Electric Vehicles to Hit Bay Area via Better Place, City CarShare

Two projects that will bring electric vehicles to Bay Area residents in indirect ways — taxis and car-sharing — were unveiled today. It’s not unusual for alternative vehicles to make it first to these types of ecosystems before they become mainstream via consumer purchases.

The first project is from electric vehicle infrastructure startup Better Place, which announced it will build a battery-swapping-based electric vehicle taxi program in the Bay Area, in conjunction with the cities of San Francisco and San Jose, and with funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation via the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). Better Place, which has a similar program in Tokyo, Japan, says it will build four battery swap stations between San Jose and San Francisco over the next three years.

The second is from Bay Area non-profit City CarShare, which will also use a $1.7 million grant from MTC to integrate 30 electric vehicles into its fleet. The entire so-called “eFleet” will cost $2.5 million, and City CarShare’s spokesperson Anita Daley told me that the company will get at least 10 Nissan LEAFs this winter and will be getting more all-electric cars within the 2012 time frame. In addition, City CarShare will convert several Priuses using 3-Prong’s technology (the fleet already has 2 plug-in hybrid EVs).

Both projects have been under development for a while. Better Place announced almost 2 years ago that it would work with public and private partners to help Bay Area cities build out a $1 billion electric vehicle charging infrastructure project. The announcement was made with much fanfare — with leaders like the mayors of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland, Better Place CEO Shai Agassi and VantagePoint Venture Partners advisor and partner Robert F. Kennedy, Jr in attendance — but this is the first I’ve heard since then of more progress on a Better Place Bay Area network.

Better Place said two years ago that a “mass market availability of electric cars” would be ready by 2012. Sounds like those aggressive plans have been toned down. This morning, Better Place said it will work with taxi companies Yellow Cab Cooperative and Yellow Checker Cab and other state organizations to get the EV taxi fleet on the roads. The cost of the EV taxi fleet project was not disclosed.

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