San Diego must qualify as the greenest city in the nation’s greenest state. So it’s a bit of a shock when its largest car sharing service, Car2Go, decides to give up on electric cars and go back to using cars with internal combustion engines. The problem, Car2Go says, is there are not enough EV charging stations in the San Diego area to make its business model viable. It currently has about 400 electric cars in its car sharing fleet.
This is bad news for a city that prides itself on its plan to slash carbon emissions by 50% by the year 2035 — one of the most ambitious programs of any US city. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, electric cars are vital to that plan , as is car sharing because it can fill small gaps in commutes that rely on mass transit or bicycling.
City and environmental leaders said on Wednesday that the decision by Car2Go should be a call to action.”It’s a lesson to all of us that we have to work harder to build the infrastructure necessary to support electric vehicles and other transportation modes,” City Councilman Todd Gloria said.
Nicole Capretz, a consultant who was the primary author of the city’s climate plan, said the Car2Go decision is a frustrating step in the wrong direction. “It’s disappointing because we as a city are on a pathway to a 100 percent clean energy future and we can’t do it without converting our vehicles to electric,” she said. “This is a step backward, so we have to regroup and figure out some new solutions,” Capretz said.
The infrastructure to support plug-in cars is a critical issue all across America. Of all the major car manufacturers, only Tesla is aggressively pursuing a strategy to build fast charging stations all across America for its customers. Everyone else is hoping the government or private industry are going to supply the chargers their EV customers will need. What is happening in San Diego illustrates the problem with that approach.
Car2Go decide to begin its electric car sharing service 5 years ago partly in reliance upon the assurances of Ecotality, a federally subsidized non-profit. It said it would install 1,000 charging stations throughout the city. In the end, only 400 of those stations were installed before the company went bankrupt in 2013. “What we expected as far as charging infrastructure versus what we were delivered just hasn’t added up,” said Car2Go spokeswoman Dacyl Armendariz.
Range anxiety was too much of an issue for most of Car2Go’s 40,000 members. “We’re just not able to keep the cars charged, and people aren’t able to charge them on their own,” Armendariz sasy. “We’re still committed to electric vehicles — it works in some of our cities in Europe where they have more robust charging infrastructure. We just don’t have the infrastructure we need here to make it work now.” Car2Go uses electric Smart Cars for its San Diego operation. Each one has a maximum range of just of 65 miles while a conventional Smart Car can go 342 miles on a tank of gas, she says.
Josh Moskowitz, a Car2Go regional manager, says that 20% of Car2Go’s fleet is unavailable at any given time because the cars are either being charged or because they don’t have enough electricity in them to be driven. That means the company will need fewer gas powered cars to replace them. The switch will attract new members, he said, because it will increase confidence they can reach their destination.
In January, local utility San Diego Gas & Electric agreed with local officials to begin installing 3,500 charging stations across the county over the next three years. That’s not soon enough for Car2Go to reconsider its decision. It will start phasing out its electric Smart Cars May 1. The changeover to internal combustion cars should be completed within a month. “I think we’ll attract quite a few people who were on the fence because of ‘range anxiety’ with the electric vehicles,” Moskowitz said. Car2Go also plans to reduce its per-minute usage charges from 41 cents to 19 cents to attract new members, he said.
Others aren’t so sure the lack of charging stations was as critical to Car2Go’s decision as much as increased competition from ZipCar and DriveNow, both of which expect to begin car sharing services in the San Diego area shortly. Uber and Lyft are also factors, says councilman Gloria. All of them rely on gas powered cars more than EVs.
The Car2Go news is really two stories. It is at the confluence between electric cars and the emerging on-demand ride sharing model. For the moment, fossil fuel cars seem to have the advantage, but that may change if — and when — SDG&E finishes installing those 3500 chargers.