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Plug-ins Starting to Arrive; More Thoughts on PHEVs & EVs; Congress & Incentives
Dec 9, 2010 (From the CalCars-News archive)
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In the midst of very daunting times, this is an increasingly exciting time in the plug-in world. Here's news about the events surrounding the first mass-produced plug-in vehicle going to a consumer; steps you can take to encourage the extension of important incentives for plug-ins; our own Ron Gremban's thoughts on the relative positions of the Volt/LEAF, and PHEVs/EVs, and a Wall Street Journal report that makes the business case for plug-in trucks (very helpful for conversions).

SF BAY AREA GETS WORLD'S FIRST NISSAN LEAF DELIVERY: If you're in Northern California, come to North Bay Nissan, 1250 Auto Center Drive in Petaluma this Saturday, December 11 at 11:45 AM, and join the caravan that will make its way to San Francisco -- or just be at SF City Hall at 1:30 for a press conference and celebration with Nissan and Bay Area city officials. Meet Ron Coury, who aims to be the top LEAF seller. (The story of how the first owner got a LEAF and why is itself an interesting tale.)

Plug-in fever is rising. This event has been broadly promoted by EV advocates, Nissan, and area government agencies. (Ron and Felix both have LEAFs on order from North Bay, and we'll be there.) Today's San Jose Mercury News features a page one story, "Workplace charging stations for electric vehicles are the latest Silicon Valley perk" http://www.mercurynews.com/­business/­ci_16809939

PLUG-IN ADVOCATES URGE YEAR-END LEGISLATION: As controversial as the tax proposal is, advocates have lost no time in encouraging their supporters to make sure green measures aren't left out. The first is the expiration of federal credits for installation of home and business charging systems. These systems are just now arriving (Felix's, for a LEAF and a Volt was installed on Monday), but the credits could go away at the end of the month before many of them are in. Here's Plug In America's pitch:

Last year the US Government approved tax credits for EV charging infrastructure of 50% up to $2,000 for individuals and $50,000 for businesses. Unfortunately this tax credit expires 12/31/2010. Just as plug-in cars are about to get on the road is absolutely the wrong time to end this tax credit. Plug In America is working with members of Congress to get this tax credit extended. But now we hear that the infrastructure tax credit extension may be scaled back or eliminated from the 2010 tax extenders bill. We need your help -- please take just a moment to click through the link below and show Washington just how serious you are about getting affordable plug-in infrastructure at our homes and businesses: http://www.pluginamerica.org/­evtaxcredit

BROADER CLEANTECH INCENTIVES: Here's how the Center for American Progress is drawing attention to "two relatively small clean energy tax provisions that have created tens of thousands of jobs and will improve U.S. economic competitiveness while reducing pollution. As of this writing, the deal does not include extension of two American Recovery and Reinvestment Act programs that expire at the end of 2010 and have helped build a bigger domestic clean tech industry: the "Treasury Grant Program" (Sec. 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) and the Advanced Energy Manufacturing tax credit (section 48C of the tax code). http://www.americanprogress.org/­issues/­2010/­12/­clean_tech_hole.html .

The Clean Economy Network (http://www.cleaneconomynetwork.org ) especially encourages people who have a related business interest to call 202.224.3121 and ask to be connected to their Senator; tell them their views. And send CEN info on any companies that could be affected. The NY Times has weighed in with an editorial in support at http://www.nytimes.com/­2010/­12/­09/­opinion/­09thu3.html , while affirming their support for an end to more costly and counterproductive corn ethanol subsidies.

RON GREMBAN COMMENTS ON DISCUSSIONS ABOUT EVs/PHEVs, LEAF/VOLT: Useful insights from our Technology Lead (plus a link to his work on plug-in planes) at http://nissan-leaf.net/­2010/­12/­06/­first-us-delivery-of-nissan-leaf-scheduled-for-dec-11/­comment-page-1/­#comment-21123

[QUOTING]: In my mind the big problem has not been the EV1 but the Prius and other parallel hybrids. They've just been a distraction which haven't solved anything but have given the car companies an excuse not to proceed with real EVs. [RON REPLIES]:

I beg to differ. The Prius was not a mere distraction. In fact, its wild success made the LEAF, the Volt, and the whole host of emerging plug-in cars possible. It showed that the inclusion of a strong electric propulsion system in a car could provide huge enough advantages as to outweigh the (much lower than all other auto manufacturers presumed necessary) added costs to help the car sell like hotcakes.

Additionally, it provided the mass-produced platform for the first plug-in conversions (starting with my car, in 2004), which, with little more than a larger battery, could be propelled by not only gasoline but also electric energy from the grid. It was both this and the advent of the Tesla Roadster that inspired the Volt and helped give both GM and Nissan the courage to move forward with their plug-in vehicle programs.

I am disappointed that both GM and Nissan appear to see their plug-in offerings as in competition with each other. Instead, I see them as occupying different niches that both help legitimize the whole EV territory. The truth is that affordable, completely general-purpose BEVs are at least another product cycle away. In the meantime we need both PHEVs (including EREVs) and commuter BEVs to build high-volume cost reductions, public awareness, infrastructure, market penetration, and a first down-payment on major oil and GHG reductions.

I am absolutely thrilled with Carlos Ghosn's huge commitment to BEVs, even larger than the clearly successful commitment that Toyota made to hybrid technology over a decade ago. Ghosn's commitment (along with the federal government"s tax credits) -- and the LEAF as a worthy embodiment -- is making practical, affordable BEVs available at least 5 years sooner than I would have believed possible.

On the other hand, the Volt, which GM has also made a huge commitment to, though after going through bankruptcy it doesn't have the funds to subsidize early production costs, serves a different segment of the people who might drive a general-purpose BEV if it were available. And to paraphrase one of many auto reviewers, "Volt customers may well learn that range anxiety is not the big bogeyman they thought it was, and buy a pure EV next time."

My Volt was built early last month, and I can't wait for it to arrive in the next week or two. Though I ordered within an hour of receiving the enabling email, the LEAF I have on order is a month or two behind it. Each has its exceptional qualities as well as its limitations. Both are thrilling, endearing, groundbreaking vehicles that should finally truly begin the transformation of the automotive world that I began promoting with teammates on the Caltech-MIT "Great Transcontinental Electric Car Race" of 1968.

P.S. I am now also a member of the Green Flight Project team, designing a production electric propulsion system for the Cessna 172, the world's most successful light airplane. See http://www.byeenergy.com/­pages/­green-flight-main.html .

WALL STREET JOURNAL ON TRUCK ECONOMICS VALIDATES CONVERSIONS: An article, "As Electric Vehicles Arrive, Firms See Payback in Trucks" by Mike Ramsay, says "electric vehicles already are gaining early traction in another realm: commercial delivery fleet. The article includes case studies, including:

Staples said the annual maintenance cost of a diesel delivery truck is about $2,700 in most years, including oil, transmission fluid, filters and belts. For an electric truck--which has no transmission and needs no fluids, filters or belts-the cost is about $250. One big savings comes in brakes. Because electric trucks use "regenerative" braking, which returns some of the force of stopping to the batteries in the form of electricity, the brakes don't wear out as fast. That means the brakes last four or five years, not one or two, before they need a $1,100 repair. Electric trucks also don't need the urea exhaust-cleaning system of diesels, which costs about $700 a year to maintain. And electric motors are far less complex than diesel engines, last much longer and the training required to work on them is minimal, Mr. Payette said. On top of this, Staples says it will save each year roughly $6,500 in fuel costs per electric vehicle over a diesel model. Each of Staples's electric delivery trucks will run a daily route of under 70 miles and then come back to be recharged at night... .Add it all up [including fuel savings and higher initial costs] and Staples expects to save nearly $60,000 over the 10-year life of an electric truck over a diesel model.

Interestingly, the article also points to a major issue for fleets, and one that will apply even more to companies building businesses retrofitting existing vehicles: "One impediment to wider adoption of electric trucks: finance companies offer leases on them. That's because finance companies are unsure about how to value the lease 'residual," a truck's worth after a few years of use. Many large companies, including Staples, prefer to lease trucks to avoid the large capital requirements of an outright purchase." http://online.wsj.com/­article/­SB10001424052748704584804575644773552573304.html

HERTZ JUMPS IN TO PLUG-IN CARS: Hertz Connect, the urban and college rental service, is adding EVs and PHEVs to its fleet. https://www.hertzev.com/ is beginning in New York. See a report at http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/­2010/­12/­07/­hertz-puts-electric-cars-on-the-fast-track-starting-in-new-york/­. One of the moving forces behind this effort has been entrepreneur Jack Hidary, who founded SmartTransportation.org and helped get NYC to hybridize its taxi fleet. Hertz has already established a Global EV Initiative, and is now joining Zipcar in adding plug-ins to its short-term rental program.

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