In late July, Autoblog swung by Washington, D.C. to check out the Electrify Expo. Now in its third year of nationwide shows, the Electrify Expo calls itself “North America’s largest electric vehicle festival filled with over 1 million square feet of the world’s top electric brands.” At every stop, visitors can find out about, crawl around in, drive and ride just about any personal conveyance that uses a battery for propulsion.
Truth be told, when the show’s PR team reached out to us with an invite, we only considered going after finding out about an area showcasing battery-electric tuner cars. EV tuning is undoubtedly going to be huge—eventually—which got us curious about these early days. We figured we’d brave whatever the rest of the expo was to find out what’s the equivalent of nitrous for a Tesla.
See, the EV event scene is still such that one never knows if they’ll show up to a mix of science and county fairs with a few cars on display just for truth in advertising, or if they’ll show up to a parking lot with 26 cars, 10 of them locked, 10 of them homemade, and 6 guarded by promotional hires desperate to tap all your identifying info a tablet before dispensing dubious and superficial information.
Which is to say, we didn’t expect much. And that makes us chuffed to report: Electrify Expo is great. We hadn’t been strolling the lot outside the old RFK Stadium for five minutes before thinking, “This feels like an old-school auto show!” The exclamation to that point came from a group of four who cut me off to reach the C40 Recharge in the Volvo booth, one of them exclaiming as if he were the group expert and as if his friends were deaf, “THAT’S THE LEAST EXPENSIVE ONE! AND IT’S BEEEE-YOUUUUU-TI-FULLLLLL!”
I wasn’t there to judge, I was there for the enthusiasm.
Automakers had built small, simple, open booths, parked cars in them, then provided visitors the kind of interactions that will do the most good for anyone wondering about or interested in an EV. We only saw two cars that were off limits, the new Volkswagen ID.Buzz and the Ford F-100 Eluminator. Volvo wouldn’t let me get an espresso from their chic little trailer, either, unless I visited the EX90 Experience trailer first. Otherwise, it was a free-for-all.
Tesla had a large booth full of cars. BMW had two i7s open for everyone to sit in, next to the Ford booth with that Eluminator and an unlocked Mustang Mach-E GT and F-150 Lightning showing their cooler-chest-frunk trick. Kia had a couple of EV9’s in its shaded area, every time we walked by we saw a one of the stand attendants sitting in the front passenger’s seat answering questions for an SUV full of the fascinated. Mitsubishi brought two Outlander PHEVs, both open, each staffed with someone to answer questions. Anyone who wanted to see and sit in the new Polestar 3 could do so. When I sat in it, a visitor walking around the back of the hatch looked at me and sighed, “Man, this is nice.”
I’m sure there were many other exclamations made that day that didn’t involve Volvo or Volvo-adjacent products, I just wasn’t around to hear them.
By the time we sat down with a gent called BJ who started all of this, we were genuinely intrigued. BJ grew up in San Diego and was an ICE, JDM car guy. “I always felt like, if you couldn’t hear the rumble of a V8 or the sing of an inline-four turbo, forget about it, you’re never getting me behind the wheel,” because “electric vehicles lack soul.”
After relocating to Austin, Texas, and while running his own company putting on large events, he went out to kick some tires and took a spin in a Tesla Model S. “The experience was a game changer,” he said. When he investigated the business of interacting with EVs, he found the situation wanting. “At auto shows, if you do have a demo [EV] experience, many times these … are at the bottom, in the basement of a convention center. I mean, you suck all the energy out.”
In some ways, namely this one, the Expo is the opposite of an auto show. Barriers are arranged so visitors are compelled to walk by every stand to reach the next section. That ensures OEMs get passing traffic, we get it. After navigating the chute, though, one reaches the drive fleet that bookends the far end of the event opposite the entry. In D.C., which is the expo’s smallest show, 10 OEMs brought 29 cars from the VW ID.4 to the aforementioned i7 that visitors could take for drives on a two-mile route on D.C. streets. Being inside the city, the route lacked a highway portion, but D.C.’s short blocks and arrow-straight roads would allow those new to EVs to experience 95% of the most important novelties about EVs like acceleration, regen braking, subdued NVH, stop-and-go driver assistance features, massive displays and enhanced infotainment integration.
Other forms of electrified transport are equally well served with autocross-like areas laid out to try e-bikes, e-scooters, and e-skateboards. We were told there were almost 100 vehicles and e-mobility products at the show.
BJ also experienced what we mentioned earlier, “volunteer-run events by enthusiasts.” He believed “there was nothing that was going to attract the world’s leading auto manufacturers to invest in having a footprint and a demo experience at a festival.”
OEMs are notoriously wary of grassroots efforts, but a few took a chance on BJ for Electrify Expo’s first year in 2021. Fast forward to 2023 and the first place for the U.S. public to experience the Volvo EX90 and Polestar 3 was at the Electrify Expo. And in coastal locales, ride-and-drive doesn’t just mean cars. “In LA, we had boats,” BJ said, “and we’ve done personal electric watercraft demos on the water. It’s the right way to experience what’s happening with electric transportation right now.”
This year has also introduced Show Off, the tuning area that had been our original interest. “It gives car people kind of a vision wall. So if I went to buy a Ford Mach-E today, what would that look like if I spent a little time on a wheel tire package?”
That’s where we saw the two Porsches that LA-based tuner Bisimoto converted to electrics, parked in the Toyo tire booth. The Toyo rep we spoke to said the company was there to check out the EV scene in general, gauging audience reactions to Toyos as OEM tire replacements and as tuning options. Then we ended up in a long discussion about Toyo Open Country tires, which were also at the stand. The chat underscored that everyone we spoke to, including at the OEM booths, had thorough, informative answers.
We saw Travis Pastrana’s Nitro Rally Mustang Mach-E prepared by Vermont Sports Car. Can you say, “Lust?” We know Ford’s bringing a rally version of the Mach-E soon, we hope Ford offers this rear wing setup as an option.
And yes, we saw some homebrew stuff, all of it clean: aJaguar XJ6 refitted with the dual electric motors from a Lexus GS450h powered by BMW batteries; a converted Volkswagen Beetle EV that could be a show car; a Kia EV6 GT on some fat sidewall 235/55 Kumho Crugen tires; a Rivian that Zarathustra might have used to go up and come down the mountain.
Our experience was that Electrify Expo is a real-deal EV event. Anyone who wants to know more about almost any kind of EV, and best of all, try out almost any kind of EV, should look into a visit. The next event goes down on New York City’s Long Island on April 12-13.
THE SOUND OF SILENCE
You know how your mind subconsciously gathers intel that doesn’t get assembled into a “Eureka!” until someone says a few magic words? There was something about the show that we noticed, but didn’t know we noticed. And on our first pass through the expo, we passed an Anker booth—as in, Anker the portable electronic charging device and cord company. We asked ourselves without stopping, “What’s Anker doing here?” Seeing several portable power stations and solar panels on the table, we figured the company was making a pitch to the off-road crowd.
It wasn’t until BJ said during the interview, “Typically, you’re seeing generators everywhere, like gas generators. If you look at all of our stuff, we have these really cool Anker units. There are no generators.”
Then we put it together: The Electrify Expo was quiet. OEMs can power their drive demo fleets as they wish, but every other area of the expo is juiced by Anker’s portable power stations, a partnership inaugurated this year.
Then we went back to the Anker booth to speak to PR rep Emeline Bonnefoy. She let us know we had our order-of-operations backward, that Anker had started as a portable power station company before pivoting to device charging. Now that the company is a leviathan in that segment, it’s back into larger-scale portable power. And the pitch isn’t just to overlanders—although there was a swank Anker cooler on the table—the pitch is for home energy as well.
The energy division’s been rebranded to Anker Solix, offering products in three series’: Camping, Flex, and Home Energy Solutions. At the small end, the Camping Series starts with a PowerHouse 521 offering 256 Wh for $220, going up to a Solar Generator combo with a PowerHouse 1,024-Wh unit and a 100-watt solar panel for $1,200.
The Flex Series could do for serious overlanders or for emergency home use, starting with the PowerHouse F200 providing 2,048 Wh and compatible with an array of solar panels for continuous generation. These are the units we saw next to banners, backed up with an accessory 2,048-Wh battery.
The Home Energy Solutions are big-boy battery stations and roof-mounted solar arrays ready to power a house or a car.
We’ll be checking these out soon, maybe on an overlanding drive to Texas later this year for a spell at Big Bend State Park. The Electrify Expo in Austin will be doing its EV driving demo laps around the Circuit of the Americas, and we might need to be there.