AB475: GM’s charging stance gets curiouser and curiouser…

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.

    GM's Dave Barthmuss seems to enjoy charger sharing...
  • 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.

50 thoughts on “AB475: GM’s charging stance gets curiouser and curiouser…

  1. “…that government of the people, by the people, for the people…” Thanks Chelsea for pushing this through and making it right.

    I really do think California law will act as a model law for the entire nation. So let’s get it right. And by all means, let Plug-in Prius owners share in the charging infrastructure.

  2. I am baffled that GM stubbornly refuses to see the forest for the trees. Are they so hell bent on complicating, slowing down, and making more expensive the rollout of an EV infrastructure that they would just as soon punish their own Volt owners? That’s pathetic.

    A far better solution would be for CA to issue EV license plates, or at least EV decals for the plates. This would not only solve the parking/charging problem, but also HOV access, and vehicle registration. Three birds down, one stone thrown. What’s not to like?

      1. Hey, and check it out, California DMV has had the state EV sticker for years!:
        Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Parking Decal Application REG 4048

        The program could use some refinement, to have green stickers for EVs and add yellow for Plug In Hybrids. Looks like neighborhood vehicles and motorcycles are already covered,

        Then we streamline the application process for this and the HOV sticker by having the dealer submit registration, HOV, Plug In Vehicle parking Decal (reg4048) all at the same time when you buy the car. We could have temporary decals to go with the dealer temprorary plates.

  3. I can see there are risks / drawbacks to either method, so whoever “wins” will later be pilloried when their respective risks / drawbacks are realized. Yet another self-inflicted wound on our meandering crawl towards progress.

    1. That’s the odd part, Jason- it’s not even a matter of “either” method; there are several that could have been used, and that GM expressed (to us) support for throughout the time we were working cooperatively. And even if there was no perfect solution, why force the one with the *most* negative consequences when those affected are clearly opposed? GM claimed to only care about getting PHEVs access to chargers; any of the alternatives would have done that.

      1. Whether between or among, I see no risk-free or drawback-free approach. I personally would dread the thought of anyone messing with my vehicle while charging, even if it had a range extender. I know there are people who love the thought of communing, ride / car – sharing, etc., but there are also many who don’t want anyone touching their property. Some may opt to buy a conventional hybrid, instead of a plug-in, knowing that others are allowed to handle their equipment.

        Just another situation where nobody wins, and the alternative fuel / propulsion movement takes another hit.

        1. That’s where GM has managed to spread such misinformation- none of the proposed solutions *allow* anyone to touch another’s property without permission, and nor does GM’s version keep it from happening. To the extent sharing continues, there are at least two totally voluntary ways to do it. And the sharing issue is only one of several problems with this bill, and arguably not the biggest.

        2. I really understand not wanting anybody messing with your EV, Jason. I would think, nonetheless, that, if someone did happen to mess with it… you wouldn’t want it towed!

          There are, of course, other solutions to thwart any messing. If a placard doesn’t strike one as a strong enough warning, I believe it is also possible to lock the J1772 onto the car.

          That said, my own take is this: if I absolutely don’t want anybody messing with my EV… I won’t park it in a charging space. Say, for example, I park at LAX to catch a flight. Unless it is a very short round-trip, in most instances I would be gone far longer than it takes to top off my battery pack. Should I hog the EVSE all that time, perhaps even for days, despite the fact that I am not really using it? That strikes me as rude and selfish.

          But maybe that’s just me. I suppose there are others in this world whose attitude is: “Tough frijoles! I got here first, so everyone else can go find a plug somewhere else ’til I get back.” Sadly, it seems to me that is the mindset this bill is encouraging. Sigh….

            1. Yup, having plenty of 120V outlets would help greatly at the airport.

              Beyond that, the way that everyone can avoid “hogging” the EVSEs at the airport –or anywhere else– would be through sharing (by permission, or course). AB745 would prohibit this, because any unplugged vehicles would be ticketed and towed. It would also require installing an EVSE in every parking space, even though they would would only be charging a mere fraction of the time they are plugged in. Does CA have a surplus in its budget for all that extra equipment and installation?

          1. Airport parking is a unique issue. Many of us need to charge in order to make it home from the airport, no matter how long we are gone and hence plugged in (and not charging). This isn’t hogging, it just is a need resulting from the airport being outside an EV’s normal range.

            The solution to this is to have lots of inexpensive Level 1 chargers since for long term parking slow charging is perfectly adequate.

    2. As usual, I apparently didn’t make myself very clear above. I’ll try again.

      I said *IF* I didn’t want anyone messing with my EV at the airport, I wouldn’t park in a charging spot. *IF* I have no problem with sharing the EVSE with other EV owners, that is *NOT* hogging.

      This bill would undermine such sharing, and thus encourage hogging: one EVSE per space, one vehicle per EVSE, no matter how little juice it needs or how long it is parked there. Real nice. 8-/

  4. Strange developments indeed and most unfortunate. If GM is starting to change their “tune” regarding the promotion of EV charging infrastructure development and access, all I have to wonder is what are the real motivators behind this?

    Thanks for keeping us up to date on these developments Chelsea.

  5. Sent to Brown:

    Please Veto AB475, for now.

    AB475 has been poorly written and needs some vital language clarification for it to do it’s job.

    Many have worked very hard on behalf of plugin electric vehicle owners like my self and deserve the chance to make this very important bill serve all Californians.

    We need this bill! But not as written. Send it back. Tell them to make it work!


    Jeff U’Ren
    Santa Monica, CA

  6. Thanks for keeping us up to date. I certainly wasn’t put up to opposition by you. I saw the post on FB Chevy Volt forum and immediately as an EV driver saw the big problem with this.

    Doe-eyed EV community newbie that I am, I thought Shad was just a new Volt owner with a bit of a paranoid BEV inferiority complex. The positioning just didn’t make sense to anyone who has used public charging. Then I realize that this is the “official” community spokesman for GM. Curious indeed. I joined that forum because I believe that the Volt is a great replacement for my 04 Prius in combo with my Leaf. But GM’s official attitude to the community in general and enthusiasts in particular really has turned me off. Maybe that is the point.

    Let’s all support the effort to get something on the books that is inclusive for all plug-ins and helps move us forward instead of further down the rabbit hole.

    former Mini-E #148
    Now Leaf driver and potential EREV customer.

  7. If it has a plug it’s good! OK?

    We hear in the EV community are looking at this rightfully through our microscope. It’s what we do. It’s important to us. Work needs to be done.

    But it’s sad for me to see this small element of a bigger picture, getting us Americans to switch to electric drive cars, play out badly in the press because of our own doing. From both advocates and OMEs knee-jerk comments.

    It has given bond-heads like Car and Drive fuel to disparage us.

    I try to make light of it on FB hoping it will cause some to pause and think.

    For the newbies: We are at a long awaited, hard-fought crossroads now. You can now go buy a plugin car that allows you to not use gas! That’s big!
    I’ve been waiting 12 years for this. (After living that way for 3 EV1 years.)
    But with this comes some new unchartered waters. It’s all good. Like trying to figure out how to invest your lottery winnings. It’s still hard work and you don’t want to screw it up.



    Do it want more plugin cars on the road? yes. Do they have to be all one kind of plugin? no. Would I want to exclude the support of a group of a type of plugin car owner? no. Do I want to have the uninitiated public view plugin cars as complicated to use? no. Do I want the uninitiated public to view EV advocates as spoiled and deserved? no. Do we want to keep giving those who hate electric vehicles more stupid fuel to use against us? no.

    Think. Give a positive suggestion. This is a fun new world to play in.


  8. Even though I’ve used public charging a countable number of times in my 150K+ EV miles, several have involved what AB475 would make illegal. GM’s position appears indefensible. Does anybody disagree?

  9. To carry this to the next logical step, those cars that have finished charging and are still plugged in should be subject to ticketing also. The idea of the legislation is to make as many locations available to as many users as possible. The EV or PHEV user knows how long their charge will take and should make provisions to move their car to another space and not continuously occupy the location.

    1. If you are watching a movie, having to leave to relocate your vehicle is weird to say the least. Another reason NOT to buy an EV.

  10. AB475 as written allows a non-plug in gasoline car to park plug in to an EV space “exclusive purpose
    of charging and parking a vehicle that is connected for electric
    charging purposes” of it’s 12V starter battery. Nothing in there about motive power having to come in part or fully from the charging. Nothing in there about not towing vehicles that are accidentally or maliciously unplugged. (Even with the 12V battery, you have to be careful, because you can put gas cars in gear and use the starter motor to move the car form the 12V battery – which some people will try – many tried to game and claim the hybrid vehicle credits for conventional gas cars, it absolutlehy will happen that if the legislation is not very well written, it will be abused.)

    Quote from AB475:
    22511. (a) A local authority, by ordinance or resolution, and a
    person in lawful possession of an offstreet parking facility may
    designate stalls or spaces in an offstreet parking facility owned or
    operated by that local authority or person for the exclusive purpose
    of charging and parking a vehicle that is connected for electric
    charging purposes.

  11. EVChels zombie has complied as ordered. Resistance was futile. Memo sent to Governor Brown complete. ;>)

    But what’s really amusing in all of this is that public charging access generally accounts for so little of the actual time an EV is plugged in. GM is willing to alienate the EV community over something so insignificant? o_0

    But just to throw a little wrinkle into mix, because that’s the sort of guy I am, what if V2G was (or will be) widespread in the future? Would we not want to have individual rather than shared EVSEs? And wouldn’t unplugging cars really be vandalism because it would cost their owners revenue while they were unplugged? Some flexibility for V2G should be considered in any subsequent bill drafts should Brown (hopefully) veto AB475.

    Clearly, however, this should be about the freedom of public businesses to place EVSEs as they see fit (for customer convenience) and public education by the EAA & PIA (DOE funding would be nice) on EVSE protocols and etiquette rather than creating a new class of criminals.

    By the way, what position has the pay-for-charge/access industry taken on all of this or does AB475 not apply to privately owned EVSEs in public locations?

  12. Oh, and speaking of V2G, I just found this in today’s NYT:

    In a Blackout, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Toyota EVs Could Function as Generators

    “Once the province of home hobbyists and a few academics, vehicle-to-grid charging, or V2G, is gaining momentum. When appropriately equipped, a plug-in hybrid or purely electric vehicle can operate like a generator on wheels, powering a house in a blackout or feeding electricity to the grid.” There’s more>>> http://nyti.ms/oN59dC

    “Generator” and powering homes in a blackout is not be the best description of how V2G works and what it’s primary purpose should be, but I guess EVs providing “ancillary grid services” maybe a little dense for a popular media article. Whatever the case: one can’t be earning that $0.30 per hour that Dr. Kemptom talks about if their car is unplugged.

  13. Wow, the more you read AB475, the sillier it gets.

    AB475 Quote:
    “…parking a vehicle that is connected for electric charging purposes.”

    Ok, so you “connect” your cell phone to your “vehicle” “for electric charging purposes” of charging your cell phone. YOU CAN PARK IN AN EV SPACE!!!

    AB 475 says that your vehicle has to be connected. It does not say it has to be connected to the EV charging station. Your vehicle could be connected to your cell phone. It does not say that you have to charge a battery that porpels the vehicle in normal operation (have to exclude the drive the car on the starter motor case.) So charging your cell phone is “for electric charging purposes”.

    Or the charging station has 120V plug in and you plug in a standard 120v to 12V car battery charger to charge the 12 volt battery – You have fully satisfied the text of AB 475 and may park in the EV space as long as you want because you are parked “for the exclusive purpose
    of charging and parking a vehicle that is connected for electric
    charging purposes.” … of the 12 volt car battery (aka. starter or aux battery) that is part of the vehicle.

    AB 475 is well intentioned, but it is written in a way that will cause EV drivers to be towed when a passer by unplugs them and allows easy abuse of EV spaces, using a simple automitve 120V to 12 volt starter battery charger with a non-Plug In vehicle,

  14. Ha! Wouldn’t it be so much simpler if all you silly people just went back to burning gas, like real Americans? And if somebody touches your gas-burner? Hit them! That’s what real Americans do.

  15. We just need to update and streamline the state EV sticker California DMV has had for years to include all Plug In Vehicles, specifically adding Plug In hybrids!:
    Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Parking Decal Application REG 4048

    The program could use some refinement, to have green stickers for EVs and add yellow for Plug In Hybrids. Looks like neighborhood vehicles and motorcycles are already covered,

    Then we streamline the application process for this and the HOV sticker by having the dealer submit registration, HOV, Plug In Vehicle parking Decal (reg4048) all at the same time when you buy the car. We could have temporary decals to go with the dealer temprorary plates.

    1. Agreed on all counts, Mike- and we proposed exactly this to the Gov’s office. Though I’d actually like to see the sticker become a decal or logo on the license plate, to alleviate the “don’t want to put a sticker on my new car” concerns that some have.

  16. Yeah- towing folks for being uplugged is absurd! Veto the bill and start over- simpler is better, and giving the site-owners the choice to install chargers as they see fit does not seem unreasonable. Shared chargers, especially for the short term, makes much more sense.

    Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment though. In this stage of development for EVs, I am reminded a lot of the early days of personal computers- it was dominated by a small group of enthusiasts to which sharing was second nature. Unfortunately, this attitude is not universal, and as the number of EV and PHEV owners grows, it is going to start to include, and eventually be dominated by, ‘non-enthusiasts.’ I can see problems arising from this where charging stations are shared.

    Now, that will probably not be an issue in the short run- but for how long…hard to tell. And the answer may be as simple as having the ability to lock the charger to an individual car if the owner is concerned with unauthorized sharing. And even if this is GM’s concern, it does not excuse their apparent bludgeoning where this bill is concerned- let’s hope the ‘new’ GM that has been better at partnering with others in the EV space takes a step back, takes a deep breath, and reaches out in dialogue rather than diatribe.

    Sometimes the hardest thing to do, once one has taken a position and argued, vehemently, for it- is to just stop and start over with a fresh perspective- human stubbornness and inertia, I afraid, may be a part of this, and large companies have a lot more inertia to stop and redirect- let’s hope someone there has the humility and common sense to make the attempt!

    LIke I said- veto the bill and redo it! But keep in mind that what works extremely well for today’s small cadre of EV owners, most of whom know each other, may not work as well for tomorrows car owners who just happen to own EVs and are strangers to each other- it’s sad that such a distinction may have to be made, but that is also the reality of human nature:-(

    Again, thanks for your work in this space, Chelsea- keep up the good work!

  17. (by the way- I did send an email to Governor Brown as well, asking him to veto this bill, and bring the parties concerned together to re-do it)

  18. I see a small problem with using the stickers to allow someone to use the charging stations, what if you live near California in Oregon and travel into California with your car? How do you park to get a charge if you don’t have the Californian DMV tag in your window?

    1. Hi Kelly,

      We’ve been thinking about this- the near-term solution would be simply to have the vehicle code state that plug-in vehicles with out of state license plates would be exempted. Out of state gas cars could still be towed.

      Ultimately, it would be nice if each adjoining state (at least) adopted a similar identifier, whether sticker, license plate, etc., and granted each other reciprocal eligibility.

  19. Wow, Chelsea! I happened to be rereading an interview you gave to “Urbanite Magazine” over two years ago:


    You could not have been more prophetic! Here is what you told the interviewer, Marc Steiner:

    Watching automakers is like watching my children. You have to let them figure it out on their own, and you so badly want to step in and say, “Let me just show you.” And they go, “That’s great. Piss off. I know what I’m doing.”

    How utterly ironic. That is precisely what GM has told you in this instance, despite all the sage advice you have given them in the years since that interview. It is a wonder they can even walk after shooting themselves in the foot so badly with this bill.

  20. I found this post very interesting, but the title bugs me. “Curioser” is not a word, so the title should be “GM’s charging stance gets more and more curious”.

    1. Tsk, Joseph. That is a phrase that Alice herself uttered in the book. I surmise that you must have wondered what the mention of “rabbit hole” in the opening sentence was all about…?!

    2. Jospeh,

      Read Alice in Wonderland, the bad grammar is explained thus.

      “Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).

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