Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, but the AB475 saga feels more like a fall down Alice’s rabbit hole. GM’s stance against plug-in drivers has only gotten more extreme, in what may be the company’s strangest PR execution since killing the EV1.
Meanwhile, I have just returned from Sacramento, after joining Plug In America in a meeting with Governor Brown’s office, to pull this bill back on a more productive path. We’ve been asked to move things forward by immediately preparing a new version of AB475 that serves all plug-in drivers, something we’re happy to pull an all-nighter for.
To recap: Volt drivers are currently excluded from using a fraction of California’s public chargers, originally designated for electric vehicles (EVs) only and requiring a sticker to prove eligibility. Proposed by Assemblymember Betsy Butler and sponsored by General Motors, AB475 was meant to do two things: expand the vehicles allowed to use public charging to include PHEVs, and designate a way to identify eligible vehicles, so that non-compliant ones may be towed. The advocates involved have no objection to including PHEVs; all plug-in vehicles should have equal access to charging. Our concerns surround only the proposed method of identification- specifically the seemingly simple shift from a sticker to language requiring eligible vehicles to be “connected for charging purposes”.
This detail makes it illegal to be parked in one of these spots but not plugged in. No matter how or why your EV or PHEV becomes unplugged, it can be towed, even if you can prove you were connected to begin with.
It’s also been proven most effective and economical to install each charger between 2-4 parking spaces where possible, providing several benefits:
- installations are simpler and cheaper, requiring less private and taxpayer funding per site.
- inconvenience from errant gas vehicles (ICEing) is mitigated; they still get towed, but instead of waiting while that happens, the PH/EV driver simply takes the next spot and plugs in.
- drivers can share chargers by giving permission to others to unplug their vehicles if needed, or by requesting that another driver plug the remaining vehicle in upon leaving. Again: sharing is a voluntary practice. No community-based sharing protocol endorses unplugging a vehicle against its owner’s wishes.
AB475 will no longer allow these installations. And particularly in this economy, existing sites are unlikely to add chargers to the spots that currently share, reducing charger-accessible spots by 50-75% at those locations. Therefore, this law will increase installation costs to businesses and taxpayers, decrease access to chargers and make using them more complicated, and increase negative impacts of ICEing- the very issue this law is meant to address.
The language of the statute also does not adequately protect against gasoline vehicles parking in these spaces. It’s not the most severe issue with this bill, but as the core objective, it’s an odd thing to get wrong.
After months of working in good faith with GM (who consistently agreed with our concerns) to encourage Butler to alter the “connected” requirement, the bill was pushed through a week ago with no changes. We were surprised, to say the least- even more when Butler’s office admitted that GM had encouraged it. Hundreds of people have since asked Governor Brown to veto the bill, and other automakers are weighing in on behalf of their own concerned drivers.
General Motors has been taking an increasingly baffling approach. Their initial public response wasn’t to address the stakeholder concerns, but to discredit me personally. After days of being called a conspiracy theorist, accused of maliciously spreading false information and encouraging plug-in drivers to target and unplug Volts in public charging locations, GM finally asserted that I alone don’t like this bill, and have put everyone else- including Plug In America- up to opposing it for my own purposes. What those purposes would be, I don’t know; even GM concedes it doesn’t make sense. I also don’t have the requisite ego to be flattered that the company thinks people will do something they disagree with just because I ask. But that GM assumes plug-in advocates and drivers, including their own, are incapable of thinking for themselves is just disconcerting. Having to earn the support and business of people you respect so little must be a bitter pill to swallow.
Concurrent email conversation with GM in hopes of negotiating a solution only revealed a reversal in their position on other fronts. The company is now against the originally-acceptable sticker approach “on principle”, as plug-in drivers shouldn’t have to endure the “extra process step” of a form and a eighteen dollars to get a publicly-funded benefit. Charger sharing now “promotes malicious unplugging and needs to be outlawed”. Installing chargers between spaces is not “responsible planning”, and the act of unplugging a vehicle, even with permission, should be codified as vandalism and “punished as if you slashed someone’s tires.” (Notably, AB475 does not outlaw unplugging; it merely punishes the one who gets unplugged.) Paradoxically, our concern about passersby unplugging vehicles out of curiosity or resentment is “speculative”, even though it’s happened for years. Apparently, unplugging is only an EV driver on driver crime.
General Motors has yet to give a direct public response to our concerns. They did
ghostwrite inspire a piece by Car & Driver, and have posted their own perspective on a GM site created specifically for Volt owners. It completely disregards several of the issues, and instead maligns plug-in drivers as upset because they are no longer entitled to disconnect other vehicles as they see fit, and paranoid about the language allowing gas cars to park in charger spaces. A creative interpretation, indeed.
GM is particularly concerned about a few EV forum posters who’ve opined that since PHEVs aren’t dependent on public chargers, they shouldn’t be entitled to use them. Unfortunately, they have decided to hold the entire driver population responsible for the statements of these posters, and after staunchly insisting on equal treatment for all plug-in cars, the connected mandate seems more to be a misguided attempt to protect Volt drivers at any cost. Ironically, it is they who will bear the brunt of this law’s consequences. Besides being towed instead of merely using a little more gas should they be unplugged somehow, forcing this law is only increasing resentment towards GM- and by extension, the Volt. And while it’s not surprising that GM would prioritize its own drivers, it’s something else completely for Assemblymember Butler to go along with it.
I know many of those involved with the Volt; most are passionate and dedicated. I support their efforts as an advocate, and I count a few of them among my friends. But it is intensely frustrating to watch them go so far astray on this issue, unnecessarily squandering goodwill they’ve spent so long trying to earn back. That behavior is more consistent with the company I knew some years ago, than the people I have come to know since. I miss working with those people, and hope they find their way back soon.
Until then, please urge Governor Brown to veto the mess created in their absence.