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The Electric Drive Conference: Report From the Front

By Jim Motavalli · June 13, 2013

A plug-in Honda Accord typified the lineup in DC—the industry was out in force. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Driving a Chinese-made car around the streets of Washington’s quiet Adams-Morgan neighborhood was just one of the opportunities afforded me during the conference and annual meeting of the Electric Drive Transportation Association. where I was a speaker on a panel with the Wall Street Journal’s Dan Neil.

E.D.T.A. (representing 110 stakeholders) is the Eveready battery of the EV world, a quiet presence lobbying for EV-friendly legislation since 1989. It’s also a power in putting on the large-scale E.V.S. shows put on around the world.

Our session, moderated by E.D.T.A.’s Brian Wynne, was lively, though Neil and I essentially agree that electric drive will eventually (the timeline is hardly certain) conquer all in its path. Neil, in fact, thinks the battle is already won. When the automakers shook hands with President Obama at the White House and agreed to 54.5 mpg by 2025 they were essentially agreeing the electrify the fleet, he said.

Neil and I also agreed on this: Americans like fast and … cars, and that’s why the Tesla Model S (and before that, the Roadster) have been such a hit with both the public and the media. It’s surprising that, Detroit Electric aside, there aren’t many imitators out there.

Nissan’s Shocking Announcement

Nissan said that, working with NRG Energy, it would triple the number of its 480-volt quick chargers in the U.S. to 500 in the next 18 months (including the first units in Washington, D.C.).

Bollorè Group. previously unknown to me, is building a $35 million electric car-share network in Indianapolis .

eGrandPrix founder and CEO Azhar Hussain, who spoke passionately at the conference about how motorsports can invigorate electric sales, is bringing his TTXGP motorcycle racing to Indianapolis (August 17) and Laguna Seca (July 24) this summer.

It’s not strictly new, but Carly Kade of eVgo told me the charging company is expanding into the Washington/Baltimore area. and on her iPad showed me a map with a lot of Walgreens locations on it. eVgo has a new design for its stations, which often include 480-volt quick charging. eVgo has many public locations (Texas Cracker Barrels included ) and prefers to locate at the far end of parking lots to minimize internal-combustion encroachment (and driver rage).

Testing is So Yesterday

I wasn’t able to attend all the sessions, but I saw an exhibition hall that has moved largely from experimental technology to production programs. Instead of Solectria versions of Toyota Corollas, there were plug-in Priuses and Accords, LEAFs. Fit EVs and C-MAXes.

In that way it was indistinguishable from the floor at a mainstream show like Detroit, only minus the IC cars.

GreenTech’s Lee Burlison with an electrified G3, with body and chassis sourced from Chinese automaker JAC. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Probably so, but remember that it’s a technology-neutral mandate, and the internal-combustion engine still has some cards to play (such as the 45-mpg Lincoln MKZ Hybrid I drove in Manhattan this week ).

Yes, there was some wannabe technology there. The Chinese car I drove, with a drivetrain installed in Mississippi (of all places) was a G3 from GreenTech Automotive, which is following in the footsteps of Coda and Wheego. GTA is nothing if not ambitious.

During the ride, Marianne McInerney, executive vice president, explained that the company is planning to sell the G3 (which like many Chinese cars resembles a mid-80s Corolla) as a highway-capable vehicle circa 2014.

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Right now, GTA sells a Smart-like Chinese neighborhood electric called the MyCar, and some 300 were produced in 2012—all exported to Denmark. I know, the economics of building speed-limited EVs in the U.S. to sell to Europe don’t sound great, but the company says it works. McInerney claims to have 1,700 orders for 2013 MyCars, in both the U.S. and Europe.

There’s a Chinese factory, too, but it’s still under construction.

GTA was made famous by its association with former executive Terry McAuliffe, currently flat out as the Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia. GTA has become an issue in the race. though not with questions about the viability of the company—Republicans demand to know why McAuliffe abruptly quit his chairmanship (duh, to run for governor, he says) and why he built his factory in Mississippi instead of Virginia.

Charged Publisher Christian Ruoff rounding up new subscribers. (Jim Motavalli photo)

McInerney admits that the G3 (sold in Brazil as a hatchback gas car) lacks LEAF-like sophistication—the only charge indicator is a barely disguised gas gauge. But she says a new information cluster is coming. The car, with a 19-kilowatt-hour pack and reputed 120-mile range, is no barn burner. It’s slow off the line, but cruises fairly well.

All in all, it’s a worthy competitor for BYD’s long-delayed E6, another EV with designs on the American market.

Always Happy

Oh, and the very worthy Charged magazine was there. It’s about time the industry had its own Road Track. I see publisher Christian Ruoff at every trade show.

It’s a seriously good read, and subscriptions are free.

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