"I'm having a tough time understanding who this car is for," asks my friend Stephanie on my third day of driving the Think City EV.

The car is a two-seater, and a small one at that, only about two feet longer than the Smart Fortwo. The Smart is also a two-seater, and size-wise, it's the closest thing to the City on the road. Cars this small are often considered "urban vehicles," and indeed, beyond the implications of its name, Think's own marketing materials call the City an urban car. But I do have some question as to whether this is a really accurate description of how the vehicle can be useful to a U.S. audience.

I can definitely see the City being used as a delivery vehicle for a drugstore, florist, or the like. Those businesses have predictable daily mileage requirements and can easily have recharging stations installed on-site. Businesses using an EV in this way can produce larger social benefits, like helping combat city smog. This is why Ford will soon be launching an EV version of its Transit Connect. It's a vehicle that will be purchased by a lot of commercial operators who travel less than 100 miles from their garage or company, and are usually never more than 20 miles from home or work. This approach will work in some cities in the U.S., just as it does in Europe. But this is still a really limited market.

I actually believe the ideal markets for EVs are suburban families, like mine. If a couple each has a car, it makes sense that one of the vehicles would be an EV, as long as at least one of the drivers predictably drives less than 100 miles a day. In our house, my wife's car is a Honda Odyssey and mine is a new Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagen. My wife rarely drives more than 50 miles a day, whereas I often travel from Ann Arbor to Detroit, a trip of about 45 miles each way. If we owned a gas-powered car and an EV, and chose our cars in the morning depending on our daily driving needs, the setup would work quite well.

I could even drive from home to Detroit and back on a single charge. For this trip, however, it would be cutting it pretty close. I would want to be able to park my car in a lot that had charging station in it to top up my battery, just like I would do with my cell phone. Thinking more about my situation, most of the time I could park in a parking structure adjacent to General Motors, at which there are a few EV spaces now. But not every driver and worker has that luxury.

Jay Ricker and Family So here is what I'm thinking. Let's say an EV owner, or wannabe owner, says to their employer, "Boss, I want to buy an EV, and I was wondering if the company would wire me a space in the lot where I could recharge during the day." If the company is smart, it does it, and announces it on the company Intranet. More people become interested, and more people buy EV's and ask for recharging in the parking lot. The company agrees, and hopefully reaps some tax credits, as well as positive publicity. At some point, it could even charge employees for recharging or include charging as an employee benefit.

Companies could even get creative with offering free charging. Top performing employees who are EV owners, for example, could get free charging for six months. EV-owning employees who meet a charitable giving target could get free charging. And so on. Some companies, like Google, have already begun supporting employee EV purchases with recharging stations, but it's small scale. New York City just opened its first recharging station, and plans call for having 100 in place by September 2011. Cities such as Seattle, Boston, Portland, OR, and Washington D.C. have begun making charging stations available. As charging stations proliferate, the infrastructure needed to support EVs, such as "fast-charging" stations that can recharge a battery in less than an hour will grow, as well.

When it comes to recharging and living with an EV, my thinking is similar to when people query me about driving a diesel. "Isn't that a pain? You can't get it everywhere," people say. "No, it's not a pain," I always respond. "You can get diesel everywhere, in every area of the country. You just can't get it at every single gas station."

My inner voice adds, "And I'm not a moron that would allow myself to be running out of gas miles and miles away from a diesel pump!"

This is the age of apps for cellphones. I have an app that tells me where diesel stations are. And if I owned an EV, I would have an app that gave me all the locations where I could recharge my EV: Parking lots, fast charging stations, trailer parks, marinas, campgrounds and even other EV owners who have their own charger and are willing to share.
If all this sounds like too much to handle, then you probably aren't an EV candidate. But there are a lot of people who would sign up for a bit of planning around their driving in order to drive cheaper and greener.

Click the links below to read about our experience Living On Electric Avenue

Living on Electric Avenue
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