By Charles Carter with introduction by Sirinya The Intern

Charles Carter, the communications analyst here at UCLA Transportation and a fellow transportation geek, traveled last week to check out the latest in plug-in hybrids at the public day for the 2009 Plug-In America conference in Long Beach. He got super excited while telling me about the 2010 Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid that can travel up to 400 miles (but will probably get closer to 250 in city driving).

Read more about the Chevy Volt and other things that Charles observed in his first ever contribution to the Be A Green Commuter Blog


The flyer read: “Will your next car be a plug-in? As these vehicles move closer to showrooms, think about driving a cleaner, quieter car that averages 100 miles per gallon…plugs into an outlet at home to give you local all-electric driving range…lowers your fuel costs…and helps protect the planet by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and smog-forming pollutants.”

So Tuesday night, I minivan-pooled with three others to the Long Beach Convention Center for the Plug-in 2009 Public Night. For $10, I got to be part of the Plug-in 2009 Conference and Exposition for a few hours.

I stopped by the Plug in America www.PlugInAmerica.org, booth. They’re a non-profit organization promoting the consumer choice and use of plug-in cars, trucks, and SUVs powered by domestic electricity. Suffice it to say they’ve got lots of great links on their site. They don’t hide from past history on this issue, and have learned from how California’s Zero Emission Vehicle mandate in the ‘90s ran into wall, when state government eventually bowed to auto and oil industry pressure and pulled the plug on it.

I learned that “in an all-electric car, high performance batteries store cleaner, cheaper, domestic electricity and an electric motor provides propulsion with zero emissions. In a plug-in hybrid, more batteries than a conventional hybrid allow local all-electric, zero-emission driving with a gasoline engine for longer distances.”

Here’s a thought…Imagine a scenario in the not-too-distant future for homeowners with solar panels installed on their homes. If they own a plug-in car and recharge it at their home via solar power, then the car becomes truly a zero-emission vehicle.

There were several companies there who do conversions of existing hybrid cars to plug-in hybrid cars, with ranges of 10-40 miles in pure electric mode. One of the vehicles I got to see was the Chevy Volt--well, at least the guts of it, as the body and interior were stripped away. GM actually doesn’t consider it a hybrid.

Current hybrids cars, such as the Prius, have a small electric motor that moves the car when it is going slowly, but when speed or acceleration increases, bigger gasoline motor kicks in. While the Volt will still have an on-board gasoline/E85 combustion engine, this engine is the smaller one, and has only one task, producing electricity for the all-electric motor to power the car at all times when the stored electric power (40 miles in standard driving conditions…GM says studies suggest that 78% of drivers drive less than 40 miles each day.) gets low. That battery pack in the car is recharged by plugging the car into a 110 (or 220) volt wall outlet, just like an iPod or cell phone.

GM says the Volt will have an overall driving range of up to 400 miles. They also estimate in most areas electricity costs should amount to a gas equivalent price of 50 cents per gallon. The Volt is now expected to go on sale November 2010, and GM obviously has a lot riding on this car’s success.

After a couple of hours, the exhibit hall closed and a crowd of several hundred moved to a huge room to hear a panel discussion on what fans and drivers of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles can do to help get the message out on the coming wave of plug-in technology within the next 2-5 years. I was glad I came and got to hear three great speakers, starting with Bill Nye “The Science Guy,”. Nye, who currently drives a Mini electric car but arrived by Metro Blue Line and proudly held up his all-day ticket, was very insightful and very funny.

Also on the panel was Chelsea Sexton, Founder, The Lightning Rod Foundation & former General Motors EV1 Specialist, where she worked leasing the EV1 to customers and working on marketing strategies, until late 2001, when she was laid off and GM stopped the EV1 program. She is one of the most prominent plug-in vehicle supporters around, and was one of the key people interviewed in the 2006 documentary film Who Killed the Electric Car? One of the things she discussed was the importance of managing expectations because in the initial years electric vehicle availability will be limited, with demand almost certainly likely to outpace production capacity.

Last but not least, Who Killed the Electric Car director Chris Paine teased the crowd with tidbits from the film he’s currently working on: Revenge of the Electric Car.

I learned a little, saw a lot experienced the plug-in electricity in the air.

-- Charles Carter, UCLA Transportation