On day one of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s EV Symposium, the future of sustainable transportation looks like…. car sharing. That’s right. I went to an EV conference, and the panels I attended- “Bringing EV Charging to Multifamily Buildings” and “Emerging Business Models for Transportation and Mobility” both spoke favorably of car sharing. In the morning Plenary session, BMW’s Dirk Rossberg spoke about the DriveNow electric car share program BMW just launched in San Francisco. You may be thinking, as I was, that the San Francisco market for car-sharing must be seriously glutted. There are more car share companies in SF than any other city on Earth, it seems. Yet it’s a city with woefully inadequate parking, 448,000 spaces for about 545,000 vehicles on any given weekday. So car ownership can be a real drag.
Bringing EV Charging to Multifamily Buildings
In this session, we learned about how the San Francisco Department of the Environment has selected 37 apartment buildings and condominiums to be given charging stations as part of a pilot program. We also heard from the condo owner most instrumental in ensuring that her building made that list. It was interesting to hear her experience of life with an EV and no home charging. It did involve keeping blankets in the car…
Another building, a 4-unit apartment in which the owner occupied one unit, became a space for City Car Share. At the opposite extreme, we heard about Parkmerced’s master plan for becoming a 9,000-unit Eco Neighborhood. That includes 15 chargepoint charging stations as well as expanding Zipcar’s presence there. Which may seem inadequate, but that’s just for today. After the panel, I listened to some city officials discuss the issues with selecting which type of charging station to install.
This is the million-dollar question, as obsolescence is a key concern. However, the Triangle was often shown when this topic came up- Public, Business, Residential. The 30-minute DC quick chargers you can find along interstate highways in Oregon and Washington make sense for public use. A 4-hour Level-2 charger makes sense for businesses, especially if employees are incentivized to share the juice when they’re done with it. And with the broadest market at the base of the pyramid, the 8-hour Level-1 charger makes the most sense for residences.
I had lunch with some people from the panel, some of whom are charging station customers and some were vendors. In classic Silicon Valley style, the vendors could not give me a clear ROI at this time. Installing charging stations is expensive- averaging $3,000-$5,000 for the first one, and much higher depending on how difficult the installation can be. I also learned that reliability can be a real issue when not using a professionally installed and tested station. A public utility representative tipped me off to GoElectricDrive.com as a way to find reliable stations. I also enjoyed hearing about Chargepoint, especially as I’ll be using it when Chevy loans me a Volt for a few days next month.
Emerging Business Models for Transportation and Mobility
In this panel, we heard from some Peer to Peer carsharing companies- Relay Rides, Wheelz, and more. What interested me the most was hearing that Relay Rides’ Alex Benn gets my insurance question all the time. This article in the NY Times prompted me to disable my Relay Rides account. As a USAA customer, I’d hate to lose them. However, I learned today that California and Oregon recently passed laws preventing insurers from cancelling the policies of customers who share their cars. However, who’s to say their actuaries don’t deem carsharers a higher risk and just raise their rates? It’s a nascent industry, so only time will tell. What’s interesting is that even automakers are trying to join the party- from BMW’s recent announcement to GM’s partnership with Relay Rides. They see the waning interest in new car ownership, and realize it’s important to diversify their product offerings- even if that means offering their product as more of a service, really.
The Millennial generation considers internet access more important than car ownership, and many see ownership of a car as a burden. Status is derived from what devices one uses, their social media standing, what kind of bike they ride. Cars are just a waste of money and space. They may occasionally want to use a car, but not to own it. Also, some of the panelists talked about how their customers value the social interaction they have with carsharing they wouldn’t have if they just got into their own car and drove off. Now to make it truly social they could even rent out seats in that car they’re renting. Although I still haven’t found a carshare daily rental price that’s low enough to make me want to sell my 4runner. Instead, I’ll be putting it back up on Relay Rides as soon as she gets new shoes, and I’m confident USAA won’t raise my rates more than the extra mileage would justify.