Ford’s Top 25 Cities Paving the Way for Electric Cars

Wed Apr 13, 2011 4:44pm EDT

One of the most basic requirements for adoption of electric vehicles is having a place to plug in. But according to Ford Motor, which released its list of 25 cities leading the way with “electric vehicle-readiness” on Wednesday, paving the way for an influx of EVs means going far beyond charge point installations.

At a time when public funds are supporting the installation of thousands of charging stations nationwide by 2012, Ford Vehicle Electrification and Infrastructure Manager Mike Tinksey says the number of charge points isn’t what matters most. Rather, it’s about the approach to installing those stations, and the processes and programs in place to help knock down a range of barriers to adoption over time.

Barriers vary by location. For example, offering discounted electricity rates for “off-peak” or night-time charging will generally “really help electrification,” said Tinksey. San Francisco, a city Tinksey said is a clear leader among the top 25, has these so-called time-of-use rates in place. Other leading cities earned points because of similar plans moving through regulatory commissions. Yet a city like Seattle “needs it less,” he said, because abundant hydropower in the area helps keep electricity rates relatively low.

According to Tinksey, Ford gave the most weight in its ranking to factors related to private charging, such as the availability of online permit applications and assurance that inspections will be completed within a reasonable amount of time. The automaker expects most electric car drivers to charge at home for some time to come.

For “urban dwellers who typically don’t have the same parking spot” each night, workplace charging at corporate campuses will offer an important alternative. Public and private fleets will generally rely on centralized “depot” charging, said Tinksey, while public charging will be used least frequently. The company wants to see “an urban planning approach” to public charging infrastructure, incorporating charge points and signage into the city landscape in a way that will maximize the use of each location.

Ford is not the first entity to assess EV readiness, and as Tinksey put it, “It’s pretty safe to say there’s considerable overlap” between this latest ranking and lists compiled by others in the industry, or the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Project Get Ready. So why did Ford go to the trouble of creating its own scoring matrix and list?

According to Tinksey, each manufacturer has different priorities and a unique perspective on what makes a city ready for electric vehicles, depending on their vehicle design and strategy. Because Ford has designed the Focus BEV (due out this year) to carry a “larger onboard charger” for charging at home in less than three hours, Tinksey says the company is “endorsing a much larger charging station,” as well as a larger gauge wire to accommodate it, and a separate outlet for easy diagnosis in the event of a malfunction.

When it comes to selecting initial launch markets, Tinksey added, Ford has considered confidential data (notably hybrid sales) it wouldn’t want to share with competitors. But there’s plenty of room — and need — for collaboration around charging stations. That’s not just so every plug will fit every car, but also so each automaker can display charge spot locations in vehicle navigation systems, said Tinksey. “We view the infrastructure piece as a non-competitive arena.”

At this point, Ford seems to see its list as a starting point, a possible catalyst for more cities to approach the automaker about improving their score. “Very few cities are completely EV-ready,” said Tinksey. “These are the ones on the right path.” Here’s the full list, in alphabetical order:

  • Atlanta
  • Austin, Texas
  • Baltimore
  • Boston
  • Charlotte, N.C.
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • Denver
  • Detroit
  • Hartford, Conn.
  • Honolulu
  • Houston
  • Indianapolis
  • Los Angeles
  • New York
  • Orlando, Fla.
  • Phoenix
  • Portland, Ore.
  • Raleigh, N.C.
  • Richmond, Va.
  • Sacramento, Calif.
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco Bay Area
  • Seattle
  • Washington, D.C.

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