Calif. to set up electric car infrastructure

An alliance of automakers, utilities, regulators and clean-air advocates have released an ambitious plan to make California a leader in accommodating electric vehicles with charging terminals.

An alliance of automakers, utilities, regulators and clean-air advocates have released an ambitious plan to make California a leader in accommodating electric vehicles with charging terminals available in thousands of homes, office buildings, shopping malls and other sites within the next decade.

Olivier Chalouhi waves from his new electric Nissan Leaf in San Mateo, Calif., Monday. He is the first customer worldwide to receive the all-electric Nissan Leaf. ((Paul Sakuma/Associated Press))

The California Plug-In Electric Vehicle Collaborative touted its plan after the first Nissan Leaf, a mass-market, all-electric car, was delivered to a customer in Redwood City, Calif., over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the first 150 Chevrolet Volts left a Detroit auto plant on Monday and were expected to arrive in California showrooms in the coming days.

Work is underway in the state to upgrade existing charging terminals and install thousands more to accommodate electric vehicles.

One company is even developing a network of "switching stations" where motorists can pull in and swap out their spent batteries.

"All eyes are on California. It will host without question the largest rollout, the greatest numbers of EVs in the country, and it will also have the charge and switch infrastructure," said Jonathan Read, president of Ecotality, which will soon begin installing 1,600 public charging stations in San Diego and Los Angeles that resemble a giant iPod with a cord and plug attached.

The plan, which supporters believe could serve as a model, outlines steps to get charging stations easily installed at homes and then in high-traffic public areas and apartment buildings to encourage drivers to switch from gasoline-powered vehicles to plug-in electric vehicles.

Affordability is key

The plan recommends making installation of home charging stations affordable by offering rebates from the state and regional air quality districts. To further lower costs, the state could reduce registration fees for battery-powered cars, and utilities could offer cheaper charging rates during off-peak hours when there is less demand on the electric grid.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger checks out the Chevrolet Volt electric car during a tour of the greenest vehicles at the Los Angeles Auto Show at the L.A. Convention Center on Nov. 19. ((Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press))

"We want the whole process — from getting the charger, figuring out which one to get, getting it installed, having it operate, all of that — to be a seamless, easy exercise, because in a sense you're replacing the gas station with the charger in your house," said Ted Craver, chief executive of Edison International, the parent company of Southern California Edison.

Advocates said past efforts to introduce electric vehicles to the mainstream car market fizzled because gas prices were low, batteries were weak, and carmakers and utilities were not working together.

"This time is not going to be a repeat. You can say the last time was a dry run," said Roland Hwang, transportation program director of the Natural Resources Defence Council.

The unusual partnership between government, private companies, environmentalists and public health advocates is key to ensuring that electric vehicles will take off in California, said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board.

"Nobody is forcing us to do this; it is actually all of us getting together and saying we all have a common stake in the success of this new market — what can we do to make that happen?" Nichols said.