Electric cars are very exciting. Whether you're looking at the Tesla Model S or the Mitsubishi i MiEV or even the Aptera, the technology is evolving and so are the vehicle designs. Two great proponents of the electric car movement are Marc Geller of Plug In America and Dale Miller, President of the San Francisco Electric Vehicle Association.
Here's a little background about Plug In America and SF EVA...
Plug In America is a coalition of RAV4-EV drivers, former lessees of Honda EV+, GM EV1, Ford Ranger and Ford Th!nk City electric cars, and advocates of clean air and energy independence. Prior to 2008, we functioned as a loose network of individuals organized around websites of various names (like dontcrush.com and saveEV1.com) and then coalesced as a chapter of the Electric Auto Association. On January 2, 2008 Plug In America became a separate California Non-Profit Corporation. On August 18, 2008, we received our determination from the IRS, and we became an official 501(c)(3) public charity!
The SFEVA is an educational, support and advocacy group for the promotion of electric vehicles. Electric cars, trucks, scooters, and bikes provide emission-free personal transportation using electricity, not fossil fuels.
Below you'll find part one of Marc and Dale's two-part interview. Check back soon for part two!
A (Dale): SFEVA and Plug-In America have basically the same objectives. SFEVA focuses primarily on local issues in San Francisco and Marin County, while Plug-In America has a national focus. SFEVA is a chapter of the Electric Auto Association. More information on the background of the Electric Auto Association is at www.eaaev.org. We encourage our members to participate in both organizations.
A (Marc): The Electric Auto Association is 40 years old with chapters in most states. It has focused on assisting members converting cars to electric and staying on top of the technology. Plug In America was founded as DontCrush.com to protest the destruction of electric cars such as the EV1 in the early 2000s. Plug In America offers bumperstickers that say: "My Next Car: No Plug? No Deal!" (Talk about shameless plugs!)
Q: What are the biggest obstacles for the EV movement and what are your organizations doing to overcome them? (question from teej)
A (Dale): One of the biggest obstacles at this point is the shortage of electric vehicles on the market. SFEVA is working to raise awareness among manufacturers and government officials that consumers want EVs and that producing EVs will be a profitable business.
Another obstacle is the lack of awareness on the part of consumers that many different types of plug-in vehicles are actually available now and how well these vehicles will meet their needs. Many people don’t think about EVs when considering a vehicle purchase, especially in the case of scooters and neighborhood electric vehicles. SFEVA holds monthly meetings and participates in events to showcase EVs and inform the public about their capabilities. SFEVA publishes information about electric vehicles and provides lists of dealers on its website, www.sfeva.org.
The lack of a widespread electric vehicle charging infrastructure may be perceived to be an obstacle by some, but many vehicles can be charged from regular 120 volt household outlets that are already available or easily installed. Larger capacity outlets for charging cars are not as available, but the Bay Area Regional EV Initiative is developing programs to support the widespread installation of charging stations. SFEVA is participating in this initiative.
A (Marc): As Dale said, when it comes to cars, the biggest obstacle is the lack of vehicles. That will be overcome with time. But that process would be speeded up with an better and more science-based understanding of the benefits of electrification of transportation in general. Plug In America expends a lot of effort ensuring plug-in technologies receive their due in governmental policies regarding "alternative" fuels. We helped achieve historic levels of support in the federal stimulus package, and are working right now to increase support for plug-in vehicles in various California initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lower our consumption of petroleum.
Q: If you had to pick a pony in the race for a large scale EV company (or several) to emerge in the coming years, who do you think is best positioned? Does it have to come from an entrenched player (Chevy, Mitsubishi, Toyota) or can the Teslas and Fiskers and Zaps of the world cross the chasm? (question from Deej)
A (Dale): The established companies have an advantage in an experienced team and the infrastructure for design and testing to meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. They also have established relationships with suppliers and dealer or store networks.
The new companies have an advantage because they have vision and passion that is not encumbered by an existing bureaucracy. However, the newer companies are at a disadvantage because they have more difficulty in attracting funding.
Nissan and Mitsubishi appear to have projects in progress that will result in large scale production of electric cars earlier than the other entrenched companies. Ford is mostly likely to lead the Big 3 in the production of EVs, especially vans and trucks.
I believe that Tesla, Th!nk, Miles, and perhaps Aptera definitely have the potential to become large scale EV companies.
A (Marc): If the Federal government recognized this moment of distress for the automakers as an opportunity to reorient the industry toward electric drive the way the industry was redirected to tanks and planes when we entered World War II, the big legacy American companies could take the lead. More likely, the relatively small numbers of plug-in cars we're likely to see from the majors in the next few years give new companies a real opportunity to beat to market and compete with the big boys. Of course the most important new player will probably be the Chinese. Toyota will wait until another company leaps. I'm rooting for them all. Let one hundred flowers bloom!
Q: I've been waiting a long time for electric vehicles with long range (100+) and short recharge times. Phoenix and others keep pushing the dates further into the future. When do you think any longrange EV's will make it to the marketplace? (question from Kingsman42sc)
A (Dale): Vehicles with a range of range of more than 100 miles are available now. Used Toyota RAV4 EVs have a range greater than 100 miles and new Tesla Roadsters have a range of about 240 miles. AC Propulsion’s eBox has a range greater than 120 miles. Although the Mini E is only available for lease to several hundred lucky people in Southern California, it has a range of more than 150 miles.
I expect quite a few more vehicles with a range of greater than 100 miles to be on the market in 2010 and 2011.
New vehicles in development by Tesla, Nissan, Mitsubishi, and others have the capability of being charged in approximately a half hour at special high voltage charging stations. A vehicle that can be fully charged in less than six hours will work well for the large majority of drivers. If the vehicle is plugged in over night and while the driver is at work, the full range will be available nearly every time the driver gets into the car.
A (Marc): My one car is a Toyota RAV4 EV, and for 3 years I drove a Th!nk City, so I know the difference between a 50 and 100+ mile range car. (The Th!nk covered about 80% of my driving; the RAV about 99%.) Now I can drive from San Francisco to San Jose or Sacramento or Santa Rosa and there's plenty of existing public EV chargers to juice me up to return home. I've done 150 mile days in my 100 mile vehicle without ever waiting for a charge. I've concluded that for me 100 mile range is all the battery I'd want to pay for. I'll continue to borrow or rent a gasser to go to Burning Man, for example. (But I do think internal combustion should be banned from the playa.) I do think fast charging stations are likely to appear in the not too distant future, but they are more expensive to deploy and less important in the short term to meet greenhouse gas and petroleum reduction goals.
Q: What do you think the future holds for two and three wheeled electric vehicles? Do you think they'll be street legal? Do you think cars like the Aptera, the Triac, the Persu Hybrid, etc. will have good consumer adoption? (question from stins)
A (Dale): I think the future is very bright for electric bicycles, scooters, and motorcycles. Millions of these vehicles are on the road in other countries. They are available now at dealers in the Bay Area. These vehicles offer high performance, low maintenance, very economical operating costs, and most important, do not produce any emissions. They can be parked or stored in a relatively small space and can be plugged in to a standard electric outlet for charging.
Enclosed three wheel vehicles, such as the NMG, are freeway and street legal and on the roads in the Bay Area. Adoption of vehicles such as the Aptera may be spurred by the fact that they are electric as well as by their unique design. The electric drive feature may cause more consumers to consider these vehicles than would consider a similar gasoline powered vehicle.
A (Marc): Two and three wheeled vehicles also need to make the move to electric drive. I see and hear and smell all sorts of internal combustion powered short haul vehicles that ought to be electric. A relatively small investment from government to equalize the cost while electric carries a premium would pay great dividends.