DEARBORN - The launch of the all-new Ford Focus Electric and C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid are quickly approaching and around the country cities are preparing for the arrival electric vehicles. During an @Ford interview, Mike Tinskey, manager, Ford Vehicle Electrification and Infrastructure, explained how Ford is working with a growing number of metropolitan areas, that currently includes 25 cities from across the U.S., and utility partners to ensure electrification is viable and attractive to consumers.
Q. What makes a city electric vehicle-ready? What were your criteria for choosing the 25 cities?
A. It’s not a single item, but a collection of items that we’re looking for to help break down the barriers for our plug-in and electric vehicles. Some of the things we’ve seen in terms of the cities that are on our list of 25 include an advisory committee that looks at the electric utility partnerships, the OEM partnerships and even with the municipalities and cities. So that group can collectively say where do we want to put charging stations? What kind of electric vehicle rates do we need?
Keep in mind that we’re looking at this list of 25 cities as a point in time. It is likely going to change over time. These are the thought leaders of the present in our view, and there are other cities that are adopting many of their current techniques and also generating some new thoughts. So we expect to continue to work with these cities and understand what they’re doing and also spread the word so to speak of best practices among them.
The 25 cities also have additional tools in their toolboxes. For example, when you want to go and buy and electric vehicle you have to have a charge station installed in your home. That installation requires a permit. Traditional permitting activities can take up to four weeks, but that doesn’t work when you purchase an electric vehicle and you need to charge. Many of the 25 cities are looking at new ways of getting the permitting application and inspection process down from weeks to days. To do that requires some new thinking and process changes.
Q. Don’t electric vehicles plug into traditional appliance outlets?
A. There are two types of vehicles: one that runs on 100 percent electricity which is the battery electric vehicle and then there are our plug-in hybrids that run on all electric under certain conditions and rely on internal combustion for the rest. The plug-in hybrids have a smaller battery and therefore you can charge in reasonable amount of time (< 8 hours) from a typical wall outlet. But a pure battery electric vehicle has a larger battery, and you’ll need a dedicated 240V charge station installed in your garage to get reasonable charge times. In fact, with our upcoming Focus Electric vehicle, a customer will be able to get a full charge in just over 3 hours using our Leviton/Best Buy charge station solution. With that said, we think that even plug-in hybrid vehicle customers will be happier if they get a dedicated charging station installed because they will get even quicker charge times, and it’s more convenient. So we are advocating that all plug-in customers install a charge station.
Q. What is being done to make electrification attractive to consumers?
A. One is to allow battery electric vehicle owners to use High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes (HOVs). For example, if you drive a pure battery electric vehicle, the state of California allows you to use the high-occupancy vehicle lanes. It’s a big time saver. We think that will help make it more attractive and it’s not necessarily costing the state any money to do something like that other than the administration of the decals. Atlanta, Seattle, Baltimore and Phoenix also allow battery electric vehicles in the HOV lanes.
Another involves electricity rates. Our electrical grid in the United States is sized for the peak power. Generally, 2 p.m. is the peak power time in the U.S. Plants are running. Air conditioners are running, etc. That is what our grid has been sized for…. but electric vehicles can generally be charged during the nighttime.. So there’s plenty of generation and transmission capacity available during the night that cities and electric utilities need to encourage customers to use. . And the way they’re doing that is by offering much lower rates, which then makes driving electric even more lucrative. Some of the most attractive utility rates for off-peak charging are in Atlanta, Southern California, Seattle, Northern California and Detroit. And it’s important to note that the rates are established by utility companies and state regulators, not by city governments.
Q. If more and more people start using battery electric vehicles, will that put a strain on the U.S. power grid?
A. Once again the US electrical grid is sized for the peak power and that peak is much, much larger than what we see at night. Our forecast from an overall national level is that there can be millions of pure electric vehicles before there is any significant investment needed in grid infrastructure.
Q. Are there any other tools that cities can use to enhance electrification?
A. Another tool is public charging. You’re out and about and you want to charge. That isn’t necessarily a huge barrier because we believe that most people will charge their vehicles at home or at their businesses and then drive within their range. But what some cities have done – and it has been an enabler for electrification – is couple the charge point with free parking. Ford has been an advocate of using an urban planning approach to public charging station locations…. By looking at traffic flows and parking behaviors, a city can deploy public infrastructure locations in an efficient manner.
Q. What do you hope to achieve by naming the 25 most electric vehicle-ready cities?
A. Our hope is to create a level of awareness on infrastructure solutions to encourage electrification. It is also recognition for the cities that we listed that they are on the right path. For the cities that didn’t make the list, we’re hoping that they reach out to Ford and implement some of the best practices that we believe is important. This is a very fluid list and new regions can appear very quickly.
Another reason why we’re doing this is we want other cities to know that there’s a wealth of information out there. There are even things that have been well documented on the Web that cities can do without starting from scratch.
The final reason why we’re doing this is because obviously we’ve got product. And we would like to sell that product in as many regions as possible. So we’re hoping to raise general awareness about when our products are coming and how they fit into the infrastructure.
Q. What is the biggest challenge for cities at this time as they begin to prepare for more people driving battery electric vehicles?
A. I think every city is struggling with budgetary issues. We’re still facing the effects of the recent recession. But our message is that there are things they can do that don’t cost money and that help electrification – whether it’s streamlining the permit process to enhance the customer’s car buying experience to using assets they already have like HOV lanes. We think that there are ways of planning and figuring out a way of deploying public charge points more efficiently, etc. That is certainly one of our messages.
Q. If you were considering buying a battery electric vehicle, how would you go about finding charging stations in your area?
A. If you buy a Ford product with a navigation system, the charge points will be displayed in the vehicle through that navigation system. If you’re looking for general knowledge of where charge points are located, there is a Department of Energy initiative called Alternative Fuels & Advanced Vehicles Data Center, which you can access at www.afdc.energy.gov that will provide a wealth of information.
Q. If a consumer wanted to play a more active role in electrification within their local government what could they do?
A. They could act at the very local level. That would probably be the most impactful. Permitting, for example, is handled at the most local level – your township or city. There are thousands of thousands of cities within each state so not every one of them has done anything to streamline the permit and inspection process. So, for example, if a consumer bought a battery electric vehicle in Northville, Mich., Northville handles their own permitting process so they could go and work with the Northville planning group to figure out a way to make their process more streamlined. I think that grassroots approach is probably the best approach because we’re looking at such a distributed permitting process across the U.S.