National Plug-In-Day gathers electric-car faithful, but infrastructure remains sparse
At least one thing was moving in the nation's capital this past weekend: electric cars. The third annual National Plug In Day came to Washington, D.C., and about 100 other locations across the U.S. to celebrate cars that plug in instead of gas up. Participation ballooned from only 65 cities last year and included sites in the Netherlands and Mexico. According to the organizers, about 40,000 to 50,000 drivers total attended the events, to see—and in some cases, drive—everything from the Tesla Model S to the low-priced Nissan LEAF, plus other hybrids and plug-ins.
The biggest event was in Cupertino, Calif., with about 2,000 participants. Of course Cupertino is Ground Zero for high tech (Apple's headquarters is there, along with those of many, many other companies), and it's also been home to the Silicon Valley Chapter of the Electric Auto Association for over 40 years. Other participating cities included Las Vegas, Seattle, Minneapolis, Boston, and San Diego.
Boostering aside, electric cars remain an extremely small part of the industry: about 135,000 registered vehicles, according to event organizers, compared to well over 200 million traditional cars with internal-combustion engines.
The high ticket price for an electric car doesn't help. A Nissan Leaf costs about $21,000—and that’s after the $7500 government tax incentive. Meanwhile, the similarly sized Nissan Versa costs just $12,000.
The number of dealerships carrying EVs continues to climb. Ford recently announced that 900 dealers carried the Focus Electric, up from just 200 last year. According to Ford, Americans are currently driving Ford plug-in hybrids like the Fusion Energi and the Focus Electric over 200,000 miles each day in the U.S., or 8,400 miles each hour of the day. In many states, however, you can’t even buy an EV. The 2014 Chevy Spark is available only in California and Oregon.
The infrastructure for plug-ins and electric cars also has a lot of growing to do. The Atlanta Falcons sponsored National Plug-In Day on Sunday in the pre-game center at the stadium. According to the City of Atlanta, there are now 20,000 public charging stations (homes and commercial spaces combined), compared to only 3,000 in 2009. Venturing beyond a major metropolitan area such as Atlanta, however, remains a challenge: A quick check on PlugShare.com reveals that, if you drive from Minneapolis to Fargo, Minnesota, you won’t find a single charging station. Good luck on that trip.
Right on the heels of National Plug In Day comes Plug In 2013 in San Diego, an entire conference on electric-vehicle infrastructure. The real booster to electric-car sales would be some sort of nationwide charging station roll-out—like Tesla's, only for the rest of us. The world is waiting.