GM Sponsors Bill That Creates Problems for Electric Car Charging

By · August 22, 2011

Charging Chevy Volts title=

For the second time, General Motors has sponsored a California bill that creates more problems for electric car owners than it solves. Without some eleventh-hour intervention, AB475 is going to pass. As other states often follow California’s lead, the perils of this trend are hardly restricted to the left coast.

Background

Public charging has existed in California since 1996, much of it funded by General Motors. Because federal law requires American Disabilities Act (ADA) access, chargers are often located in prime parking spaces. Signage restricts parking to electric vehicles, but “ICEing”—a gas car parking in a charger space—has been an ongoing nuisance issue. It’s also been a manageable one, via local parking ordinances that allow offending vehicles to be ticketed or towed.

But in 2002, with EV population arguably in decline, the California legislature passed a law restricting public charger use to “zero-emission vehicles.” It also requires a DMV sticker so parking enforcement can easily tell which vehicles are eligible. Without clear evidence that local ordinances were insufficient, the 2002 law has been “a solution looking for a problem,” adding complexity and administrative costs. But its use by only a few charging sites limited the inconvenience, with just over 800 parking stickers issued to date.

That is, until plug-in hybrids hit the market and Chevrolet Volt drivers were excluded from those chargers. GM stepped in when asked, turning to Assemblymember Betsy Butler, whose district includes the company’s Torrance facility (and my house), and AB475 was born. Originally, it simply expanded eligible vehicles to include PHEVs (plug-in hybrids). But in June, the sticker scheme and complex definitions were scrapped in favor of verbiage stating that any plug-in is legally parked “while connected” to a charger. The change appears to greatly simplify things, but it’s surprisingly problematic.

First Problem: No Exclusions

Verbiage in the statute allows parking spaces to be designated “for the exclusive purpose of charging and parking a vehicle that is connected for electric charging purposes,” with no language that excludes gasoline-only vehicles, or alternative fuel vehicles that are not battery electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids.

There is nothing that refers to being connected to the EVSE, charger, or electric fueling infrastructure in the space, nor what type of electric charging is permitted. Someone could put a battery tender on the 12-volt auxiliary battery in a Suburban, and claim that he is “charging and parking a vehicle that is connected for electric charging purposes.” The language is fuzzy enough that anything on a car that one could argue is being “charged” would technically be in compliance.

The required signage associated with this statute invites an even looser interpretation: “Unauthorized vehicles not connected for electric charging purposes will be towed away at owner’s expense.” If a gas vehicle were charging a device plugged into its accessory port (say, a cell phone), it would indeed be "connected for electric charging purposes."

Second Problem: No Sharing Allowed

We’ve learned through years of trial and error that infrastructure use is maximized and cost minimized by installing chargers between two or four parking spaces where feasible. Drivers then share chargers by unplugging a fully charged vehicle and plugging the next one in, without having to wait for someone to move his car. It also helps with ICEing, the very issue this law is meant to address. Rather than waiting for that vehicle to be moved or towed, the plug-in simply takes the next space.

Here’s the problem: The current verbiage prevents sharing and guarantees that site owners will bear increased hardware and installation costs by having to install two to four times as many chargers to serve the same number of spaces.

When plug-in advocates raised these concerns with General Motors, its policy staff seemed to share them. Alternatives were collaboratively drafted—one as simple as reverting back to the original bill, another eliminating the previous bill entirely—and presented to Butler’s staff. Weeks followed with no movement on the language—-odd with stakeholders and the bill’s sponsor seemingly in alignment.

Butler’s final response came last week: the bill won’t be changed, as contrary to all indications, “General Motors did not share your concerns.” This is not the first time interests of a corporate constituent outweigh those affected by the proposed law, nor the first time GM has prioritized its own needs above those of their customers—but neither get any easier to swallow with experience.

What To Do

Plug-in vehicle charging should be made as simple and consistent as possible, by revoking the 2002 law and starting over. Now is the time to assess the need for and best implementation of a state law as more vehicles are deployed, while relying on effective local ordinances in the meantime. Even reverting to the original version of AB475 would be better than what’s about to happen. With the bill in danger of being passed at any moment, now is the time to weigh in.

Instead, we will soon have a law that seeks to address one problem by creating several others, while forcing current plug-in drivers to use more gas.

CALL TO ACTION: Readers are urged to express opposition to AB475, via Assemblymember Betsy Butler's website ASAP, as well as contact their own Assemblymember.

Comments

· · 3 years ago

I'm still struggling to figure out how this new bill benefits GM (beyond simply including cars like the Volt). What is it that I'm missing here?

:sigh: Can't we all just get along?

The Butler contact page is very easy to use. It has a nice pull-down to choose AB 475 and everything. But! You have to be in the proper district to submit anything. So unless you are Chelsea's neighbor, this suggested contact method isn't going to work.

· · 3 years ago

I'm trying to figure that out too, especially with all the fishyness in how we were dealt with and how much their position has changed in the last few days...though it seems in part based on the misguided idea that because we have certain protocols around sharing, we all run around unplugging each other for fun, out of entitlement, or because we don't like each other. And because there are a few EV purists in the world, of course we're all going to unplug the Volts first. As of Thursday, they thought sharing was good, but now it needs to be outlawed. See? GM is just trying to protect us from ourselves.

Ahh, I didn't realize that, since I"m in her district- in that case, zip codes 90266, 90278, 90245..... :)

· · 3 years ago

Ah. I've just moved Davis to So. Cal.

· Victor (not verified) · 3 years ago

"We're going to unplug the Volts first." Wow. Really? Is the same going to hold true for the plug in Prius, or is this a GM-bashing-only club? You do realize that unplugging a locked PHEV will activate its alarm, don't you? Sounds like the early adopters are going to be so busy fighting amongst themselves as to whose EV is more "E" that they're missing the bigger picture. Elitist e-snobs give EV drivers a bad image, and turn the mainstream population off to this wonderful new technology. I think it's great that PHEVs will be allowed to use these spaces.

· · 3 years ago

VIctor: You missed the whole point! Chelsea was being sarcastic when she said they would unplug the Volts first. Plus, NOBODY here said PHEV shouldn't be allowed to park and plug in at these spaces. Chelsea is a huge volt supporter and was even on GM's Consumer Advisory Board for the volt. Chelsea and Darell above are both extremely knowledgeable electric vehicle supporters and neither acts elitist or snobbish ever. They just both want the legislators to enact a law that will work for everybody, and do what it is intended to do. AB475 in it's current form will only cause more problems and confusion and will need countless revisions before it does what it's intended to do.

· · 3 years ago

Seems like this is going to have to be handled by some sort of registration and stickers, like we do for the car pool lanes. That way, over time, as things change the application of the stickers can adapt. It can't adapt presently because the sticker states "zero-emission vehicle". So just change that to "Vehicle with battery pack exceeding X kWh". That would allow Volt's and PHEV Prius to charge along side the LEAF, Tesla, Mini EV, etc.

· Juan Barnett (not verified) · 3 years ago

Actually you would be much better off calling Victoria Alvarez (Transportation Committee analysis) (916) 319-2093 victoria.alvarez@asm.ca.gov. They tend to be the ones who address policy oversights. This is the first time I've read on this, so forgive me if I'm off the mark. Sounds like on top of the vague language there is also a big push from the pure EV to not include the PHEVs.

Feel free to email call any of these people too: https://www.govbuddy.com/directory/committees/CA/transportation/5260/

· · 3 years ago

@ Victor -

Deep breath, man! We're all on the same side here. Please read it again, and I think you'll get it. It is GM that is giving the impression that they fear Volts will be unplugged first. Chelsea is just making fun of it.

And guess what guys... this is now law. Passed 69-2. Crap.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 3 years ago

Big picture.. .GM wants to delay the inevitable shift to EV's as long as possible! (period)

· · 3 years ago

"Butler’s final response came last week: the bill won’t be changed, as contrary to all indications, 'General Motors did not share your concerns.'"

I don't think I would believe anything a politician said, especially one in Sacramento. Butler could have changed the bill, with or without GM. She elected not to do it.

@Chelsea,
"And because there are a few EV purists in the world, of course we're all going to unplug the Volts first."

Please don't give anyone any ideas. Unfortunately, there are some deranged eco-terrorist types out there, who have no respect for other people's property, and give environmentalism a bad name. Remember the loonies in San Francisco who were vandalizing SUVs?

· · 3 years ago

"Someone could put a battery tender on the 12-volt auxiliary battery in a Suburban, and claim that he is “charging and parking a vehicle that is connected for electric charging purposes.”

This is funny. :-) Honestly, though, how often, if ever, is this going to happen? If this really did happen with any frequency, they could just amend the law.

"Drivers then share chargers by unplugging a fully charged vehicle and plugging the next one in, without having to wait for someone to move his car."

What happens when someone unplugs someone else's car that isn't fully charged? Or perhaps, some car owners don't want people messing with their cars, fully charged or not. I know I'm picky about my cars, and I sure don't want someone messing with it. You might come out and find a scratch in the paint from a charging plug. Some people are just careless.

Also a two or four port charging station put between spaces may not cost all that much more than a single port one.

I just don't see this law as the end of the world.

· · 3 years ago

@Victor...that's the problem with Twitter- sometimes you don't get the whole conversation. Shad from GM implied that we plug-in fans all run around unplugging each other's car for sport, and that we'd unplug his Volt- as if to imply that that's why we needed GM's bill making it illegal for vehicles to be in front of a charger and not be connected. (Of course, it's the Volt that that would get punished and towed under their new law that passed this afternoon, and there'd be no penalty for whomever did the unplugging.) He then went on to say that I'd do it because I don't like him, because I felt entitled to, etc...I thought it was in fun, but now I'm not so sure...

Either way, the whole thing was so ludicrous- esp because I'm a Volt fan- that the only appropriate response was "well yeah, we unplug all the Volts first." (And thanks to those who jumped in to defend me:)

Indy: It's actually been handled with stickers since 2002. GM changed it, initially as an innocent mistake, I thought, not knowing the unintended consequences. And for two months they seemed receptive to changing it back, through last Thursday. Something changed over the weekend.

Juan- thank you so much! Wish we'd had a bit more time on this one, but very good to know for next time. Question now is our chances of getting the Governor...

· · 3 years ago

> Honestly, though, how often, if ever, is this going to happen? <

It has happened for years already. I have seen all types of gas cars with a charging paddle stuffed into the grille or under the hood so they could park in the EV spot. The law now just makes this kind of BS somewhat legit!

> Also a two or four port charging station put between spaces may not cost all that much more than a single port one. <

At about $3,000 per head, it may not seem like "much" more. But would you rather spend $3,000 or $12,000 if given the choice?

> I just don't see this law as the end of the world. <

Obviously it isn't. Especially not to people who don't drive EVs.

· · 3 years ago

> It has happened for years already. I have seen all types of gas cars with a charging paddle stuffed into the grille or under the hood so they could park in the EV spot. The law now just makes this kind of BS somewhat legit!

No, Darell, I have been informed reliably by GM that that's a "speculative" concern, as are the rest of them. None of these issues actually happen...

> What happens when someone unplugs someone else's car that isn't fully charged? Or perhaps, some car owners don't want people messing with their cars, fully charged or not. I know I'm picky about my cars, and I sure don't want someone messing with it. You might come out and find a scratch in the paint from a charging plug. Some people are just careless.

And the sharing model can evolve in at least two ways that still allow sharing while alleviating your concerns. First, drivers can opt-in- so no one assumes that you're willing to be unplugged unless you indicate it. In the past, we've used cards put on the dash, or one day there might an LED on the car you can enable, etc. Second, the "2nd" car can simply put a note on the first that requests the first car to plug the 2nd on in when he leaves. No unauthorized molesting of cars required.

And if sharing becomes too much of a pain, the drivers will abandon it. But better to have them decide it than a bunch of policy folks who don't drive EVs.

· · 3 years ago

1. I fully authorize the molestation of my EV.
2. "But better to have them decide it than a bunch of policy folks who don't drive EVs." - how true is that?

· lonndoggie (not verified) · 3 years ago

My father-in-law recently got his EV parking sticker. Reckon they'll refund that, since it's no longer needed?

· · 3 years ago

Interesting article, at least you seam to be getting some free public charging stations though, things here in the UK seam to be moving much slower on this sort of thing. There are a few free stations in car parks where you pay to park but charging is free, but i don't think we will see many public charging stations in this country until someone figures out the best way of charging people for using it.
I find it strange that EV drives are not involved more in the writing of such legislation, they don't let the Amish community decide legislation for ICE cars so why should non EV drivers be the ones writing the legislation for EV's? Surely there must be a consultancy job going for someone such as yourself Chelsea on these things. On another note good to see you back and writing interesting and insightful articles again.

· · 3 years ago

Thanks, Senna! I've definitely done more of the doing than the writing lately.

We're still not getting so many new chargers, these sites are actually ones left over from the last EV generation. But they'll be retrofitted over time, and GM is intent on not only making sure the PHEVs can use them (which I totally support), but believe that by insisting on the "must be connected" language, it keep all of us EV meanies from going after the Volts out of resentment. Ironically, this new law will only punish the victim should that happen...and a lot of folks definitely resent GM, and by extension, the Volt, a lot more now than they did a week ago.

As for why we weren't involved? Well, for two months we were; I and others (and as volunteers, not consultants- what sort of fool am I? :) were working with GM after this new version came out, trying to get it switched back to something good. It just turns out that all of the supposed agreement we were hearing was closer to lip service. And I asked over and over during the last several days why they had changed their stance and turned to such stonewalling all of a sudden, and pointed out that the EV drivers have more experience with all aspects of charging and driver relations than GM's policy folks do, in addition to the fact that they're the group that's directly affected, which entitles them to a voice. I was simply told over and over that they know better than we do what's good for us. You see, they were just trying to save us from ourselves....

I still think there's more to the story.

· Victor (not verified) · 3 years ago

Ah, I see. I didn't read the sarcasm from the first post--my mistake, and my apologies.

· Folsomev (not verified) · 3 years ago

For the record... I have supported AB475, and I continue to do so. IMHO, charger sharing is not a viable option going forward, as we move toward mass adoption.

(One problem: the Volt car alarm goes off if the connector is removed while the doors are locked. This "feature" can be disabled only by the dealer. Don't pull the connector from a Volt if the doors are locked!)

Neither the LEAF nor the Volt give a clear external indication of state of charge, or completed charge.

Stickers are not a practical alternative going forward, either -- so I am glad that the ZEV parking sticker is going away.

The present law allows only ZEVs (that includes fuel cell vehicles) in EV-designated properly signed parking spaces. No PHEVs. So, an amendment is definitely in order.

This bill may have some minor flaws, but overall it is a necessary step forward.

· · 3 years ago

Folsomev- I agree with adding PHEVs, but there were other ways to do that. I actually think the whole thing (incl the 2002 law) isn't needed and should've been revoked, which gets rid of the stickers and ZEV requirement, and solves everyone's problems. There has never been any objective survey or other attempt at data gathering to support either bill, let alone that this is the best way to handle it. If evidence shows that a state law is needed, better to start from scratch, incorporate the feedback of those affected and create something that truly does the job, rather than continue to band-aid an old law.

However, charger sharing is only one of several issues with this bill- and if you see my comment above, there are ways to keep it without anyone having his car unplugged if he doesn't want it unplugged. This one point alone does not make the difference between the bill being good or bad.

· · 3 years ago

@Folsomev: The LEAF does clearly indicate, by way of three bright, externally-visible blue LEDs, whether it is charging or not. I would have absolutely no problem with another EV/PHEV driver unplugging my LEAF if it is not charging. Perhaps Volt owners should rethink whether alarming the charge plug is necessary when a simple text message could suffice.

And please clue us in as to how stickers are impractical. Parking stickers have been used with success in many different jurisdictions for many years.

I do agree that an amendment is needed to issue stickers for PHEVs. But they need to throw away AB 475 and start from scratch.

· Folsomev (not verified) · 3 years ago

The LEAF lights go out 15 minutes after charging is complete, or 15 minutes after a waiting period starts. When the lights are out, there is no reliable way to know the status. (I have a LEAF myself.)

Alarming the charge plug is not a Volt owner choice. The car comes that way. Disabling the alarm requires a visit to the dealer service department. (I have a Volt, too.)

I have had stickers on my RAV4 EVs, and I could have a sticker on my LEAF if I went through the process and waited for the sticker to come. Stickerless is better, and you're set to go as soon as you get the car -- no waiting for the DMV before you can charge at public charging stations.

Throwing away AB475 doesn't make sense. It would take another year for another bill to come forward. There is nothing seriously wrong with AB475, and it does solve several present problems.

· · 3 years ago

@Folsomev: Regarding the LEAF's charging lights going dark, perhaps your concern is that a LEAF could be on a charging timer, waiting to start charging at a later time. If the car is then unplugged, it won't charge at all. That would definitely be a problem for the owner. However, one would have to question the wisdom of using a timer rather than charging immediately when in a public space. If there is any possibility of someone else coming along and needing a charge, we should try to avoid tying up the EVSE any longer than necessary.

Of course I would like the DMV to be more efficient. Immediately upon registering an EV, the DMV should send the plates, HOV sticker, and parking sticker. There should be no need to request the latter separately. And the turnaround time could be much faster.

· · 3 years ago

@abasile, "However, one would have to question the wisdom of using a timer rather than charging immediately when in a public space."

The problem is the LEAF is not location aware. You set the charge timer to ensure super off-peak when you charge at home. However that setting stays with the car 24/7 regardless where it's parked. If Nissan would have defined the charge timer to be location specific (ie when the car's in my garage) then we could easy charge immediately when we are at a different location. Also, the resetting of the charge timer disable, if the EVSE connector is removed and replaced, is broken and Nissan needs to change that. I saw a guy disconnect my LEAF from an EVSE once and was looking at the connector. I yelled to plugged it back in, which he did. But I then needed to hit the charge timer bypass button again to start charging.

· · 3 years ago

"I actually think the whole thing (incl the 2002 law) isn't needed and should've been revoked, which gets rid of the stickers and ZEV requirement, and solves everyone's problems."

Thank goodness, the new law gets rid of stickers (at least for charging). The thought of putting stickers on a brand new car turns my stomach. If any identification is needed, it should go on the license plate, including HOV access.

· · 3 years ago

"At about $3,000 per head, it may not seem like "much" more. But would you rather spend $3,000 or $12,000 if given the choice?"

I would have to think there would be some economy of scale, and sharing of components here, as there are with most electronics. In addition, you would only make one cable run whether it has one or four ports.

· · 3 years ago

I agree about putting stickers on the car, and the notion of a plate-based method of identification is being discussed in several places.

However, especially for purposes of charging (rather than HOV, where identification would need to be made from further away), the "sticker" could also be a rearview-mirror hanger along the lines of a handicapped placard. The original version of the bill could easily have been modified with that simple change to avoid the aesthetic issue.

· · 3 years ago

Yes, or a different colored plate background or lettering, added word(s) like they have on "Historic Vehicle" plates, or a different color for the month sticker.

I like the different colored plate, since I think many people would view that as a status thing. :-)

· · 3 years ago

Yes, could be a whole special plate, or markers on a regular one if it's a cost issue. The sticker on the plate can also be different colors to distinguish between EV, PHEV, etc. Simply having the sticker gets you into the "all access" types of things, like public charging. The colors are for the incentives that are more filtered.

However, it would take some time for everyone to agree to a plate scheme. In the meantime, the notion of not wanting to put a sticker on the car need not be the major hurdle on this AB475 issue, where a placard could be used instead.

· · 3 years ago

> I would have to think there would be some economy of scale, and sharing of components here, as there are with most electronics. In addition, you would only make one cable run whether it has one or four ports. <

At least at this point, this is not the case. Yes, there can be just one conduit. One BIG conduit. And possibly just one post to mount everything on. I'm just talking about the EVSE heads, however. Those electronics can't really be shared if they are all in use at the same time. Either way, and no matter what folks think about the subject, it WILL be more expensive to install more EVSEs than fewer.

· · 3 years ago

One of the things that disturbs me most about this fiasco is that neither GM nor Butler gathered the input --let alone the consensus-- of the other OEMs of electric vehicles before pushing the bill through the legislature. Its negative consequences will affect the customers of Nissan, Mitsubishi, Tesla, Coda, Ford, Fisker, Volvo, etc., etc., just as much as GM's. In point of fact, Volt drivers constitute only a small percentage of EV owners, so why is the GM tail wagging the EV dog? All EV OEMs should have a seat at the negotiation table before any law that affects them is enacted.

· · 3 years ago

I'm still struggling to figure out how this new bill benefits GM (beyond simply including cars like the Volt). What is it that I'm missing here?

--------------------------------------

I have also been wondering why in the world GM would not care about slowing down and increasing the costs of rolling out the public EV infrastructure...? Then a sad realization hit me. Perhaps that is what they do care about.

As far as GM is concerned, the Volt's gasoline backup engine is their public infrastructure. A delayed, insufficient, expensive, complicated EV infrastructure only makes their hybrid, on-board solution more appealing to consumers --and pure EVs much less appealing. After all, sufficient public infrastructure could render EV range anxiety a moot point --the very thing GM wanted to "copyright," remember? Ergo, the best way to undermine and outsell the LEAF (and all other pure EVs) is to keep them tethered to a limited range as long as possible.

It is not unfeasible that a corporation would attempt to use such tactics to handicap the competition and tout its own product. And the fact that GM has pushed this bill through without even consulting with the other OEMs seems to substantiate that possibility.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 3 years ago

Perhaps GM is going to do some deal with GE or some other EVSE maker and wants to insure there is one sold and installed per car rather than two for sharing so there are more sales for their EVSE partner deal. Likely some deal like that or to help some friend /partner:)

· · 3 years ago

If GM is so paranoid that clueless meter maids will not recognize that their Volt can legally park in EV spaces, why don't they simply provide a nice rearview mirror tag with the vehicle to clarify that it is, indeed, a PhEV? Problem solved.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 3 years ago

I found this paragraph interesting:

"Butler’s final response came last week: the bill won’t be changed, as contrary to all indications, “General Motors did not share your concerns.” This is not the first time interests of a corporate constituent outweigh those affected by the proposed law, nor the first time GM has prioritized its own needs above those of their customers—but neither get any easier to swallow with experience."

It surprised me that GM would actually support such a silly law. So I've been searching the internet for a verification of this and haven't found any indication other than Assemblyman Butler's response. Is it possible she misunderstood GM's position? Is there a link I can go to read what GM actually said?

· · 3 years ago

Not only did GM support this bill, they instigated it. Unfortunately, she did not misunderstand. First thing I did upon receiving that email was verify it with GM directly. And things have only gotten stranger since.

I have since posted an update on the situation here: http://evchels.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/ab475-curiouser-and-curiouser/ which links to a couple different places that GM has put its stance on the record.

This article also has generated a lot of attention, particularly in the comments section, where GM's spokesperson (Shad Balch) has posted several responses in addition to his quotes in the piece.
http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1065314_065314-gm-riles-ca-electric-...

· Anonymous (not verified) · 3 years ago

Why not just build charging stations with 2 or 4 connectors (depending on the parking design) but with just one charging infrastructure and an internal switch. This would keep down the cost because there's only one actual charging unit. And while all four cars could be "plugged in" for the purposes of this law, it would automatically handle the switching aspect without requiring anyone to remove the connector from the car. The switching would either be based on some kind of timed rotation, or in chronological order of plug-in. Do these systems provide an "all full" signal back to the charging station that could trigger a switch to the next car?

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