AfroTech Comes to Austin, Highlights Barriers to EV Ownership

GM exec says electric vehicles need to be accessible

AfroTech co-founder Jeff Nelson (l) onstage with GM's Telva McGruder (Photo by Leena Alali)

Last Wednesday, hundreds of entrepreneurs, industry experts, and tech lovers from across the nation gathered at AfroTech, a conference focused on tech and Web3 (a new iteration of the World Wide Web) in Black spaces.

The convention started in 2016 in response to a deficit of Black representation in the tech space. Now, AfroTech is the largest Black tech conference in the U.S. and serves as a national recruiting and innovation hub (although tech companies have been making massive layoffs in recent weeks, including during the conference). This year's conference, held at the Austin Convention Center, is the first held in Texas. Large firms including PayPal, Amazon, Tesla, and Meta came to recruit and demonstrate support for DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiatives.

Telva McGruder, chief DEI officer at GM, kicked off the Wednesday speaker panel with a talk about accessibility to electric vehicles for Black communities. McGruder emphasized that although green initiatives are important, socioeconomic barriers in the Black community make it tough to afford electric vehicles. "We're working to create a future that's more sustainable, where people have more access to the things that they need," McGruder said. "In order for us to do that well, we need to have diverse team members."

As of Nov. 17, there were 22,204 electric vehicles registered in Travis County, according to Texas Depart­ment of Motor Vehicles data. To increase this number, McGruder emphasized that green and sustainable movements need to be repackaged and thought of through the lens of an individual coming from a minority community.

Jeff Nelson, AfroTech co-founder and chief operating officer of tech media outlet Blavity, moderated the panel and joined McGruder in discussing the issue of working toward an accessible total experience of EV ownership for Black individuals. "The price point can be affordable, but if people can't live with it, charge it, and sustain the ownership of the vehicle" it becomes too difficult for low-income families to use, Nelson said.

McGruder argued that Black communities should care about electric vehicle usage not only to reduce emissions, but to create healthier environments for the next generation of children. But to get that message across, McGruder said, diverse voices need to be present in the room so corporations can address the finer details of accessibility. To get those voices in the room, she emphasized the importance of education in the Black community. "Diversity, equity, and inclusion isn't charity, it's not corporate philanthropy," Nelson said. "It's essential to being a successful business."

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Afrotech, Jeff Nelson, GM

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