car2go Smart ForTwo Electric Drive charging at San Diego Automotive MuseumEnlarge Photo
You can see at a glance whether it's done charging. Let's say the light on top of the dash is green, meaning the car has fully recharged. And, let's say the owner left a sign on the dash--as electric-car drivers may do--saying, "If my car is done charging, you can unplug it IF you need to charge."
So you unplug the Volt, close its charger door, and plug the cord into your own car to start recharging. It's called "charger sharing." Simple enough, right?
Under the new law, Sexton points out, that would mean the first guy's car could be towed away, because he would now be illegally parked.
You couldn't get ticketed for unplugging. At least, not yet: GM has said unplugging an electric car is "tampering" and should be viewed as vandalism--like smashing car windows or slashing tires--that carries criminal penalties.
Doing the right thing gets harder
The net effect is to reduce access to charging stations, advocates say. And they base their claims on 15 years of experience: If every electric car at a charging spot must be plugged in, so-called "charging" could come to take as long as the owner needs to spend doing whatever she planned to do while the car was parked.
Ask yourself: Which is easier, leaving a sign saying "unplug me if I've finished," or interrupting your business to walk out to your car, unplug it, and move it to a different space further away just as soon as it notifies you it's charged up?
Precluding this additional access to a charging station would seem to ill-serve all plug-in drivers, including the Chevrolet Volt owners whose interests GM says it's representing.
Scenes from dedication of electric-car charging station at Creekside Inn, Palo Alto, CAEnlarge Photo
She said, he said
Yet when Plug-In America raised alarms about the loss of sharing, Sexton says, the office of sponsor Assemblymember Betsy Butler told the group, "General Motors didn't want changes."
GM says that while it recognizes that advocates had concerns, it didn't see them as critical--so when the Assemblymember reached out, the company said it was fine with the bill as written.
Advocates: Kill the bill
Electric-car advocates are now so upset that they now either want AB 475 killed altogether, or to revert to the original language that added plug-in hybrids to the list of vehicles eligible for a sticker. A Plug-In America action alert has, the group says, generated hundreds of letters to Governor Brown's office urging that he veto the bill as written.
A letter sent by Plug-In America to Assemblymember Butler 10 days ago says, in part:
Plug In America enthusiastically originally endorsed AB 475 at introduction (February 15, 2011), which would have simply added plug-in hybrids to an existing EV parking law. Unfortunately, the current amendments to AB 475 will actually make it more difficult for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids to share charging infrastructure.
We now oppose this bill because it will hurt the consumers who it was designed to help and will not accomplish its stated goal. This, in turn, could reduce the demand for the next generation of clean efficient vehicles which run on clean domestic electricity.
GM: No backing down
GM is sticking energetically to its guns.
2011 Chevrolet Volt test drive, Michigan, October 2010Enlarge Photo
Shad Balch, who works with Volt owners in California and is GM's front-line representative both to the broader electric-car community, has written and posted numerous approving comments on AB 475.
One can be found on Volt portal MyChevroletVolt; it's worth reading for the countervailing comments from advocate Mark Larsen and others.
About AB 475, Balch says confidently, "This is the best public policy." In a lengthy interview with GreenCarReports, he made other points:
But asked if he thought this was a good model for other states to adopt, Balch said it would be "a good start."
Bad blood like EV1 days
Balch said that GM had not engaged other automakers--like Nissan, Tesla, Fisker, or Toyota--in discussions over the language of the draft bill, nor was he aware of any participants from other makers present at any discussions.
But since advocates called for a rethink, bad blood has boiled up between GM and the advocacy community, to a degree not seen since GM took back and crushed its EV1 electric cars starting in November 2003.
The difference could be based on outlook: GM seems to have a much darker (or less idealistic) view of how its customers and other electric-car drivers will behave than do advocates.