San Francisco could become the first city in America to put electric vehicles on the road in big numbers and create the charging infrastructure to keep them going, a move EV advocates say would push electric cars from the fringes to the mainstream.
Mayor Gavin Newsom is talking to Project Better Place about building a network of charging stations and automated battery-exchange stations similar to those the Silicon Valley startup is developing for Israel and Denmark. The mayor reportedly also is talking to several companies that would work alongside Project Better Place to develop the infrastructure.
"It would be terrific if this happened," said Paul Scott, co-founder of Plug-In America. "People will know that those of us who have been driving these cars for 5 or 10 years already know -- this technology works."
This is by no means a done deal, and anyone who knows San Francisco politics knows it can take forever to get anything done. But if Newsom pulls it off, EV advocates say, it would show people that electric cars are a viable alternative to internal combustion.
Newsom's office confirmed the mayor met with several of Project Better Place's top executives, including CEO Moshe Kaplinsky, last week in Israel. He reportedly is "very impressed" with the startup's plan to bring EVs to the masses and has offered to work with the company to bring electric cars to San Francisco.
Project Better Place is working with the Israeli government to roll out a nationwide EV charging infrastructure, and Renault has agreed to build the cars. It unveiled a prototype of the four-door sedan -- which will use a lithium ion battery with a range of 125 miles -- last weekend. Newsom was already back in the states by then, telling the audience at the New Yorker's "Stories from the Near Future" conference all about Project Better Place and saying San Francisco wants to be "the first city to adopt that strategy."
Scott says San Francisco is the perfect place for an electric car because it is compact, most people commute less than 50 miles a day and most of its electricity comes from natural gas, nuclear power and renewable sources like wind and geothermal energy.
That doesn't mean much if you haven't got the cars, but those are coming as well. Nissan, which is owned by Renault, plans to bring EVs to California by 2010. Several other automakers -- including BMW, Audi, Mitsubishi and Subaru -- are developing electric cars that will meet California's zero-emission vehicle mandate, which requires automakers to put at least 7,500 electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the road by 2014.
Scott says Newsom's plan "absolutely" would hasten the development of electric vehicles by creating a market for them. Renault is already developing cars for Project Better Place to deploy in Israel and Denmark, and if it brought those cars to California, Scott says, it would encourage other automakers to do the same.
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