Sunday, August 06, 2006

Group fights for city's electric cars

By Kenneth Todd Ruiz Staff Writer
Pasadena Star-News
August 5, 2006

PASADENA - Green-energy advocates are offering to pick up the banner for the city of Pasadena to save its fleet of Nissan Hypermini electric cars.

Having cut its teeth on several campaigns to keep electric cars on the road, Plug In America has said it will press the automaker to let the city keep the cars - if there is interest.

"Pasadena should take them as is ... there's no reason why Nissan should take them and destroy them and throw them in the garbage," Paul Scott, co-founder of Plug In America, said.

Nissan asked for the vehicles back after declining to renew Pasadena's leases or sell the diminutive two-seaters in December, according to John Hoffner, public benefits manager at Pasadena Water and Power, which leased the cars.

The 11 remaining vehicles, which were used by city employees, Art Center College of Design and the Rose Bowl, have sat in a city lot since late July awaiting Nissan's pickup.

Nissan has said the leases were part of a temporary research and evaluation program that was extended well past its lifespan.

That work is done, said Tony Pearson, manager of technologies and motorsports for Nissan's North American division, but the yield of knowledge will be folded into future generations of electric vehicles.

Plug In America has yet to make formal contact with City Hall, but at this point, Pasadena has "zero options," city spokeswoman Ann Erdman said.

"Nissan is closing the door, slamming the door, on the cars," she said. "We are not happy just to give the cars back, and wash our hands of it, but we have no choice."

Three City Council members contacted Friday said they would like to see the city keep the cars, and would consider supporting a campaign to change Nissan's mind.

"I have to believe there's some appropriate, reasonable solution to this," Councilman Chris Holden said. "A way to just take the problem off Nissan's hands and keep the vehicles in the city."

Councilman Paul Little said he didn't see the sense - or the politics - in pulling electric vehicles from the road for destruction.

"We have a concern about environmental issues and did invest in infrastructure to support electric cars, so it would seem it would make sense for us to keep them," he said.

During the past decade, the city erected a network of charging stations for public and civic use. Most manufacturers only leased electric vehicles to municipal fleets - without the Hyperminis, Pasadena would only have three electric vehicles.

Councilman Victor Gordo said the cars fit the city's sustainability goals and welcomed Plug In America's advocacy.

"I think Nissan should do the right thing and leave those cars on the street," he said. "Let us buy them or extend the lease."

Plug In America's activism was recently chronicled in the film "Who Killed the Electric Car?"

Scott said his group's efforts have helped convince manufacturers such as Toyota and Ford to leave electric vehicles on the road.

Most major automakers began offering electric cars in California soon after a 1998 mandate that 10 percent of future sales be emission-free.

Under pressure from the industry, that directive from the California Air Resources Board was repealed, and soon after the vehicles fell off the production line.

In January 2005, California rancher David Raboy resisted a call from Ford and agreed to sell the trucks to Raboy and others with leases for $1.

Plug In America has never been able to advocate with Nissan because most cities were too quick to hand the cars over, Scott said.

"That's why Pasadena is so important," he said.

Electric vehicles are needed on the road now, concluded a recent report by Meridian International Researc`h, a research and technology consulting group based in France.

William Tahil, Meridian's research director, said although awareness of electric and hybrid technology is higher in the United States than Europe, Nissan's recall is another step away from reducing global dependency on oil.

"This is really a retrograde step," he said.

"The auto industry needs to introduce vehicles that can achieve a fuel economy of 100 miles per gallon," he said.

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