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L.A. will be a U.S. Leader in Electric Vehicle Sales, UCLA Study Predicts

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The Electric Vehicle has already come and gone, but it's likely to get another big chance, especially here in Los Angeles. A report released today by UCLA's Luskin Center for Innovation predicts that this sprawling city will be a U.S. leader in EV adoption by 2015, when sales are projected to compose 9% of total car sales. 5 Years later, it could jump to 11.7%.

What does that mean in actual numbers? In 2015, a 9% market share of new car sales is estimated to be 30,000, with a total of some 230,000 purchased through 2020. Those numbers sharply contrast sales this year. "The analysis predicts just over 2,000 electric vehicles will be sold in Los Angeles in 2011," explained Luskin Center director J.R. DeShazo. "This number is due to the limited supply of electric vehicles; even if more residents are inclined to purchase them, it just isn't possible right now."

Why Los Angeles will be a leader in EV sales is partially simple math: there are 2.5 million vehicles registered in the city. Although similar analyses of other big cities have not been performed, L.A.'s volume is still a half million more than the next biggest urban car center, New York City.

Beyond that, Los Angeles has other characteristics that make it EV friendly, such as its car-oriented culture, environmentally-minded constituency and limitations to public transportation. Most interestingly, commuters who live in the city have shorter commutes than those who live outside; and that quicker commute is within range of an EV battery. Add to that the monthly savings on gas, cutting the cost by at least two-thirds, and in some cases up to 80% depending on gas and electricity prices, according to Juan Matute, the project's director.

Still, there are a number of challenges for city leaders who want Los Angeles to be a green city that supports EVs. While single-family homeowners can conveniently install charging equipment on their property, multifamily dwellings do not always share that luxury, especially in older dense sections of the city where the resident parking is on city streets. Public infrastructure could be the solution for not only that, but also in employment and destination centers. There are already 86 public chargers in the city.

An additional concern is energy resources. As a rule of thumb, plugging an EV into a rapid charger (level 2) overnight can be as much as an additional house on the grid (nighttime, or "off peak," charging also minimizes the use of green house gas, because that's when power from wind is produced). If a residents in a building or neighborhood are like-minded, questions arise if a building's electricity infrastructure or the local transformer can handle the added load.

To combat that issue, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power last month announced in its Charge Up L.A. plan that it would track EV charging patterns to allocate resources for potential energy growth. The UCLA report suggests that the Westside, downtown, San Fernando Valley and South Bay will be those areas.

Another issue is the permitting process. Instead of city workers handling an average of 10 plug-in charging stations a day, it will grow to hundreds of daily requests. Back in November, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced a program that would usher qualified homeowners through the permitting and installation process in under 7 days.

For every challenge, the city seems to already have a potential solution. What is key is following through.

But one problem that could stop the conscientious prospective buyers from going EV is way out of L.A.'s jurisdiction. "Does anybody care who or what gets dirty in the march toward a cleaner future?" asked Aaron Robinson of Car and Driver Magazine, pointing to the ingredients for electric car batteries that damage the environment in areas of South American and Africa. He bets buyers of electric cars will, but time will only tell on this one.

The UCLA Luskin Center study was done in collaboration with the Mayor's Office for Environment and Sustainability. The analysis used data from hybrid vehicle registrations, "green" initiative voting results, a market survey of 2,000 Los Angeles residents supported by polling firm YouGov, U.S. Census figures and a variety other sources to arrive at the estimate. 

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