Ford Lists Top 25 EV Cities, Highlights Pacific Coast Corridor for Future EV Road Trips

5/26/11Follow @bvbigelow

With the average price of gasoline reaching almost $4 a gallon nationwide, it’s safe to say a lot of people are curious about the all-electric vehicles (EV) that many automakers have been showing off lately.

Still, it’s hard to justify the $100,000-plus sticker price for a Tesla Roadster or the $33,000 price of a Nissan Leaf if the only EV charging station for hundreds of miles is in your own garage.

So Dearborn, MI-based Ford Motor, which plans to roll out its Focus EV later this year, has been studying which U.S. cities have gotten the farthest down the road, in terms of developing the infrastructure needed to support EVs. The company has listed what it calls the 25 “most electric vehicle-ready cities in the U.S.,” based on Ford’s own research and available public information.

While no metropolis is really EV ready today, the study notes the Interstate 5 corridor that runs from Seattle through Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles to San Diego “is probably the most advanced in terms of planning for EVs,” according to Mike Tinskey, Ford’s manager of global vehicle electrification and infrastructure. That’s not a green light for EV owners to begin planning road trips this Memorial Day weekend, but such trips might be possible in another year or two.

The corridor stands out largely because of the “EV Project,” a modern-day federal public works project made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The U.S. Department of Energy is providing almost $115 million to install more than 14,000 commercial and residential EV charging stations in 18 major cities—including eight along the I-5 corridor. With matching funds from utilities, automakers, and other companies, total funding for the EV Project is about $230 million, which is intended to build the charging stations and other infrastructure needed to support at least 8,300 EVs.

San Francisco-based Ecotality, which is overseeing the EV Project, said last week it had installed 1,000 of its Blink Level 2 residential charging stations so far, passing a significant milestone in the deployment of plug-in vehicle chargers. A spokeswoman says most of the charging stations installed so far have been in residential units, but the company plans to accelerate the installation of publicly available charging stations in coming weeks.

It’s also worth noting that Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced earlier this week that the Obama Administration plans to buy 101 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrids and 15 all-electric vehicles, the government’s first EV purchase, and to install an additional 100 car-charging stations in five cities: Washington, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.

Ford’s Tinskey says the U.S. automaker compiled its own list of the top 25 EV-ready cities in the hope that other U.S. cities would take notice and follow suit. Xconomy’s six cities-Boston, New York, Detroit, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle-all made the cut.

To create the list, Ford says it considered a multitude of factors, including, most crucially, how well local city and county governments worked together with electric utilities and EV manufacturers to integrate EVs into the urban transportation mix. Getting cities, utilities, and EV manufacturers into the same room , Tinskey says, “They can access most of the issues that come up in terms of getting a city EV ready. In California, it’s being done on more of a regional basis while in Washington it’s more of a state approach.”

“In the past, cities would say how charge-ready they are by just counting how many charging stations have been installed,” Tinskey said. “More recently, we’ve seen a lot of cities take more of an urban planning approach.”

Such planning might include regional and local incentives, such as allowing EVs to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes, preferred parking, and even tax incentives—all criteria that Ford considered for its list. Urban planning won’t necessarily determine how fast the EV adoption rate grows, but it could be a limiting factor as prospective EV buyers consider how easy it is to buy, drive, and charge their zero-emission vehicles.

Many little things must be addressed, Tinskey says. For example, he says a percentage of EV charging stations must be available for handicapped access under the Americans with Disabilities Act. So Ford also considered “streamlined permitting processes” as a factor in its selection. “When a customer buys a car, they don’t want to wait one-to-two weeks,” Tinskey says. “Many of these cities have addressed that and have actually gotten that period down to 48 hours or so.”

Ford also views utility rate structures that encourage users to charge their EVs during overnight off-peak hours as a critical incentive for consumers. Establishing such time-of-use rates, though, typically requires the approval of state regulators.

Atlanta, Tinskey says, has an off-peak charging rate of 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, “so you can get a full charge overnight for about a quarter. That’s the low-end bookmark, but it certainly shows that drivers in that region can benefit.”

Ford provided this map of its 25 most EV-ready cities:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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