Columbus Exceeds Smart City Challenge Grant’s Electric Vehicle Adoption Goal

Columbus region residents purchase 3,323 electric vehicles in three years, exceeding goal of the Smart City Challenge grant awarded by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation

Smart Columbus today announced that 3,323 electric vehicles (EVs) were sold in the seven-county Columbus region from April 2017 to February 2020, meaning sales exceeded the Smart Columbus Electrification Program’s goal of 3,200 EVs sold. Consumer likelihood to purchase an EV also grew by more than 20%, suggesting sustained growth to come. The Electrification Program was developed and executed through the $10 million grant awarded to Columbus by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation as the winner of the Smart City Challenge. The program was designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through electrification of transportation and decarbonization.

“We are proud to deliver on the bold goal of this groundbreaking program, which has served to make our community more sustainable, our businesses more resilient, and our infrastructure more future-ready,” said Mayor Andrew J. Ginther. “As we look to our future, continued efforts to electrify mobility and decarbonize electricity will be critical to addressing the challenges we face, as they directly support resident health and wellness, and help to drive economic development and shared prosperity.” 

When Columbus applied to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s first-ever Smart City Challenge in 2016, just 0.4% of vehicles sold in the Columbus region were battery electric vehicles (BEVs) or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). Columbus set a goal to increase EV adoption to 1.8%, or 3,200 vehicles by March 2020. During the grant period, sales reached as high as 2.34% in Q4 2018 and reached 1.6% in Q4 2019. Transitioning 3,323 vehicles to electric is estimated to eliminate about 1,850 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of planting over 30,000 trees to sequester carbon during a 10-year period. The grant’s term concluded on March 31, with reporting and additional vehicle charging station installations extending into 2020.


“We’re thrilled to see the progress and success of the smart city program over the years,” said Paul Keating, Senior Director of Philanthropy at Vulcan Inc. “Columbus has demonstrated how a region can develop new transport systems through innovation to reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. And in doing so, Columbus has created a model that can be replicated nationwide.”

In addition to EV sales growth, a survey of Columbus consumers classified as early adopters shows that Smart Columbus’ efforts have helped to increase consumer likelihood to purchase EVs in the future.

 Before Smart Columbus Electrification ProgramAfter Smart Columbus Electrification Program
October 2017March 2020
Aware of one or more public EV charging station42%94%
Favorable or somewhat favorable perception of BEVs48%62%
Favorable or somewhat favorable perception of PHEVs57%65%
Somewhat or extremely likely to purchase a BEV33%55%
Somewhat or extremely likely to purchase a PHEV33%57%
Research conducted by Guidehouse among early adopters in the seven-county Columbus region. 

“Smart Columbus has developed innovative programs and partnerships that will electrify the future of transportation in the region,” said Ben Prochazka, National Director of the Electrification Coalition. “As a longstanding partner, it’s been amazing to see the hard work influence consumers, public and private fleets and businesses to take Columbus from zero to 60 for EV adoption. The Smart Columbus Electrification Program has not only shifted the market but will serve as a model for accelerating the market through broad community partnerships.”

To encourage cities and organizations to adopt initiatives modeled after the Electrification Program, Smart Columbus today launched, a digital program capstone that summarizes the more than 100 articles, case studies and success stories contained within Smart Columbus’ digital Playbook. The content provides advice and resources to help cities, businesses, academic institutions, nonprofits and other organizations replicate and scale programs proven in Columbus.

A key legacy of the program is the Smart Columbus Acceleration Partner program, an initiative that drove change by partnering with large private sector employers to help employees choose more sustainable ways to get to work. Seventy large Columbus employers partnered with Smart Columbus to develop innovative education and incentive programs that encouraged residents drive electric and drive less, reducing congestion and emissions while also addressing equity.

“This success could not have been achieved without the vision and engagement of leaders from across Columbus’ public and private sectors,” said Alex Fischer, President and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, which rallied many of its member organizations to join the program. “Of all the learnings Smart Columbus will share from this success, the most important will be the ‘The Columbus Way’ — our community’s unique model of public/private sector collaboration that enables us to do big things that benefit the prosperity of our residents and our region.”

Another driver of the program’s success was AEP Ohio’s $9.5 million incentive program designed to spur installation of public EV charging stations. The program’s mission is to help local governments, workplaces, apartment complexes and others install at least 300 Level 2 charging stations and 75 DC Fast Charging stations throughout AEP Ohio’s service territory. The program requires that all charging stations be equipped with “smart” technology to capture usage data for four years and that 10% of charging stations be located in low income areas, with all associated costs covered for low income areas. Launched in August 2018, the program is already fully subscribed, with approximately 85% of approved projects located within the Smart Columbus area.

“We knew from the beginning that the Smart Columbus effort was a unique opportunity to work with an extensive group of partners committed to making Columbus the prototype for other smart cities across our country,” said Raja Sundararajan, AEP Ohio President and Chief Operating Officer. “As the local energy company, we understood the critical role we held in the success of the program. Our work with Smart Columbus has taught us many lessons about making EV charging more accessible and we’ll use this experience as we expand to other areas of the state.”

Additional projects of the consumer EV adoption initiative that drove sales and changed perceptions included:

  • The Smart Columbus Ride & Drive Roadshow, which facilitated 11,956 educational EV test drives at Acceleration Partner work sites and community events throughout the region. The program is believed to be the largest EV test drive program ever scaled over two years.
  • The Smart Columbus Experience Center, where residents conducted an additional 400 EV test drives and were invited to learn about EVs and shared mobility options. The Experience Center has welcomed more than 30,000 visitors from 80 cities and 20 countries since it opened in June 2018.
  • The “EVolve Your Thinking” digital education campaign, which generated 13.8 million impressions locally and was named a finalist in the North American SABRE Awards, the world’s largest PR awards program.
  • The Smart Columbus Electrified Dealer program, which has trained more than 70 sales associates from 35 dealerships on how to sell EVs. 

“We’ve never seen a ride and drive program like what the folks at Smart Columbus pulled off,” said Matt Ringlien of Dave Gill Chevrolet, which has emerged as one of the top Chevy EV dealers in the state. “We were happy to loan a Volt and a Bolt for these efforts. So many of our local customers had learned about the Bolt and Dave Gill Chevy from these test drives. This kind of validation is invaluable and drove traffic to us and other Electrified Dealers in the immediate term, and has helped our business prepare for long-term shifts in the industry.”