Passion for Plug Ins Expanding in California


Californians have now a clear passion for plug-ins, with 2012 as the watermark year for electric cars in the state. Just four years ago, the U.S. $100,000 plus Tesla Roadsters was the only electric vehicle able to reach highway speeds. The past few years has seen an ever-increasing wave of plug in vehicles being introduced, not only in California’s showrooms, but all over the United States as well.

This summer alone, nearly a dozen plug in vehicles and crossovers would start to travel the U.S. roadways. About five to six models would be arriving right before the end of August, from electric car manufacturers such as Tesla and Coda Automotive and industry giants such as Toyota and Ford.

California has been long known as a trendsetter, with many factors being used to make this a testing center for what is considered as the golden age of personal transportation. The state has been known as hotbeds of technology and entertainment, with many first adopters having ready cash to spend on the new technology. Currently, an expanded charging infrastructure is being developed together with access to battery-powered cars to coveted carpool lanes on congested freeways.

Amongst the most awaited electric models of the summer would be the Tesla Model S luxury sedan, with its base price of U.S. $58,570 increasing to U.S. $78,570 depending on the size of the battery pack. The upgrade would have a consequent increase in the driving range on a charge. During its development stage, Tesla received more than 10,000 reservations without even the benefit of a test drive. The Model S was initially promised to be delivered in 2009, it was finally unveiled and the first delivery was made last June 22.

According to Paul Scott, co-founder of Plug In America, an advocacy group for electric car, “The people who buy this car are the movers and shakers – leaders in arts, entertainment, business.” Scott is now selling all electric Leafs at a Nissan dealership in Los Angeles, downtown area.

He added, “I sold a Leaf to Danny DeVito. He’s that kind of guy. But you’ve got a lot of people who just will not put themselves into a small car.” He further said that celebrities who live large are the ones who would drive the market if they adopt upscale electrics such as the Tesla, to later influence regular individual purchases.

After introduction of the Model S last weekend, the Tesla Motor Corp is providing thousands of test drives to those who placed reservations, with events to he held in Fremont and Los Angeles, before moving to other cities in North America. Other drivers are also getting behind the wheel of the Coda electric sedan. The U.S. $38,145 vehicle would be tested in events to be held in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay area. The car would be made available in four dealerships in California.

The major difference in the plug in vehicle market is the presence of the world’s largest carmakers, with their very own offerings in this car design and platform. Ford initially offered its U.S. $40,000 Focus Electric to its dealers last May and is expecting to sell about 350 cars in California, New Jersey and New York by June’s end. Another carmaker, Honda, is now providing leasing for its Fit EV priced at U.S. $389 per month in California and Oregon. The Japanese carmaker would then be expanding its reach to six East Coast areas in 2013.

California Enacts Pro EV Measures


In a new measure, the California State Assembly has paved the way to make electric vehicles more affordable, as well as practical, for the ordinary car user. Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield filed a bill allowing for easier access to these vehicles of the future.

Assembly bill 2502 passed the California Lower House by a unanimous 75 to none vote and with that the measure was forwarded to the California State Senate for further review and consideration.

According to Blumenfield, “Electric vehicles must become a more affordable and practical choice for Californians. Getting past ‘range anxiety’ is essential for this technology to be embraced by commuters. Accelerated vehicle recharging can help and we must make it more affordable.”

This bill is just part of the Blumenfield’s overall Clean Car Package. Other aspects of the bill include allowing car dealers to include the cost of accelerated charging systems for the electric vehicle, such as installation costs in the purchaser’s home or the vehicle’s financing charges. The fast charging equipment would allow the homeowner to fully recharge the vehicle through a 220 volt outlet overnight.

Blumenfield adds, “We can encourage more Californians to buy zero-emission cars. A few thousand dollars out of pocket is a barrier we can overcome with this bill.”

New car consumers in the state make downpayments for vehicles ranging from 17.8% or U.S.$5,139 for a U.S.$28,870 priced car in 2011. While this figure is below the threshold level of 20% recommended by car market buying authorities, making additional financing available is important to improve the market acceptance of the electric vehicle platform.

Another bill authored by Blumenfield is AB 2045 and it provides clean car drives with free access to carpool lanes and converted toll lanes. Before this measure, clean cars have never been allowed free access in these specific lanes. This said bill was passed last month and has been forwarded to the California State Senate.

Over and above the current state and federal incentives provided to purchasers, these new measures would help the car market gear more towards the purchase of clean and green technologies for their transportation needs. These new incentives would help tip the scales in favor of the electric vehicle for a cleaner and greener future for all.

Carbon Footprints for Electric Vehicles Differ


In a recent report by the Union of Concern Scientists, to be released on Monday, there is a significant difference between the amount of greenhouse gases resulting from the charging of the electric vehicles battery arrays.

These greenhouse gases are primarily carbon dioxide and these contribute to the climate change. These gases trap heat, leading to an increase in the global temperatures affecting the weather, as well as other environmental factors.

The report is entitled “State of Charge: Electric Vehicles’ Global Warming Emissions and Fuel Cost Savings Across the United States”. The study used the electrical power requirements of a Nissan Leaf as the basis for comparison. The Leaf sets a logical baseline and what differs is the source of electricity as well as the greenhouse gases produced in the production of that electricity.

The study found that in Los Angeles, Ca., there is a low level of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, about the same levels as an internal combustion engine car running on gasoline having 79 miles to the gallon. On the other hand, the same vehicle in Denver would result in the production of greenhouse gases to enter the atmosphere, similar to vehicles such as the gasoline fueled Mazda 3 currently rated at 33 miles per gallon by the Environmental Protection Agency. This makes a major difference, as the California Nissan Leaf is hailed for its efficiency while the Denver Nissan Leaf’s carbon footprint is enlarged because of the electrical utilities that powers to charge the batteries.

Simply put, the effect of electric vehicles on the amount of greenhouse gases released into the environment spanning a wide range of sources, with variations as to the power producers that charges them.

The report takes into consideration the full cycle of energy production, called the well to wheels analysis. It identifies the areas where the electric utility relies on a variety of sources, such as natural gas, nuclear power, hydroelectric power, or other renewable sources in order to power generators. The potential for electric cars and plug-in hybrids in the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions is great, but where power sources use the burning of a high percentage of coal, then despite the latest technology, may not be any different than the latest internal combustion engine models.

When current gasoline prices hover around U.S.$4 per gallon and with the increased production of electric vehicles, such as the Ford Focus and the Honda Fit, together with plug in hybrids such as the Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius PHV and the Ford Fusion Energi, either already available or soon to become available, the study provides a better picture of the current energy landscape. The information that can be derived from the study can help car purchasers make better decisions for the future.

The EV1 from General Motors


This is an electric car that was produced and leased by General Motors between 1996 and 1999. This design was the first mass-produced and designed electric vehicle of the modern era. This was also the first car from the automaker that was purposely designed from the beginning.

The EV1 was built after there was favorable reception of the concept electric car of the company, the Impact. This decision was further buttressed by the recommendation of the California Air Resources Board that commercial automakers create zero-emission vehicles. This car was only made available through lease only agreements to residents of California and other states.

The first EV1 cars were termed the first generation and were powered using lead acid batteries. This has a range between seventy and one hundred miles and a total of six hundred and sixty cars were built. The second generation was made available in 1999 with major changes resulting in great weight reduction and the introduction of the nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery. The battery pack was a 60 amp-hour or an 18.7 kilowatt hour battery pack resulting in greater range for its 26.4 kWh with 343 volt output for its matter. With the new battery platform, the EV1 can travel between 100 and 140 miles in distance range.

The automaker then issued a recall of 450 of its first generation EV1 vehicles on March 2, 2000 because of a faulty charge port cable that may result in heat build up to result in fire. According to the company, there were sixteen thermal incidents resulting in one fire that resulted from the defect. This one fire affected only first generation EV1s and did not affect the second generation EV1s.

The EV1 was a vehicle platform that was not a conversion. It was among the first vehicles that utilized aluminum for its frame and the body panels were built from plastic, resulting in a dent resistant and lightweight vehicle. The car had anti-lock brakes and a traction control system, keyless entry and ignition system. Other technological advances include thermal glass, automated tire pressure loss warning system, electric power steering and time programmable HVAC system.

By 2003, the company had cancelled the EV1 program saying that the carmaker could not sell enough vehicles to be able to make a profit on the vehicle. It was further stated that the service infrastructure needed to comply with the fifteen year minimum requirement would be too expensive. Since these vehicles were leases, the cars would need to be returned to the company for disposal. Eventually, there were major issues that were presumed that lead to the demise of this good vehicle platform.

Road Rules on Hybrids May Slow Down Traffic


The California State Legislature passed a regulation banning hybrids and electric vehicles from the carpool lane effective July 1. The wisdom of the lawmakers thought that these special vehicles effectively slow down the carpool lane, increasing inefficiency.

A recent study though has found that denying hybrids rights to drive in the carpool lane only slows down traffic on all lanes of the freeway, including the carpool lane. The study was conducted by Kitae Jang and Michael J. Cassidy of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California at Berkeley.

Through a set of complicated equations and data obtained through roadway sensors, the theory formulated measured speed and congestion rates on freeways along the San Francisco Bay Area six months prior to the July 1 deadline. Then, the same sets of data were obtained in both July and August after effectivity of the ban. The results yielded that all lanes slowed down when the hybrids were not allowed into the carpool lane.

According to the researchers, “Everyone seems to offer.” They further speculated some reasons why the carpool lane slows even further even with the removal of hybrids in the lane. One of them would be those driving in the carpool lane instinctively slows down because going faster than the traffic on the regular lanes feels inherently dangerous.

The researchers added, ““Carpool-lane drivers may be reluctant to travel fast when adjacent traffic is moving at slow, congested speeds. And when regular lanes are congested, lane-changing maneuvers made into and out of a carpool lane may become disruptive and diminish its speeds.”

The carpool lane incentive was introduced as part of a package of benefits for the purchase of low-emission cars. Introduced in 2005, by 2011, over 85,000 low emission vehicles were able to use the lane. Many carpoolers though criticized that many hybrid cars had only solo drivers, thus clogging up the lane for carpoolers.

The results were very different from what the state legislators predicted. This may be due to the presence of additional cars into the freeway thus adding to the congestion. As for the supposed decongested carpool lane, the users of the lane became more cautious because of the lesser number of carpool lane users.

According to Jiang, ““As vehicles move out of the carpool lane and into a regular lane, they have to slow down to match the speed of the congested lane. Likewise, as cars from a slow-moving regular lane try to slip into a carpool lane, they can take time to pick up speed, which also slows down the carpool lane vehicles.”

There needs to be greater studies on the matter in order to fully realize the goals set forth for fuel efficiency in the long run.