Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why don't you make like a tree...

The Pol is not always the greenest fellow. I'll let you absorb the shock for a moment.

Recently though, I did go to a half day seminar on what may be a fascinating and illustrative portion of the green push that is coming to Knoxville: the Nissan Leaf. While past experiences with electric cars have all but been still-born, the Leaf and it's cousin the Volt are firing an opening volley across the bow of our automotive landscape.

Where others failed the developers of the Leaf, Volt, and soon a number of other true electrics or plug-in hybrids hope to succeed.

First some of the fascinating tidbits:

The triangle of Knoxville, Nashville, and Chattanooga is the only area in Tennessee that will have the Leaf. There are only five states in the country getting any of these cars -- Oregon, Washington, California, Texas, and Tennessee. We probably got it because of Nissan's vested interest in our state, but whatever.

The Leaf has a range of approximately 100 miles per charge and a charge can take anywhere between 30 minutes to 16 hours depending on the charger. (most home stations will charge in anywhere from 4-8 hours) The amount of power for charging is about the same as a clothes dryer.

Nissan is only producing about 50,000 this year and only about 1,000 are making it to our state so don't expect to see them everywhere and no Volts will make it to this market in 2011. The bulk of the people at this seminar were non-urban core district retail people who were looking at the charging stations as a way to offer a service to their customers and make a statement about their business practices. John Craig with the Market Square District Association was there, but that was it for the urbanites that I could see. All that said, I have some issues with the plan.

From what I could tell the plan is playing heavily to suburbia. The main focus of home charging lies on the assumption that people driver their cars into their garage and plug them in and don't think about them until the next morning. This glaring omission in distribution of a potentially large consumer block has me puzzled and concerned. Assuming everyone will park in a garage doesn't exactly challenge anyone's thinking on the relationship of man to car. Maybe I'm asking too much, but is replacing a fuel tank with a battery pack the most innovative change we could be offered?

Let's be honest, shall we. Hipsters, hippies, yuppies, and all shades in between who live in downtown are more concerned than the average American with the struggle between quantity and quality in life. We tend to live in smaller spaces and sacrifice isolation for the benefits that come with the community and increased efficiencies/ economies of scale of the urban life. We are also more likely to embrace alternative forms of transportation than the average person. So why is it we're not seeing a concerted push to make the electric car more of a reality for those who live a less cookie-cutter lifestyle.

I live in a condo, don't own the parking lot I use, and cannot just attach a charging station to the outside of my building. Is the city going to invest in 50 stations to install in all of the city garages? Will parking meters have plugs to supplement for visitors? Will Central Parking add stations to their lot as a service?

I'm inclined toward using a vehicle like the Leaf on a daily basis, but without a viable option for keeping it charged it becomes a bug rather than a feature in my life. And cars should be and always are intended to be lifestyle features and enhancers.

Here's hoping that a plausible solution is found for this glaring problem with the system, otherwise this is all just another fad.

(sorry, will add pictures later)


Andrea said...

I have the same problem. I would love to drive a car like the Volt, but with no way to charge it downtown, it's just not possible. Maybe in the future they will have more public charging spaces. For now I guess it's just a car for suburbia.

Robert said...

i think one solution is to focus on charging stations where people work - downtown, campus ... that way it doesnt matter where you live.

Anonymous said...

I was under the impression that there would be some downtown charging stations ( Is that no longer the case?

Mickey said...

Good post. Most of what I've seen about plug-ins addresses the issue of how to accommodate travelers spending a night away from home, i.e. where to plug the car in at a hotel (and how to recoup the cost of electricity.) I've yet to hear anyone discuss urban residents and drivers. You make some excellent points, Pol.

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