LOS ANGELES--The Chevrolet Volt was crowned as the Green Car of the Year here at the Los Angeles Auto Show, held in a city that is trying to be as encouraging to electric vehicles (EVs) as possible. California is the epicenter of the EV revolution -- probably half the electric and plug-in hybrid cars installed in the first year will be in this state, which has a unique combination of a lot of early adopters, great state incentives (including access to the all-important HOV lanes in traffic-clogged LA) and a climate that is kind to batteries.
The Coda sedan on the floor of the LA Auto Show. Plug in, indeed. (Jim Motavalli photo)
I drove from LAX to a Volkswagen green car event in a Volt, enjoying its combination of refinement, sophisticated electronics (GM's Rob Peterson and Britta Gross helped me use OnStar to download driving directions) and stellar green attributes.
I walked into the convention center as Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa was announcing a plan to streamline the process for installing a home charging system. The city is interesting in that it has the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, a city-owned utility, which makes it pretty easy to coordinate everything.
Southern California Edison and the Electric Drive Transportation announced a new website, GoElectricDrive.com, that is designed to help state consumers buy EVs. It has such features as a "Plug-In Car Rate Assistant" that estimates the cost of fueling an EV and its likely impact on your electric bill.
The site also has a virtual dealership that lets you see what's on the market -- nearly every EV to be offered in the next year will be for sale in California, including the cars on display at the show, from the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt to the Smart electric drive, Coda sedan (delayed for six months) and the Wheego LiFe.
I sat down with Ted Craver, chairman, president and CEO of Edison International, parent company for Southern California Edison (SCE), which supplies electricity for every area utility customer except those living in the city of Los Angeles. "California is 12 percent of the total vehicle market in the U.S.," he told me. "But it has 26 percent of the hybrid sales nationally. That supports the expectation about the number of early adopters we will have for EVs."
SCE projects a high, low and middle case for EV sales. By 2020, the high case would have 1.1 million EVs on the road, the middle case 450,000 and the low case 150,000.
"There are a lot of variables," said Brian Wynne, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association. "All we can do is gather the different variables and present a range, but California is very likely to be a hotbed of early EV sales."
Craver points to the state's mild climate, the big population of environmentally conscious consumers, and the high percentage of homes (even downtown in cities like Los Angeles) that have attached garages and off-street parking. SCE, which has a fleet of 300 alternative-power cars and trucks, is even looking to change its bucket trucks to hybrid electric.
EVs will operate at a quarter or less the cost of conventional gas cars, said Wynne. What's not to like, aside from stubbornly high purchase prices? It's not clear that EVs will be a huge hit nationally, but I'll be dumbfounded if they don't make it in California, where all systems are clearly marked "GO!"
From Popular Mechanics: The 10 Best-of-Show Cars at the LA Auto Show
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