Electric vehicles on the rise in California

Posted Monday, 25 November 2013, 12:12

What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, the ZEV mandate was in retreat, there were only meager demonstration offerings by auto companies for electric vehicles, and automakers were even legally fighting every effort to incrementally increase the efficiency of conventional vehicles by a few percent per year in California.

Senator Pavley and Assemblyman Perea receive Legislator of Year award from Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. (Photo by Eileen Tutt.)

Fast forward to today. At the Los Angeles Auto Show, the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers just gave none other than California Senator Fran Pavley an award for accelerating the growth in electric vehicles. Yes, this is the same Ms. Pavley who stared down the automakers and broke the decades-long deadlock on increasing US vehicle efficiency with California’s landmark “Pavley standards” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2016. Both Sen. Pavley and Curt Augustine of the Alliance joked about, and dismissed, how they didn’t see eye-to-eye back in the fight over California’s pioneering vehicle carbon emission standards. But they both emphasized that the latest California policies to accelerate electric drive vehicles are the right thing to do and proof that there is plenty of room for a pro-business, pro-environment coalition.

Specifically, Senator Pavley and Assemblyman Perea were honored as the Alliance’s “Legislators of the Year.” Their noted accomplishments were the passage of California legislation (especially Senate Bill 11 and Assembly Bill 8) that would provide the certainty that automakers need to deliver large amounts of advanced electric vehicles to the market. The increased certainty comes in the form of committed long-term infrastructure investment and consumer incentives. For infrastructure, the state committed to $20M annually in funds to put 100 publically available hydrogen refueling stations in California to pave the way for fuel cell vehicles. For consumers, the legislation extends the consumer rebates for electric vehicle purchases through 2023 to make sure the emerging, more expensive technology will more readily move from development plans, to showrooms, to drivers around the state.

Meanwhile the setting for the award, the Los Angeles Auto Show, was abuzz with loads of plug-in electric vehicles in many shapes, sizes, and types by nearly every automaker. I’m sure I missed on or two, but the electric vehicles included the BMW I3 and i8, Audi A3 e-tron, Mercedes B-class, Chevrolet Spark and Volt, Volkswagen e-Golf, Toyota Rav4 (powered by Tesla), Honda Fit and Accord, Cadillac ELR, Mitsubishi iMiEV, Fiat 500e, Ford C-Max and Fusion. Going further, Hyundai CEO John Krafcik suggested that the joint announcement on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota initiated “a new era,” offering up “the next generation of electric vehicles.”

The next step is to recreate these automaker-government alliances on electric vehicles, globally. Especially considering the billion-dollar automaker investments in these advanced technologies, it will be important to bring global high-volume scale to bear, see cost reductions to make the technologies affordable to the mainstream market, and learn from international policy and infrastructure experiences.