San Francisco’s love affair with the electric car +VIDEO

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One in five purely electric cars in the United States was bought by San Franciscans this year. Nearly a quarter of the nation’s public plug in vehicle charging stations are located in California. The electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla is outselling Porsches, Lincolns and Cadillacs in the state. Californians have bought 34,000 Toyota hybrid Priuses so far this year. One Californian rental car company, City Car Share, is in the process of converting its entire fleet to electric.To celebrate their affection for petrol free cars, a week of events is being held in San Francisco to show other drivers the benefits of all electric and plug in hybrid cars.

But nationwide, many consumers are still wary of electric cars, feeling they’re too expensive, too slow and don’t get enough miles per charge.Organisers of “Charge Across Town” Electric Vehicle Week say the event in California aims to eliminate some of these misconceptions. New EV models can get up to 300 miles per charge and a few models cost under 20 thousand dollars. The new Ford Fusion 2014 is just over US $21,000.

“Some of the earlier electric vehicles didn’t go very far, let’s be honest,” says Maureen Blanc, Director, Charge Across Town. “Now you can go up to 200, 300 miles in some of these vehicles and it’s going to get better.” 

There are signs that car buyers in the the rest of the United States are turning to electric vehicles. Plug-in vehicles that run entirely on battery power or that combine electric and gasoline drives represent less than 1% of total U.S. vehicle sales, but in the past three years their numbers have grown rapidly. Sales nearly tripled in 2012 and are on track to nearly double this year, according to the trade group, Electric Drive Transportation Association. August 2013 was a record-breaking month with 11,363 electric cars sold, a fifty per cent increase on the previous month. Good news for environmentalists who say electric vehicles are much better for the environment compared to gas-guzzling cars.

California has ambitious goals for lowering its carbon foot print and encouraging more drivers to buy electric cars forms a major part of it. Its Zero Emissions Vehicle regulation (ZEV) requires that 1.4 million electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles are sold in the state by 2025. To help encourage new buyers, California’s green and white High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) sticker programme allows solo drivers of electric cars and some plug-in hybrids to use the carpool lane. The programme was due to expire in January 2015 but has been extended for another four years. There is also more choice for drivers with twenty models on the market in the US.

“Two years ago we had one or two models out there,” says Mike Harrigan, the Director of Electric Vehicle Program, City Car Share. “Tesla was ploughing fertile ground but nobody with a normal budget could afford to buy an electric car. Now there’s probably 15-20 of plug in models available on the market.”

New 2014 EV models available for test drives during the “Charge Across Town Week” include the new BMW i3 and the new Tesla Model X. And fans of the Electric Vehicle say drivers should be in for a smooth ride. “The beauty of an electric motor drive is that you get maximum torque out of your very first RPM,” says Robert Langford, Manager of Plug In Vehicles Sales for Honda. “So acceleration from a standing start is superior actually to an internal combustion engine for the most part.” 

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