Public Charging Station for electric cars, courtesy Mitsubishi MotorsEnlarge Photo
"Less altruistic" electric-car buyers
Rob Peterson, who works in GM Communications, wrote on a Facebook group for Volt owners:
Today, the EV community is filled with well-intended owners/advocates who are pushing for a faster adoption of electric vehicles, but this community will soon grow to include others who drive electric cars for less altruistic reasons.
You're already seeing dissension among the troops, as owners of pure EVs are pushing to have Volts excluded from public charging as they believe either their EV miles have inherently more "goodness" than those of a Volt or they have specific [knowledge] to understand how much liquid fuel a charging Volt has on board.
Electric vehicles are coming, and we need to be prepared for tens of thousands of electric-car, extended-range electric, and plug-in hybrid owners--some who may not have the same values that those of us in the community share today.
GM's dark fears seem to envision a scenario in which drivers of battery-electric vehicles (like the Leaf) feel free to unplug plug-in hybrids (like the Volt) from charging stations, rationalizing that, "They have an engine to get them home, whereas I'll be stranded if I can't charge."
Under that scenario, Volt owners consistently lose--which would explain why GM wants unplugging anyone's car, ever, to become illegal.
2011 Chevrolet VoltEnlarge Photo
Sexton points out that there's absolutely no indication that this has happened to date, or that it will happen in the future. "There's no reason to believe the vehicle population will ever outgrow the driver population's ability to behave considerately," she said. "GM's entire point of view is based on a fallacy."
And she noted the plug-in vehicle population will grow slowly as a proportion of the overall vehicle pool--slowly enough to let issues be resolved if they arise.
Why did it get so ugly?
But the dispute has gotten surprisingly ugly. In comments on Sexton's first blog post and in concurrent Twitter discussions, Balch said advocates' concerns are "misguided" and an attempt at "spreading misinformation," among other characterizations.
The tone of the discourse seems doubly odd given that GM invited Sexton to be part of its first Volt Advisory Board, followed by an amusing sequence of articles she wrote about pretending to "hide" her Volt to prevent the company from taking it back.
Just six months ago, that got her slammed by some advocates as "in GM's pocket." My, how times change. For the record, Sexton chuckles, she has less vested interest than most of the other parties--she doesn't own a plug-in vehicle.
But to Plug-In America and other advocates, the question has expanded beyond the bill's language to include: Why is General Motors fighting for it so fiercely?
The company has shad some success after three years of wooing electric-car advocates bitter over its crushing of EV1s. Balch admitted that engaging with electric-car advocates is a primary part of his communications role.
Unclear what's to be gained
But battle-scarred advocates say GM is reverting to type--notwithstanding its bankruptcy, restructuring, new management, and the launch of a plug-in vehicle. "The current stonewalling and refusal to engage ... most closely resembles the EV1 standoff," said a frustrated Sexton.
Why that has happened remains very unclear.
When asked why GM is fighting the advocates so strongly, Balch simply reiterated, "We have a good public policy, and we're standing behind it."
GM out on a limb?
But it's possible the carmaker has gone out on a limb. GM may be the only electric-car maker that supports AB 475 as now written.
Ryan Reynolds Nissan Leaf SpokespersonEnlarge Photo
While Nissan's government affairs representative is away on vacation this week, Nissan said she had already expressed its concerns to Governor Brown's office. The company, said Katherine Zachary, is "looking to fully understand the considerations and nuances of the bill."
And Silicon Valley startup Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] has expressed its own concerns with the bill to the governor's office as well.
New draft altogether?
On Wednesday, Plug-In America, Sexton, and others met with Governor Brown's staff and were asked to draft an amended version of the law that would address their objections. They did so, and have submitted it for consideration.
We'll keep you posted on what happens with AB 475.
And, tell us, what do you think: Should it always be illegal to unplug an electric car at a public charging station? Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.