Plug-In Pride Celebrated In Weekend Events

By AutoObserver Staff October 18, 2011

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More than 230 battery electric (BEV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV)and their owners strutted their stuff in a pair of Southern California parades Sunday celebrating the inaugural National Plug In Day. But while the events in Santa Monica and Orange drew lots of the faithful as participants, there were few spectators to view the lineups of cars that stretched from pioneering EVs of the 1980s and 1900s to the newest all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars including a sleek Fisker Karma. The Santa Monica event, which sponsors said was the largest of 21 Plug In Day events held around the country, featured appearances by actor and environmental activist Ed Begley, Jr., documentary filmmaker Chris Paine and celebrity EV supporter Fabio. The day’s celebration of electric-drive vehicles grew out of an annual informal gathering of EV owners that began in Santa Monica two years ago.

Electric vehicle advocacy group Plug In America, along with the Sierra Club and the Electric Auto Association, coordinated the event. Begley and Los Angeles City Council member and Congressional candidate Janice Hahn spoke to a crowd of about 200 people in front of Santa Monica's City Hall before the mid-morning parade there, representing old-school support and new converts to the world of electric vehicles. Organizers also used the occasion to plug director Paine's "Revenge of the Electric Car," the sequel to 2006's "Who Killed The Electric Car?" which chronicled the demise of General Motors' EV1. “Revenge,” chronicling the development of new electric-drive vehicles such as 2011’s Nissan Leaf battery-electric hatchback and Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid sedan, premiers Oct. 21.

Policy Issues
Begley, who's been driving electric vehicles since 1970, said that the nearly $1 billion a day that the U.S. is estimated to be spending on foreign oil is a good reason to embrace BEVs. Hahn, who purchased her first electric-drive vehicle -- a Nissan Leaf -- about a month ago, said cars like the Leaf and Volt “represent change that won't just clean up our skies in this region, but will roll back the threat of global warming...This dependence on gasoline has kept us entangled in some of the most unstable parts of the world, and more than once, it's cost us our principals."

Speakers at the event in Orange echoed those statements and said that one big boost for battery electric (BEV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) is the growing number of public charging stations being installed around the county – many through government-subsidized programs but an increasing number through private businesses that see a profit-making future in selling electricity to drivers of plug-in vehicles. Given the sentiments expressed on many of the vehicles with personalized license plates, there also may be a business opportunity in T-Shirts, posters and stickers with anti-oil and pro electric-drive slogans.

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Turnout Spotlights Variety
The 172 vehicles in the Santa Monica parade more than doubled the number that participated in the first event in 2009. An early Monday morning tally of Plug In Day events showed that at least 600 owners turned out to show off their vehicles in just 10 of the 21 cities in which they were held. At the two Southern California events more than half of the vehicles were Nissan Leafs, while Tesla Roadster BEVs and Chevrolet Volt PHEVs accounted for most of the rest. There also were a smattering of electric motorcycles, private and commercial EV conversions --including a couple of Porsche replicas. Several displayed Mitsubishi’s upcoming “i” electric city car, and there were a number of “legacy” BEVs from the 1990s such as Toyota’s RAV4 EV (a 2012 version is coming next year) and Chevrolet’s S10 EV compact pickup, built to help satisfy an early zero emissions mandate in California.

The event in Orange featured a parade of 67 cars along largely vacant residential streets in the city’s “Old Town” center, while the larger parade in Santa Monica was able to use major city streets, which were blocked off for the event. Traveling at a leisurely pace of about three miles per hour down Santa Monica's Main Street, the parade elicited good-natured ribbing from the few dozen onlookers – illustrating that while participants in such events are passionate about the future of electric-drive, the concept is going to take time to catch on with the broader general public.

2011 Plug In Parade plates.jpgCracks overheard along the Santa Monica parade route centered on the parade’s slow speed ("And they're off!"), the anxiety often expressed by those who question electric vehicles’ range ("Need a charge yet?") and even the vehicles’ nearly silent operation ("It's kind of like a funeral procession.") Onlooker Janet Hallenbrook said she was encouraged that many younger drivers were taking to BEVs, but the retiree said she had no plans to buy a BEV. "No, it's not me. I don't drive much anyway," Asked what she did drive, Hallenbrook replied, "You don't want to know...It's a Land Rover, and I love it.”

Spreading The Word
Event organizers said they were hopeful that the growing presence of electric vehicles in the U.S. market coupled with events such as Sunday’s array of events the country would help familiarize people with advanced-drive vehicles and help the industry achieve annual sales of a million or more BEVs and PHEVs in by 2015. Colorado-based Pike Research, an environmental issues research firm, has estimated a much lower number, predicting in a recent report that Americans will buy about 300,000 BEVs and PHEVs in 2015, up from about 50,000 this year. Through the first nine months of the year, Nissan sold 7,199 Leafs in the U.S. while GM sold 3,895 Volts, according to data compiled by Edmunds.com. By comparison, Toyota has sold more than 93,000 Prius hybrid-electric vehicles during a year when the supply of the vehicles in the U.S. has been reduced by manufacturing and shipping delays stemming from the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March.

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