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Plug-in 2009: Meaningful Change Will Require Maximum Cooperation

By KBB.com Editors on August 14, 2009 2:37 PM
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This week's Plug-in 2009 has drawn electric vehicle (EV) partisans from around the country to Long Beach, California, for the now-annual state-of-the-discipline briefings. But amid an exhibition hall full of the latest technology and experts on every aspect of this emerging form of transport, one dictum resonated through virtually all of the keynote presentations: The only way America is going to shake its dependence on fossil fuels and embrace an electric future is through a collective and cooperative effort to streamline the path to that goal -- and to start enacting policies to achieve that end right now.

While the long-term commitment to create and effectively operate a true "smart grid" system remains at the top of the big-picture to-do list, infrastructure issues that exist on regional and more critically on local levels are seen as potentially being even bigger obstacles to increasing market penetration for plug-ins, specifically on the individual consumer level. Mark Perry, Nissan's director of product planning and advanced technology strategy, offered the most concise observation on this matter during his presentation on the automaker's new LEAF EV which will see fleets duty in select areas by the end of next year but hit the personal-use market by 2012. He noted that while avid early adopters might consider spending six weeks or more to have a proper home charging station be approved, permitted, installed, inspected and finally made operational, the average consumer has no intention of enduring that kind of time-consuming procedure just to drive a plug-in.

Another speaker well versed in dealing with these far-reaching challenges, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, stressed that making the plug-in alternative more desirable will require adopting an entirely new mindset with respect to expediting the functional processes on all levels. According to Newsom -- who's committed to having San Francisco become the EV Capital of the World -- there's just one way to make it happen: "We need to take risk; we need to raise the bar for achievement." A former GM EV-1 lessee and long-term "green-power" partisan, Newsom admits that convincing everyone from the federal government to individual owners to get on the same focused road in this undertaking is going to require a lot of work in what is becoming an increasingly compressed time window.

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