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USA: Automakers Talk To Municipalities, Consumers About Electric Cars

Sparks are flying as several automakers are trying to generate interest in electric cars via deals with municipalities to promote electric-grid infrastructure. Automakers including Toyota, Ford, Chevrolet and Nissan are also launching “tiger-cruise” type consumer test runs.

Ford has partnered with the New York Power Authority (NYPA) on consumer outreach and education programs with plans to share information on charging needs and requirements to the state so the electrical grid can handle the demand.

The partnership was rolled out as part of Ford’s 14-city “Charging Into the Future Electric Vehicle” tour, which launched in Portland, Ore. in August. The tour is both a product demo to explain electric vehicles to consumers and a lobbying prod to get policymakers and utilities behind the idea of electric-grid support for alternative-powertrain cars and trucks.

Sherif Marakby, Ford’s director of electrification programs and engineering, noted in a statement that the automaker would roll out five electrified vehicles over the next two years. The first two will be the Transit Connect Electric, later this year, and the Focus battery electric late next year.

“We know there is an incredible excitement for electric vehicles in the New York area and across the country,” Marakby says. “To support the rollout and acceptance of these vehicles, it is crucial to work with utilities, like NYPA, to make sure the necessary infrastructure is ready.”

Nissan has also been working the ink to get states and municipalities to sign on to electric vehicles. The company, which is preparing to launch the LEAF electric car for which it says it has over 20,000 reservations, recently signed a deal with Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) which has been testing the charging infrastructure.

The automaker’s Renault-Nissan parent, whose Infiniti division plans a luxury electric car in 2013, has signed a similar deal with Toronto, a “memorandum of understanding” to collaborate to promote the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

Toyota is going to school to study a pre-launch of its forthcoming Prius plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. The Torrance, Calif. automaker is running a demonstration program at Georgetown University, which gets two of the cars as part of a plug-in hybrid study Toyota is running with “Clean Cities,” a program overseen by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Georgetown is the first site in Washington, D.C. to participate in the program, which involves Toyota giving 600 of the plug-in hybrids to organizations around the world, including 150 in the U.S. Toyota says it is using data it gets from drivers to inform the design parameters of the Prius plug-in hybrid slated for dealership showrooms in 2012.

Chevrolet, meanwhile, is pre-launching its Volt electric car by giving pre-production Volts to a disparate group of 15 enthusiasts and electric vehicle advocates. Members of the “Chevrolet Volt Customer Advisory Panel” will get the cars later this month as part of what Chevrolet is calling a three-month vehicle and charging evaluation program.

“We are eager to learn as much as we can from potential customers about their experience with the Volt,” said Tony DiSalle, Chevrolet Volt marketing director. “We want to know their thoughts, impressions, and perceptions. This special group of electric vehicle experts gives us the opportunity to learn even more as we near market launch.”

Chevrolet chose the panel members based on their locations, technology savvy, and interest. They also had to be from Volt launch markets California, Washington D.C., or New York. Chevrolet says it also plans to sell the vehicle in Michigan, Connecticut, Texas, and New Jersey.


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