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PORTAGE — People who always wanted to drive a Tesla Model 3, but found it out of their price range, had the chance to get behind the wheel Thursday during the National Drive Electric Week's ride and drive event.

South Shore Clean Cities teamed up with the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission to host the drive, a chance for visitors get behind the wheel and experience an electric vehicle firsthand.

The nationwide celebration aims to heighten awareness of the widespread availability of plug-in vehicles and to highlight the benefits of all-electric and plug-in hybrid-electric cars, trucks, motorcycles and other modes of transportation, according to Lauri Keagle of SSCC. More than 300 events are taking place this week across the nation. Clean cities coalitions are organizations designed to reduce petroleum consumption by advocating for cleaner alternatives. 

"That is one of the ultimate goals, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality, human health," Keagle said. "There's so many different aspects and the owners will tell you that ... It's such a multifaceted thing."

Electric vehicle owners were in attendance to share their ownership experiences while SSCC representatives provided details on what electric vehicles are available locally, where to find electric vehicle charging stations, what purchasing incentives are available and more. Keagle said consumers who brought their own electric vehicles "are the best sales people because they not trying to sell you anything."

"They will tell you why they got it, why it makes sense, why it works for them,"  Keagle said.

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The NIRPC/SSCC National Drive electric Week Vehicle Ride and Drive included the Nissan LEAF, Chevrolet Bolt and Volt, Kia Soul, Tesla Models 3, 4 and X and more.

Garlan Garner invited visitors to check out his pristine Tesla Model 3 in the parking lot at the NIRPC office in Portage. His was one of several Teslas open for viewing during the event. Garner, who lives in South Holland and is a software developer for Tesla, has been working with the company to develop stop sign recognition on driverless cars.

Garner said the car drives itself via cameras. Just last Thursday, he said he sent his car to Sam's Club for a prescription, then to his parent's to drop it off and then back to his home.

Clayton Hedgepath never thought he would end up as an "advocate" for electric cars, but got a home charger installed through a NIPSCO program a few years ago. He bought a Ford C-Max Energi, then a Mitsubishi i-MiEV and now owns a Chevrolet Bolt EV.

"After adding up the costs of owning the i-MiEV and realizing it costs next to nothing, pretty much, you just pay for the power to NIPSCO and that's it," Hedgepath said. "I finally got this, and I'll never go back."

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Porter County General Assignment Reporter

Emily covers Porter County news and features for The Times. A transplant from NW Ohio to NWI, Emily loves talking to people and hearing their stories. She graduated from the University of Toledo in 2018 and believes all dogs are good dogs.