This was the year that was, and it marks the last 12-month period in which electric cars are a rarity on state roads. I can remember the first time I saw a Chevy Volt in the wild — in San Diego — and it was like seeing a vehicle that's supposed to exist only for my test drives. But I have to share the Volt, the Leaf, the Tesla Model S, the Fisker Karma and the rest with the world.
Connecticut has lagged behind with EVs because it gets cold here — and we're a long way from California. The only electric cars on state roads now are the Volt plug-in hybrid and the Smart Electric Drive, though I was pleasantly surprised to see that a Think City has been taken up by municipal officials in Westport, where solar charging is coming.
EVs need places to plug in, and the infrastructure is coming. I count no less than four charging stations in my hometown of Fairfield, two at Whole Foods and two others (paid for with state funds) near the downtown railroad station. EV charging and rail goes together, because that makes your trips intermodal — get off one form of transit and hop onto another. People would actually ride more Connecticut trains if they had better ways of getting to the stations. Dedicated EV parking adds a dimension.
I was just out in Indiana, where the DOT was known as the "Department of Highways" until 1989, and to this day only three percent of state transportation funds go to transit in any form. Indianapolis' bus system, IndyGo, is being starved by budget cuts. A plan exists to put light rail in a downtown corridor, but it's recently been delayed 20 years. Connecticut is in a better position. While there's no downtown rail here, either, there's at least an awareness of the need to fight congestion and air pollution with transit funding. Without that, I-95 (which experiences two percent annual traffic growth) will be in rush hour all day.
So 2011 was a transition year, marking the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Connecticut and EVs. Nothing warms my heart more than a row of EVs parked and charging at the East Norwalk railroad station. Those stations were installed by the Car Charging Group, which is splitting the revenue with the city. It's a great model — all the chargers at 800 Walgreens stores are going in that way — and it will pay for more CT stations.
In 2012, the Nissan Leaf will be ubiquitous in the state, reaching wait listers like my friend John Rountree, the solar architect. The Ford Focus EV, released just last week, will be making its Connecticut debut, too. And we should see some of BMW's 1-Series coupes, which replace the electric version of the Mini.
I expect to see a lot of Volts on Connecticut roads, too. The car has been through a rough patch, both because of supply problems and because of the famous fires, which got sensationalized in the news media. GM has a $1,000 fix ready, which makes it somewhat lucky that only 6,100 of them have been sold — repairing them won't cost much. So I'll ring in the new year happily, because it's going to be great.