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Wednesday, Jul 17, 2024
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Car2Go Revs Up By Unplugging E-fleet

San Diego’s leading car-sharing company, Car2Go, is replacing its all-electric fleet with gas-powered cars. The decision — which stemmed from a lack of local charging stations — is a setback to the city’s climate action plan, and a shakeup for the company’s business model.

When Car2Go entered the San Diego market in 2011, the company made San Diego the first U.S. city to house an all-electric fleet. That decision was based on a promise by San Francisco-based ECOtality to install 1,000 charging stations around the region by the end of 2011.

However, the company (which made and installed car-charging stations) filed for bankruptcy in 2013 and never completed its pledge in San Diego.

“(It) didn’t even come close to happening,” said Michael Silverman, a spokesperson for Car2Go, in an email. “To date, only 400 of the promised charging stating have been installed. Just 126 of those stations fall within the Car2Go home area, and only 54 of them are easily accessible to our members.”

The lack of charging stations has been a thorn in the side of Car2Go and its customers. In San Diego, an average of 20 percent of the Car2Go fleet is unavailable at any given time, Silverman said. This is primarily because the cars are either dead or being charged (it takes six hours to fully charge a dead Smart Car, according to the manufacturer).

Gas Goes Further

This can be frustrating for customers. Many of the company’s 40,000 San Diego members say they often worry their Car2Go vehicle will putter out before finishing their trip, according to Car2Go spokesperson Dacyl Armendariz.

To fix the problem, Car2Go is replacing the Smart Car electric models with gas-powered versions of the same vehicle. The new vehicles can travel up to 342 miles on a single tank, whereas a fully-charged electric Smart Car can only travel 65 miles max, Silverman said. The gas-powered fleet can also be returned to circulation much faster than the electric cars, as it only takes minutes to refuel.

This shift in Car2Go’s local business model will bring the cost of the service way down, Silverman said. Beginning May 1, prices will drop from 41 cents a minute to 19 cents a minute.

Although Silverman says the switch to gas-powered cars from electric was only due to lack of infrastructure, the timing of the shift occurs right as two car-sharing rivals, ZipCar and DriveNow, are entering the San Diego market. Both companies use gas-powered vehicles.

Call to Action

Historically, however, Car2Go has been a leader in pushing electric vehicle fleets.

“We’ve seen electric vehicle car-sharing work best when a city has robust, fast-charging infrastructure in place,” Silverman said. “In fact, Car2Go operates successful electric vehicle fleets in Suttgart, Amsterdam, and Madrid, Spain, because the infrastructure in those cities makes that possible.”

Silverman said the company would “welcome the opportunity” to consider a return to the all-electric vehicle fleet in San Diego once the infrastructure is in place to support it.

A pilot program by San Diego Gas & Electric Co. could make that happen relatively quickly. It calls for 3,500 charging stations to be installed at 350 sites with a focus on condominiums and apartments where residents don’t have the option of charging an electric car in their garage.

“This pilot program will provide us with a unique opportunity to support the increased adoption of zero-emission vehicles to reduce smog and other pollutants created by the transportation sector in California,” said Jim Avery, SDG&E chief development officer, in a statement back in January.

The program, however, won’t complete installations until three years from now — not early enough for Car2Go to reconsider is fleet change just yet.

Carbon Emissions Setback

Electric car adoption is key to the city’s ambitious plan to cut carbon emissions in half by 2035, and car sharing plays a major role because it can fill small gaps in commutes that feature mass transit or bicycling.

Jason Anderson, president and CEO of Cleantech San Diego, said that Car2Go’s move should be a call to action.

“While this decision is unfortunate, it proves that we still have a lot of work to do to support the deployment of more public charging stations,” Anderson said in an email. “The continuation of more installations paired with SDG&E’s pilot program will hopefully address the charging issues that Car2Go faces, while also supporting the charging needs of electric vehicle drivers throughout the region. I am thankful for Car2Go’s commitment to San Diego, and look forward to working with them to bring back the only all-electric, car-sharing program in the country.”

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