San Diegans claim that a 10th of all electric Nissan Leafs are being sold in their fair city. Nissan declines to confirm that statistic, but there are definitely a lot of electric vehicles there — I saw my first “in the wild” Chevy Volt on its less-than-mean streets. San Diego is planning to host 1,000 charging stations, and that’s why Daimler chose to go there with a radical idea — an all-electric (and all two-seat) car-sharing fleet.
Car2Go on Wednesday announced it was bringing a fleet of 300 plug-in Smart electric drives to San Diego, and they’ll be available for short-hop rentals later this year. The Smart electric drive has an 84-mile range, so you can’t drive to the moon and back with it.
According to Nick Cole, president and CEO of Car2Go, “We will leverage those 1,000 charging points to keep our vehicles charged and ready. It’s obvious that interest in car sharing is growing around the globe. The next step was a leap to an all-electric model, and we saw an opportunity with the Smart electric.” The other sharing programs use standard Smart fortwos, but Cole said that if San Diego goes over well, they could transition to electric over time.
In August, Car2Go will add five electric Smarts to its fleet in Germany, and is also installing 24 EV charging stations there. But the big Euro news is in Amsterdam, where according to spokeswoman Juliane Muehling, Car2Go will duplicate the 300-car electric fleet by the end of 2011. Car2Go now has 40,000 members worldwide.
It will be really interesting to see how this goes. Car2Go-San Diego will have no other cars in its fleet, and the last time I looked the Smart was strictly a two-seater. In most car-sharing programs the mini vehicles are offset with larger ones and even a pickup or two. One of the appeals of car sharing is that you can get the car you need, when you need it. This program is pretty specific.
Around the country, Daimler allotted 250 Smart electric drives, but the lease price at $599 is daunting for some (especially when the Leaf and Volt are both around $350). The company has leased 100 of them, which may mean it had some cars left over for San Diego.
These quibbles aside, San Diego was the perfect place to launch this experiment, because no city is more committed to electric vehicles. Through public-private partnerships like CleanTech San Diego, and an activist mayor’s office, it is really preparing a city-wide warm embrace for EVs. Through Ecotality, it’s part of the EV Project, a $98 million federally supported effort to install chargers at home and in public places. The University of California at San Diego, which runs a Zero Emission Vehicle Project, has 70 electric cars on order, and is putting Envision solar charging at its owned and operated parking garage. Drive into downtown San Diego, and a city official in a jumpsuit will probably run out and plug it in for you.
Byron Washom, who leads the ZEV program at UCSD, sees it this way: “I am reminded of the movie 'Field of Dreams' and Kevin Costner’s vision of ‘if you build it, they will come.’ Today’s announcement from a subsidiary of Daimler and Mayor Sanders proves that if you install 1,000 charging stations, 300 EVs will arrive along with new jobs, lower emissions and most importantly, an encouragement to use public transportation for commuting and then car sharing for more local needs. I envision San Diego’s pioneering efforts to be a replicable and scalable model that has global implications.”
Cole points out that San Diego, green as it is, is currently without a car-sharing program. Zipcar, the largest fleet nationwide, is on the University of California campus but not elsewhere. “We want to bring car sharing back to city residents,” Cole said. “It’s also true that not everyone has access to an electric vehicle, but anyone can use one through Car2Go.”
There’s likely to be a new Smart on the horizon soon, and that could include a four-seat car to complement the current two-passenger version. The program is sure to expand. One suggestion I’d make is to include the terrific five-passenger A-Class Mercedes electrics (built with help from partner Tesla Motors) that Daimler is currently not planning to sell in North America. I’d revise that decision, and quick.
Incidentally, Car2Go has had a slightly rockier ride in Vancouver. It landed on Canadian shores just in time for the Great Hockey Riot of 2011, and three cars (not electrics) ended up being written off. Canadians did this! The grisly details are captured in this YouTube video. That's a Smart fortwo that they're hitting with everything from crowbars to skateboards: