Welcome to Drive Electric Week with Karl, Carson and Justin. These three will talk about all things Electric Vehicle (EV) and what Consumers Energy is doing to make owing and operating one easier.
Bill Krieger: Hello, everyone. Welcome to this special edition of the “Me You Us” podcast. This week, we will be celebrating Drive Electric week. We’re going to do something different. I don’t think I ever had three guests on the show at one time. We’re going to try that out and see how it goes.
My first two guests are Justin Stowe and Carson Seal. They are electric vehicles specialists here at Consumers Energy. Justin, please introduce yourself.
Justin Stowe: I’m Justin Stowe. I’m one of our new EV specialists with the company. We’ve been in this role for a few months now. Our goal really is to guide our customers from considering an electric vehicle all the way through “I’ve got an EV now and what do I do?” We’re enjoying the lot.
Bill: All right. Excellent. Carson, you’re no stranger to the podcast, but it’s a new role since the last time we talked.
Carson Seal: Yeah, absolutely. Carson Seal. My pronouns are he, him and his. I joined this role the same time Justin did about back in May, and we are absolutely loving it. We both have pretty extensive customer service backgrounds and a lot of company knowledge, so it put us in the perfect position for this role. We are loving every second.
Bill: Great. Looking forward to talking about these new roles as well. My third guest is no stranger to the podcast and probably no stranger to most of our listeners as a lot of his episodes are very, very popular. Karl Bloss, who is the Electric Vehicle Education and Outreach Coordinator here at Consumers Energy.
Karl, if you will just reintroduce yourself to maybe some of those audience members who don’t know who you are. I can’t imagine who they might be. We’ll go ahead and get the conversation started.
Karl Bloss: Sounds good. Karl Bloss, as you said, EV Education and Outreach Coordinator. My job is to get out there in front of our customers whether it’s at electric vehicle shows or at a Rotary Club doing an EV 101 presentation. Also outreach materials like our EV newsletter to develop content for that.
Bill: I want to remind the audience, Karl’s story speaks to me because Karl retired, moved to Muskegon, Michigan if I’m not mistaken, gets into his passion of electric vehicle, starts up a blog, has a Facebook page. Does all this cool electrical vehicle stuff, and then someone from Consumers [laughs] calls him and says, “Hey, could we tempt you to come out of retirement and come work for us?”
Anyone who started a blog, wanted to do something, or wanted to work in their passion, that’s a Cinderella story.
Karl: It’s kind of fun. My supervisor at that point was Bethany Tabor, who is out on maternity leave at the moment. She jokes that one of her claims to fame was hiring me.
Karl: I don’t think it’s that grandiose. In any event, it’s a great transition I end up being here.
Bill: Famous or infamous is two ways to look at it.
Justin, being you’re new to, at least, my podcast. I must talk a little bit about an electrical vehicle specialist. What do you do? What’s your role? How do you think that’s helping our customer?
Justin: Day to day, we take inquiries from customers that come in via either voicemail or our new software, PowerClerk. We’ll help customers in any way that they need. The form will give us some information about what their exact needs are. We’ll think those through and come up with a plan to best help them as it relates to their EV journey.
We’ll give them a call, we’ll email them, depending on what they prefer in terms of communication method. We’ll walk them through the entire process.
Carson, what I’m hearing though is I don’t necessarily have to figure out the web page and then try and decipher what’s going on. If I’m looking at the web page and I’m not sure I give Carson a call, what happens?
Carson: We partner with a multitude of different areas through our company to make sure that customers are getting appropriate answers. Even if they call our call center, our call center knows how to get in touch with us.
What will happen is they’ll either send us through our voicemail or they’ll direct us to a form online where, exactly what Justin said, any part of their EV journey, we will help them with. It’s an incredible experience especially for us, but really for them because we’re not sales people. We’re educators.
We get to educate people about the transition from an internal combustion engine to an EV. Our job is to hand out money to people, to make them change their behaviors, and to show them what that transition looks like and it’s a blast.
Bill: We speak about transitions. If you were to look outside of my house, which is where we’re recording today, it would look like maybe there’s an EV convention going on. There’s more electrical vehicles in my driveway and in front of my house than there have been in my whole neighborhood since I’ve been here.
That speaks volumes. Not only the three of you work in the space, you believe in this.
Carson: Without any doubt. We are full-fledged EV enthusiasts.
Bill: Justin, what turned you on to EVs?
Justin: That’s a great question. I’ve been into taking care of Earth for a very long time. In fact, I’m currently a student at Michigan State University in an environmental field. Back in probably 2015/16, I started getting interested in electric vehicles. I found Tesla. Found them very interesting.
Then when my son was born, I thought, “I want to put him in the safest thing that I possibly can.” That happened to be a Tesla Model 3. I ended up pulling the trigger. It was an accumulation of things that pushed me that way. My love for EVs has only grown stronger since then.
Bill: I think your T-shirt surely shows that.
Bill: I’m familiar with that particular vehicle. For the audience, there’s a picture of a pickup truck on the front of Justin’s shirt. Can you talk a little bit about that? That’s a pretty cool truck. It’s one of the first ones that I saw some YouTube videos on and read some articles about. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Justin: This is the Rivian R1T. It’s on the road now. We’ve been manufacturing them for a number of months. It’s the perfect adventure vehicle. If I could go out and buy any EV and it could be in my driveway today, it would be a Rivian. It’s the full package.
It’s a great, as I understand it, tailgating vehicle. Has an awesome cooler that you can drain once the ice is gone. You can take it into the mountains. It can off-road. It’s an awesome vehicle.
Bill: If you’re not familiar with it, go out to YouTube and check this out. That is the one thing that it caught my eye, was all the cool little things that are there that you don’t necessarily get in a regular vehicle. Not only that, it looks cool, too. You can’t see it on a podcast. It’s a pretty cool looking vehicle.
Karl: As an MSU person, you should appreciate it. It’s the ultimate tailgate vehicle. In addition to the cooler, there’s the what’s called vehicle to load technology, where you can pull power out of this. You can run some electrical equipment, a grill or whatever.
Justin: You could add a tent to the truck bed. It has a pullout stove and sink. It’s a camping kit. [laughs] Again, if I could buy any car today…
Carson: You could literally live out of the vehicle. [laughs]
Bill: I think if your tailgate goes sideways, you’ve got a tent. It’s a good thing. You could just stay in the parking lot until things cool down.
Justin: EVs and safety. You can’t make a better pair.
Bill: [laughs] That’s right. Carson, what about you? What turned you on to EVs?
Carson: I remember as a kid, I always thought, “Man, gas is expensive. What other options are there?” When I was a kid, I didn’t know. When I got into a car accident late last year, I knew that I needed to make a change. I was like, “You know what, I’ve been thinking about electric vehicles for a while.”
I was in office. I truly didn’t know about everything that would encapsule me into that whole world. Did it end up becoming a job? Yes. What got me and probably most people is that this is a great change, not only for my wallet, for the earth. If you can combine those two things together, it’s like a match made in heaven. I can’t name just one, but those are probably my biggest.
Bill: Karl, you have a blog. Probably half the world knows about what you like about electric vehicle. What was the tipping point for you?
Karl: I lived in Germany as an expat. This was in the early 2018s, you’d call it. Gas, diesel was the equivalent of $7 a gallon over there. Also, like Carson said, I knew there got to be a different way. I picked up a used Nissan LEAF, which only had 80 miles of range. For me, it worked out fine for my commute.
My then employer had workplace charging, so I basically was driving for free. Even if I didn’t, just being able to charge at home and the costs associated with that. There are a lot of things today where we say there’s a green premium, where you have to pay a little bit extra to try to do something that’s more environmentally-friendly.
The cool thing about EVs is if you look at the total cost of ownership, maybe not the upfront cost, but the total cost of ownership is actually lower than a combustion vehicle. Not only are you doing something that’s environmentally-friendly, but it’s good for your pocketbook as well.
Bill: You drove the heck out of that LEAF. You just recently traded that…. Sold it, right?
Karl: Yeah, that’s right. I got, I can’t remember what it is now, but 60,000 miles on it or something like that. That, for a short-range vehicle, I wasn’t taking any road trips in it. Although I did drive it from Missouri to Michigan, I moved up here just as an adventure. And yes, you can do it much easier these days. We traded in to have something longer range now.
Bill: Let’s talk about that for a minute. If the audience wants to hear about Karl’s journey in the LEAF, as a long?distance drive, we did talk about that in the very first podcast that you and I did, so go back and check that out.
When we talk about recharging, you said it’s a little bit easier now. Can we talk a little bit about PowerMIDrive and how that’s evolving?
Karl: I would love to. There are a couple of things we’re doing at Consumers Energy to make road trips, at least in Michigan, of course, a bit easier. We’ve got our PowerMIDrive commercial team, who is Doug Reid, and Chelsea, and I’m forgetting some names.
They’re doing a lot of work in that space to get DC fast chargers throughout Michigan and make those alternative fuel corridors in Michigan a real thing for making road trips much more feasible.
Bill: Carson, so let me toss this question out to you then. When we talk about expanding the network of charging stations, is there a standard charging platform for EVs? If I have a Tesla, or if I have whatever brand, can I charge at any station?
Carson: That’s a really good question, and it’s a difficult one to answer but things are getting better. The standard in the US is a J1772 plug. The car I drive, the car Karl and Justin drive all use that same plug.
Tesla’s are a little bit different. They have their own supercharging network. The good news is that they are allegedly opening that network to the rest of the EV world, which is just going to make driving EVs even better.
Even without that though, with that standard plug, you can still get to your destinations with using these incredible apps that are available on your phone like Plugshare or A Better Routeplanner that will guide you exactly how to get to in front of your destinations and tell you how long will take you to charge plus how much it will cost you.
Taking that fear out of it with that range anxiety shouldn’t exist anymore because the infrastructure is becoming top?notch.
Bill: And it will only get better.
Carson: Without a doubt. Right now we have about 37 DC fast chargers that the company rebated when the company decided to install them at their place of business, and I think that that list is just growing. For reference…
Karl: 200 or more.
Carson: …last year, we had 3,000 fast charging sessions. This year on our annual report, there were 18,000. We saw an increase of 600 percent in terms of the number of fast charging sessions on our rebated chargers.
Bill: I’m sorry, how many chargers do we have out there than in the state of Michigan?
Karl: The 37 that Carson talked about are the ones that we gave a rebate on, which is a subset of what’s out there. The best way to find it is an app like Plugshare. There are some that there were already out there.
There are networks that are independent of what we’re doing, like Electrify America, and some of the networks that we work with, like ChargePoint, they already have other chargers out there.
I don’t think we have those numbers on our fingertips. For EV drivers, it’s typically more important where they are and are they along our driving corridors. That’s when we pull up apps. At this point, I can’t give you a number because it’s changing so quickly.
Bill: The beauty of it is, though, instead of pulling out an app to find out where the cheapest gas station is at, it’s still paying five bucks a gallon, I’m just pulling out an app and making sure that where I’m going, I’ve got places to charge and I know where they’re at.
Carson: What’s even cooler is that a lot of them are free. You’ll see on there that they are free. Businesses will incentivize people to come to use their coffee shop, their restaurant, their bookstore, and say, “You can charge your car here for free,” and it’s literally free. You can’t find that at a gas station.
Bill: No, I haven’t in my years of, I don’t know how many years. In my years of driving, that has not happened. It sounds like there’s some good things going on with PowerMIDrive. Can we go out to the Consumers Energy website and check that out?
Carson: You absolutely can. Our brand new website, which was enhanced, came out August 15th. It’s www.consumersenergy.com/ev, for electric vehicle. There, you can select to talk to an EV specialist like Justin or myself. You can guide yourself through that entire EV process even without having to talk to us.
You can use this cool new function called ZappyRide, which will allow you to put in preferences that you want for a car and it will guide you through which car might be the best for you, EV style. It’s very robust. Go to it.
Bill: That’s www.consumersenergy.com/ev.
Carson: Ev. Pretty easy.
Bill: How easy is that?
Bill: Justin, if I go out there and I do have a question that I can’t get answered on the website and I either send an email or make a phone call, how soon can I expect to hear from either you or Carson?
Justin: This is something we’re very proud to say is 24 hours or less. Effectively the next business day if not the same business day. We’re speedy with getting back to folks. Partially or probably wholly because we just enjoy this stuff so much.
I want to talk to as many people as I can. It’s almost like a hobby, what I’m doing for my job. In fact, my wife jokes often that I used to do this anyway before I got hired into this position and now I’m just getting paid to do things that I find to be fun.
Carson: Justin and I will sometimes be able to do competitions about who gets the next call because we’re both so excited about it. Like, “No, no, no, I’m taking that one.”
Bill: Oh my goodness. [laughs]
Justin: We’re having fun.
Bill: It sounds like. I can relate. I can relate to that. This week, though, this is a special edition of the podcast. If the audience hasn’t noticed, it’s coming out on a Monday and not a Wednesday. The reason is that Drive Electric Week kicks off this Friday, September 23rd.
I’m going to throw the basketball in the air and you guys can jump for it. Who wants to talk first about Drive Electric Week?
Karl: I’ll take that. Maybe a little bit of background. What is National Drive Electric Week? There is a nonprofit organization in the US called Plug In America. Their goal is to be sponsors, to be EV advocates, things like that.
What they’ve done is they’ve created this week-long series of events where they ask volunteers to create local events. This is something that I did even before I joined Consumers Energy, where some of us would get together in the EV community, we book a place that we think is going to be popular, and then just bring our own vehicles.
What’s neat about that is there’s no sales pressure because there are no dealers typically. Maybe once in a while, we’ll entice them to come and show the new vehicles. By and large, it’s the EV owners, the EV advocates that will show you their personal vehicles and so you get the straight story. What’s it like to charge? What’s it like to drive? Things like that.
This national and North American event now has grown to the point where there are lots of regional events. We have a bunch here in Michigan that we can talk about, the first of which is right here in East Lansing, September 23rd. Now I’m going to forget them all because I don’t have notes in front of me. Go ahead.
Bill: That’s OK because if you go out to the National Drive Electric Week website, which is driveelectricweek.org, that’s driveelectricweek.org, you can find all those. I won’t make you try and figure them all out, Karl.
Karl: We can rattle a few of them off from memory. Like I said, September 23rd, then September 24th, there’s a fairly big event with MSU. I’m going to let Justin talk about that.
Justin: I am very excited for the event at MSU on the 24th. It’s the weekend of the Minnesota game. We’ll be there at the…it’s called the Tuck Turf, like Mel Tucker. It’s his zone. It’s on the west side of the stadium.
We’re going to be there with some Michigan State EVs at the [indecipherable 19:25] . We’ll have a Chevy Bolt EV and some kind of big transit truck. I don’t know what that’s going to look like. I think I’ll be bring a Consumers Energy Chevy Bolt, or something to that effect.
We’re going to be talking to anybody we can about electric vehicles while handing out some pretty cool swag and playing some games. Come on by.
Bill: I have to check it out because we are season ticket holders. Go Green, in more ways than one, right?
Bill: We’ll look for you guys there, definitely. For any of my other MSU Spartan fans or Minnesota fans, either or, please go check that out on September 24th.
Karl: At the same time, if you’re in the west part of the state, in Kalamazoo there’s an event on the 24th as well. We’re going to have an electric school bus at that one, so that’s a cool thing to check out. That’s something that we’re also involved with in our PowerMIFleet program. I’m trying to think of some of the next events.
I know in Grand Rapids we have something on the 27th, a coffee type thing. Our very own Megan Rydecki’s organizing that one at the Marriott, so as people are coming in in the morning, get a coffee and a doughnut, check out an EV, that sort of thing.
What’s next, guys? I’m trying to remember the other ones.
Justin: I have a 5K I’ll be working at in Brighton. I think it’s the Torch 5K, or something to that effect. Monroe Community…
Karl: …County Community College.
Justin: Monroe County Community College. That’s a tongue twister for me.
Justin: We’ll be at a show there.
Karl: That’s later. That’s October 15th.
Justin: Yeah, it’s later in the month.
Karl: It’s actually outside, officially, the week, but they decided to organize that. We can take part in that.
Bill: Lots of great stuff coming up. it sounds like a packed week. If you want more information, again, the driveelectric.org is a great place to go to get that, or you can call any of our specialists, and 24?hour turnaround. That’s pretty good, almost unheard of in the business world.
Justin: Sometimes I’ll call someone back an hour or two after they’d left a voicemail or 10 minutes or something. They’re like, “Oh, that was fast.” Absolutely.
Bill: That’s all good to know. As we wrap up the podcast and our discussion about Drive Electric Week, I’d like to give you two an opportunity to leave the audience with a message to take out of this, not only go out, check it out, and participate.
I did want to say that I think it’s very cool that all of these are really and for truly informational, that we’re not there to sell you something. We’re there just to give you information and help you make some decisions.
We’ll start with Justin. Anything you’d like to leave the audience with as we wrap up?
Justin: Yeah. There’s a lot of apprehension out there about driving an EV, specifically. I would say that once you get behind the wheel of one, you should have financing available because you’re going to want one.
Carson: Great points, Justin.
Carson: I was a skeptic at first, too. Now I’m a full?hearted believer. I think it’s a blast driving electric, all the questions you get, and getting to talk to people about new technology. I’m a huge techie, so it’s a blast.
On top of all that, which I don’t think we’ve touched on yet, as an EV driver and a Consumers Energy customer, if you’re an electric customer, we also can put you on a special rate, which can actually benefit your whole home.
I have made just a few behavior changes, like setting my dishwashing cycle till after 11:00 PM, when rates are cheaper. When to do my laundry over the weekend.
Not only is it impacting my commute and my driving habits, but my home too. There’s lots of stuff that we can tell you all about. You just have to ask the questions because I wouldn’t have known either.
Bill: Absolutely. Thank you for that. Justin?
Justin: Carson brings up a good point. There are some things that we can do from the provider perspective that can also incentivize you. We have our Bring Your Own Charger program that will give you 10 bucks a month as long it’s charged between 11:00 PM and 6:00 AM, which, this is no secret, we all do it and we all get our 10 bucks every month.
Alternatively, you could go with our PowerMIDrive rebate for a rebate?eligible charger, up to $500 toward the purchase of one which covers probably 80 percent of the cost if my math is right, which probably not, but it’s pretty close. Just keep those things in mind when considering an EV too.
Bill: Thanks for that. Karl?
Karl: Maybe the message I want to leave people with is that driving electric is a paradigm shift. We’ve all been doing it for so long. It’s second nature to us, but we understand people coming in. They’re going to have lots of questions. What about this? What about that? What about charging? Am I going not going to have to change my battery? We’ve covered some of those things in the past podcasts.
Those are things that we collectively can answer, so if you have those questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Whether you can come to a show, whether you just want to drop us a Teams message, or an email, or call the EV specialists.
It all seems scary but as Justin said, and Carson also said, once you start doing it, it becomes second nature and then you know where the charging points are. I personally have driven over 200,000 electric miles. I’ve never been stranded by the side of the road. The only time my car has been towed is when I had a sidewall puncture on a tire because I couldn’t fix the flat myself.
You’re not going to get stuck if you do the right things, if you do a little bit of planning, and those are the kinds of things that we can guide you on to make that journey much more palatable. At the end, you’re going to come out and say, “Why in the world didn’t I do this much sooner?”
Bill: If we look back to the advent of the internal combustion engine in the car, I think people who worked with horse and buggies doubted whether the vehicle would ever take off. Look where it’s at today. I think that the electric car is not a novelty anymore.
Anyone who lives in Lansing, Michigan, could go to the Orioles Museum downtown and see one of the very first electric cars that General Motors started working with. At the time, it was a novelty. That is no longer the case.
Carson, you captured it brilliantly because Karl has been trying to get me behind the wheel of an EV since the first time we talked. Finally, at the Jackson Safety Fair, I got behind the wheel of an EV, and you’re absolutely right.
When you get in there, I’m thinking to myself, “I’m not going to be able to buy a new car here for a little while because we just got some new cars but we will be seriously looking at an EV for our household in that next vehicle we get.”
Just get behind the wheel and you’ll know what these guys are talking about. It’s a different driving experience but it’s a good different driving experience. I would challenge our audience to go out and just test drive one and see how you like it.
The other thing I want to do is throw a challenge out there to anyone listening to call our EV specialists and see if you can’t stump them. I think they’ve heard a lot of questions, and so I think they have a lot of great answers for you. Call them and give them those hard questions and I think you’ll get some great answers.
Carson: We want to give you money, the government wants to give you money, utilities want to give you money, your state wants to give you money. Just ask us the questions and we are going to guide you the best we can.
Bill: Excellent. Thanks to all three of you for coming on and doing the podcast today. Again, consumersenergy.com/ev is the place to go for that information. driveelectricweek.org if you want to know what’s going on for Electric Week. Then call us, email us, text us. However you communicate, get in touch with us and we’ll answer those questions that you have.