As the rollouts of the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf approach, it is a stretch to say that the East Valley will soon be a mecca of electric car activity — but it does figure to be a hub.
Phoenix/Tucson is one of five markets nationwide to participate in the Leaf’s initial run, and those cars can be charged at any of approximately 400 station locations around the Valley that one company is planning to install.
At Arizona State University, a team is working on creating an environmentally-friendly electric car battery with a range approaching 1,000 miles on a single charge.
“It’s an exciting time,” said Bill Sheaffer, executive director of the Valley of the Sun Clean Cities Coalition. “With the infrastructure that is going in, I think you’ll see this project get off the ground pretty quickly.”
Or at least as quickly as auto production allows.
The Volt, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, is schedule for launch in November. The following month, the all-electric Leaf gets its limited release.
Based on the most recent sales figures available, 529 Arizonans have paid the $99 reservation fee for a Leaf. Only “nine or 10” cars will be sold in the state during the first run, said Jason Doherty, Internet and fleet director at Riverview Nissan in Mesa.
“The interest has been great,” Doherty said. “Our store does not typically see much floor traffic, but I would say we get two people a week walking in, assuming we have the Leaf here to drive. They want to see it and touch it, and we tell them they have to wait until December.”
The Volt retails at about $41,000, the Leaf — an acronym for leading, environmentally-friendly, affordable family car — for $32,780. Tax credits and other incentives will apply.
In 1996, General Motors launched the EV1, the first mass-produced all-electric car. However, GM felt that the revenue did not justify the production costs and scrapped the project in 2002.
The Volt and Leaf are expected to be more successful. Those cars seat four people, while the EV1 fit only two. The nation is more green-conscious than in the 1990s. Most important, the supporting infrastructure — thanks to large federal grants and funds, and charging-station technology that will be compatible with all electric cars — is much greater.
ECOtality, a San Francisco-based company, received a $99.8-million stimulus grant to build charging infrastructure in five states, including Arizona. ASU’s battery team — headed by Cody Friesen, associate professor of materials science — got $5 million in stimulus funds.
“The amount of money being put in at the federal level, and the participation of cities and towns has been fantastic,” said Marc Sobelman, ECOtality Arizona area manager. “The battery life of the Leaf is expected to be 100 miles. The average person in Phoenix drives 24 miles one way to work, so people can get to and from work and make whatever side trips they need to during the course of a day with no problem.”
Mesa is negotiating a charging-station contract with ECOtality. Frank McRae, energy resources department director, said he is confident a deal will get done and that the city will have stations ready for the Volt and Leaf.
McRae said Mesa hopes to have around 50 stations but might have to settle for 30-40. City officials believe Mesa is especially suited for the project because it has its own electric utility, an island within the Salt River Project system, that serves about 15,000 customers in the downtown area.
“It’s an opportunity to get into a sustainable energy role we haven’t been able to get into until now,” McRae said. “The City Council and manager’s office agree that this is something for the future that we should pursue.”