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Is Your City Prepared For Electric Vehicles?

By Kelly Vaughn

(Originally published in GreenBiz November 12, 2010)

Turn on the TV, and you will likely view a commercial featuring the plug-in capable Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf. Reading the paper you have no doubt encountered news about their much-anticipated launch (GM will publically launch the Volt later this month).

The question is no longer whether electric vehicles (EVs) are coming, but, “How fast?” and “Where first?”

“Advancements in EV technology have been achieved thanks to big investments by automakers and governments,” said Matt Mattila, a Rocky Mountain Institute transportation consultant. “Now, attention is shifting away from technology to what needs to be done at a city level to prepare for the successful adoption of these cars.”

Cities have a lot to gain from EV readiness. Despite several automakers launching models in the near term, vehicles will likely be in tight supply, as GM expects to deliver 10,000 the first year and upward of 30,000 by 2012 (As a comparison, GM’s popular full-size pickup truck, the Chevy Silverado, sold 465,065 in 2008).

This means early leaders who have tackled issues like infrastructure, incentives and consumer education stand to attract federal funds, build an environmentally conscious reputation, and attract the first wave of EVs to their local showrooms.

Yet a “winners vs. losers” scenario won’t help EVs in the long run. Although initial launches will target select cities where, for a number of reasons, EV readiness and appetite is the highest, electric vehicles will hit the entire country in the near future. Bloomberg reports electric vehicles will comprise 9 percent of automobile sales by 2020, and that the percentage will more than double by 2030.

For the EV transition to be truly successful and sustainable, all cities—not just the leaders—can seize the opportunity to provide their citizens with a variety of advanced transportation options on the market.

In their recently published report, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants and RMI’s Project Get Ready, an initiative which aims to help communities throughout North America prepare for and welcome electric vehicles, looked at America’s fifty largest cities to evaluate how they stack up in terms of EV readiness.

How does your city fare?

Is your city a plug-in pioneer? Or does it have a long way to go? Here’s how fifty of America’s largest metro areas rated when evaluated on a wide-range of EV readiness criteria:

Leaders: Cities with a strong foundation to welcome electric vehicles is a likely participant in the first wave of e-mobility. Cities that ranked as leaders included: Austin, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland, Raleigh, Riverside, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle.

Aggressive Follower: Cities with high momentum for EVs and strong potential to join the first wave with additional planning. Detroit, Houston, and Indianapolis are rated in this category.

Fast Follower: Cities that have put some effort toward EV readiness, but significant areas for improvement exists. These cities are most likely to participate in a second wave of electric vehicles if they continue to prepare. These include: Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Providence, San Antonio, St. Louis and Tampa.

Follower: Cities with limited current planning and a likely participant in later waves of e-mobility. Heading up the back of the pack are: Birmingham, Boston, Buffalo, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Hartford, Jacksonville, Louisville, Memphis, Miami, Milwaukee, Nashville, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Norfolk, Pittsburg, Philadelphia, Richmond, Salt Lake City and Washington.

While a little competition is fun, these rankings aren’t intended to glorify leaders and shame laggards. Rather, as Mattila points out, highlighting plug-in pioneers can help others close the gap and add momentum to the nationwide push for e-mobility.

For example, over a dozen partner cities (many of which are on this list) that collaborate through Project Get Ready have found there is no substitute for shared learning when building and pursuing an EV readiness strategy. Through this initiative, cities and technical advisers regularly meet to discuss lessons learned and best practices as they progress through a menu of plug-in readiness actions (read more about PGR’s technical advisers and the menu).

“We want to emphasize that, while some areas are leading and others are following, in the end, all cities will ‘win’ with the EV transition,” Mattila said. “When we re-evaluate cities in a year or two, many of today’s followers will have become leaders, building on years of preparation and lessons learned from other cities. In the meantime, all cities would benefit from proper planning.”

So even if your city is bringing up the rear, rest assured that the path to EV readiness will become much shorter and smoother as those who travel it first pave the way.

“Very soon, U.S. drivers will have a wider range of options for their personal transportation,” Mattila said, “But consumers can look at what their city is doing now to prepare. This is essential because planning today will effect whether or not you can plug in your EV at your home right away, how your utility rates are structured, or how many perks you are offered (like free parking or H.O.V. lane access).”

What is your city doing to get ready for electric vehicles? Visit www.projectgetready.com to learn more about partner cities' planning, progress and lessons you can bring home. Every phone call, letter, or even tweet (as pointed out in How Many Tweets Does it Take to Make Electric Cars Cool), can help energize your city to get plugged in.

Kelly Vaughn is a public relations analyst at RMI.