 10 years, we hear time and time again at these events where we’re off talking to the public, people can’t find the vehicles on the lots that they’re looking for. When they get there, there’s no one that can tell them. Oh my gosh, I have a story. Just buying our LEAF, we drove to the place with the LEAF. We said, “Okay. We want it.” I mean, we showed up right when they open and they said, “Oh, we don’t have anyone on the floor that can sell you this vehicle. We don’t have anyone who knows anything about it.” And so, it got to the point where like, “I’m not waiting. I’m here. I’m ready to buy this vehicle right now and you’re telling me you don’t have a single person who can sell this to me? I mean, that’s insane.” So, at least we knew what we wanted. We knew what we needed and we had that education. I basically said, “Look, I know more about this car that apparently anybody in this whole dealership. I don’t need anybody to educate me on the vehicle. I just want somebody to sell me the car. Who wants to sell the car?” I literally shouted this in a Nissan sales floor, I said, “Who wants to sell me this car right now?” And one guy was like, “I mean, I guess, if someone’s buying a car.” So for someone who doesn’t know that much, that’s the experience they’re having when they go. They think they’re going to go to this dealership to be maybe educated and have someone really help them through that process, and that’s not happening. Sierra Club and I think Plug In America and all these organizations show that time and time again, they send them these secret shoppers and it’s just not changing. So that’s where a channel like our channel and a club like our club is needed and comes into the whole EV ecosystem because people are calling us up and saying, “Hey, do you have anybody that has this model in your group? I want to see one in person. I live in Florida, but they’re only selling them in Virginia or California, but that’s the vehicle that I want.” And so, the community that we have built has been really helpful for people that had something in mind, but wanted to talk to an owner. They didn’t want to talk to a sales person, who either didn’t really have the background on that vehicle or who in some cases might try to lead them in a different direction. So, that’s really how that works.
Donovan Woods: When you say different direction, you’re saying, and I know, but I just want to clarify for our audience, you come in to buy that LEAF or whatever that specific EV is, and you’re pushed to, “Well, you know what, you’re probably…” Even if it’s cheaper or more expensive, just a different vehicle altogether that’s going to be an ICE, internal combustion engine. Okay. All right. I-
Brenna Kaminski: And-
Donovan Woods: Go, please.
Brenna Kaminski: Yeah. So part of that problem is that the salespeople have been selling those vehicles for so long that that’s what they’re comfortable with and they don’t want to… People don’t want to feel dumb. So they don’t want to feel like, “I’m the face of this company right now. I’m the client interaction,” and they don’t want to feel like, “I don’t have anything to say because I don’t know.” That’s an education problem at that dealership level.
Donovan Woods: I’ve heard that that is the case. The incentives aren’t there for them to sell it. So if you’re a salesperson, maybe… I’m keeping Tesla out of that equation, because that’s a whole different type of purchase model. But from what I understand, you’re not as incentivized for them to know, especially you’re talking about when you have 300, let’s say, Sentras or Ultimas or any other type of car we’re speaking on this case. We don’t want to beat up on Nissan, but any OEM. For the salesperson, it’s like, “Do I spend my time learning about this two or three models we have or the 50 to 100 models that we have that people are going to come by?” I get that. So, let me ask you this. One thing I mentioned, I saw in one of your videos, I wrote a note here, where even when you owned your Volt, you would get advertising from the Chevy dealership going, “Hey, come buy a truck. Come buy this. Come buy that.” You’re like, “Man, there’s nothing even marketing the fact that we have a Volt or come buy a new Volt. It was always the other types of vehicles.” Is that correct?
Brenna Kaminski: Yeah. We always thought that was funny. We would get these mailers. I don’t think they were coming from the local dealership. I think they were coming from the corporate or on the finance list or whatever it is. It would always be like, “Yeah, trade in your entering here, 2017 Volt for whatever.” We’d always open this pamphlet and we’d look, is the Volt getting shown? Is the Volt getting shown? Is something getting shown? And it never was. It’s like at some point, you’re just like, “Gosh, are these people… They’re just really not trying.”
Donovan Woods: I can imagine that being frustrating. I think we all get those. But for the most of us, if we already own an ICE, it’s going to be another ICE or the same model, like I have an Outback. It’s always, “Come trade in your 2018 for 2020.” If you want to do that, great, but I can see that being frustrating. What role did, I don’t want to say emotion, but was it more focused on the technology that you made the transition? Was it more focused on the look, the torque? Was it taking care of the earth? Was that in the back of your mind? What was the reasoning behind making this switch? Even for Josh, what was the reason behind him wanting to do that?
Brenna Kaminski: Yeah, I think in the beginning for Josh, it was the technology, the newness factor, the cool factor, and then the environmental factor. He had had a Prius previously to that. So it was like, “Oh, well, this is the next step in an environmental hybrid electric.” So he was already, I don’t want to say familiar with it, but semi-familiar with it.
Donovan Woods: Got it.
Brenna Kaminski: For me, it was just I like these cars, the zero to 60 pretty quickly. That’s really fun. Have I peeled out at some stop signs? Not on purpose. Yes, I have.
Donovan Woods: That’s quick. I mean, man-
Brenna Kaminski: It’s very powerful.
Donovan Woods: … I’ve test driven one. That is so different from an ICE. I do like that part. Yeah.
Brenna Kaminski: And then the environmental aspect for me is very important. So especially being from Florida, being from the Coast, having years of the government saying, “Oh, we’re going to drill off the Coast and all of those kinds of things that factor into it.” It’s like with oil, it was sub $100 a barrel. The global outlook was not looking good on this. So it’s like, “Why would we drill more? Why would we put in these pipelines? Why would we do this when the transition is here?” You can only keep something down for so long, I think, before people realize, “Hey, even if I don’t care about the environment, I’m saving money maintenance-wise. I’m saving time. I’m plugging this at my house. I don’t have to go to a gas station.” So I think there’s a lot of benefits and a lot of different reasons consumers end up saying, “Oh, well, a plug-in vehicle is for me.”
Donovan Woods: Okay. All right. Because a lot of the research we do, we find that people walk into a dealership… Here’s a couple of things I want to say that I find interesting. You are very educated on vehicles so you’re going to probably understand what I mean by this. When I purchased my car two years ago and all the cars I’ve purchased before that, I knew everything about them before I walked in. I’ve admired them for years prior to even buying them. I know every OEM out there, why I like certain ones, why I don’t. So I walked in, it’s pretty much, “I’ve done everything I can online. Just give me the car.” I’ve learned that I am, you, people like yourself, your husband, myself, we are the minority. Most people do walk into a dealership and go, “Help me out. Show me what you got.” That, to me, is terrifying, but people do it. So, let’s just say at a magical place, you could take all the information you’ve gathered from the Space Coast EV Drivers, events you’ve done, from the questions you get on your YouTube page and your Facebook page, what would you say would be a suggestion to OEMs or anyone on that side of the industry when it comes to educating consumers way in advance, like people like you and I like to read about, besides just it’s an EV? What are the types of things you would want to see?
Brenna Kaminski: Yeah. So I actually wrote and published two little self-articles about this on my LinkedIn page, but one of them was having dealerships partner with these grassroots educators that have been educating in this space. Because it’s not just me, there’s a ton of people out there who are passionate about EVs and want to help consumers because there’s clearly that divide of people walking in going, “I have no idea what I want. Come help me.” And then the people who they’re looking towards to be an expert cannot answer the questions. So, there has to be some sort of basic education. I mean, even if you can’t say every bell and whistle, hit those main parts like, “When you get this vehicle, this is how many miles you’re going to get. When you get this vehicle, you’re going to charge at home. Do you need special equipment? What is the time that it’s going to take to charge it at a level one, at a level two? What are the options for road trips?” I mean, there’s probably a top five basic questions like, “You’re not going to have to bring it in for maintenance. This is the apps you need to download to find these charging stations.” There’s some simple things that they could help people with, beyond knowing what every single button in an EV does.
Donovan Woods: Okay. That is very helpful. I think from a non-EV owner, but having friends who have ventured out and loved them, they don’t seem to come back. It’s almost like when I got my first moonroof, sunroof feature. Once I got that, every car I have had since, you have to have that, right? Who would you say is responsible for that type of education? Because I feel like once people know, it at least gives them an option, because right now, we’re looking at if we talk about EVs, it is the shiny object in marketing, in everything we do on our side, but yet there’s only less than 2% of buyers or of vehicles sold each year are electric vehicles. So, it’s a drop in the bucket. It is definitely picking up momentum, but who would be responsible for the education and what role do even current EV owners play in that?
Brenna Kaminski: So it’s really interesting because I had a friend who actually worked for a major OEM, one who has really tried their hardest to maybe not get on that EV bandwagon and have looked into other technologies and have touted other things. Some of you may or may not know who I’m talking about, but she would travel to Las Vegas, to Orlando, to all of these different places where they host, I don’t know, weekend long or three to five-day education events, where they’re training these people on every single refresh for their models. So I know that this training is taking place at the dealership levels. I know that they’re getting these information. She would have these crazy presentations. So, are they not doing that for the EV models? They didn’t have any EV models so I couldn’t ask that question, but I know that this training is taking place. So, there is a little question at the back of my mind like, “Why aren’t we doing those kinds of things at the dealership levels or at that national level, or however these conferences are put together?” And so, in the meantime, that’s where the people like me and like other EV owners have really stepped up. It’s almost like an evangelizing. So you’ve come into the thing and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I love this.” Actually, Josh says that he’s never owned a vehicle where he felt like he wanted to go door to door and tell people how amazing it was. So, that just speaks to how much people really love it. It’s not like we had ever even owned a Tesla. So a lot of people think like, “Oh, it’s this Tesla fanboy cult. It’s an Elon Musk cult.” It’s not that. It’s people across all of these different types of EVs going, “I never want to go back to a car that gets 14 miles per gallon. I don’t even want a car that gets 24 miles per gallon.” I mean, we’ve gone so far beyond that. For people who have made that step, everything else just looks so far in that rear view mirror. You don’t want to go backwards.
Donovan Woods: Fair enough. Fair enough. Well, Brenna, you’ve been an educational source for me, just to hear actually from a consumer. I thought it was very important to hear from a woman, because again, this side seems to see as just a male dominant industry, but to hear a woman talk about this in terms of what she wants as a consumer, what she’s preferred. You and your husband both have gone into this and to hear you both speak… He has a great personality. I love watching him. You can be talking and he’s making faces and making very animated actions. I love that. That definitely helps the channel. Again, what was the name of that channel and any other of the places that they can reach you?
Brenna Kaminski: Yeah. So if you just look up Space Coast EV Drivers, you’ll be able to find our website, our Facebook page and our YouTube channel.
Donovan Woods: All right. Very good. Well, thank you again, Brenna, for joining us, and thank all of you for listening to Carpool Chats.