EV Diaries: Earth Day 2010 — electric car coming of age

Shirley Jahad in a Mitsubishi electric iMiev prototype with the steering wheel on the right side.
Shirley Jahad in a Mitsubishi electric iMiev prototype with the steering wheel on the right side.
Courtesy photo

Listen to story

Download this story 1.0MB

Today is Earth Day. A big part of the green revolution is the coming-of-age for the electric car. In the next couple of years, consumers will have several electric vehicles to choose from. KPCC’s Shirley Jahad is one of the first people in the country to drive a prototype Mitsubishi electric iMiev. She shares her experience in part two of her series, EV Diaries.

The electric car is coming. Half a dozen are due out by next year. Mitsubishi’s electric iMiev is one them. I am going to be driving around in a prototype for a few days. But first, I go to Mitsubishi’s North American headquarters in Cypress, in Orange County. I talk with chief engineer David Patterson about jobs. With the old car industry tanking and plants closing, the EV industry is seen as a green sprig of hope in the jobs department.

“Right across the way looking out the window here, that’s our service technology center. That’s where we train our service technicians." Patterson says.

So no more of the car mechanics with grease on their jeans lifting the hood and checking the engine. There isn't anything under the hood. The service techs are fixing batteries and electrical components. Patterson says "there is going to be a great deal of growth in that area. "

And what about manufacturing jobs? Patterson says, "Its about building new battery plants and new electric motor plants."

Come ride with me in the all electric Mitsubishi iMiev from 89.3 KPCC on Vimeo.

Cities around the country are trying to land jobs from the electric car industry.

The Southland is vying to be a hub for the electric car industry. The fast growing Chinese company BYD is looking closely at Los Angeles as a location for its car battery manufacturing plant. Tesla Motors is looking to build its auto making plant in Downey or perhaps Long Beach. Coda Automotive is a new EV company based in Santa Monica and moving quickly to get its cars on the road.

“My name is Brian Lee. I’m a technician for Mitsubishi Automotive.” Lee has one of the new green economy jobs. He drops off the iMiev for me to drive around in for a few days.

I ask him if he has any tips for making the most out of one battery charge.

"The harder you drive, the more energy you use. If you lead-foot it, you are going to use more electricity," Lee says.

So if you have a gentle touch on the go pedal you use less, and if you rabbit off a stop light you use more juice. That's a tip I can use.

Each electric-car maker is carving out a niche. Mitsubishi says the iMiev is an urban commuting car, meant to be a second car in a two-car family because its range is 70 miles.

On average in the country, people drive about 40 miles a day. But Southern California is so spread out, it can be a different matter. You could drive from Pasadena to Santa Monica. But you may not be able to get back unless you charge the car first. You could drive from Orange County to the San Gabriel Valley, but you wouldn't be able to return home without a charging boost of a few hours.

Lee says the infrastructure and charging stations are coming soon. They are to be installed along the West Coast starting a few months from now. I tell Lee I have AAA extended towing service.

"Hopefully you wont need that," he says.

“Well, here I go, I am going to take this for my first ride," I say as I settle inside. The prototype is built for the European market so everything is in kilometers. And the steering wheel is on the right side. As I start driving down the road I notice "it is so quiet in here, I don’t even know if you can tell I am driving. I have the window cracked open so you can hear the tires a bit.”

The quiet is exquisite. You don’t even realize how loud a car is until the white noise is gone. No noise. No fumes.

Tomorrow: Where's the juice? We look for places to plug in.

Shirley Jahad - iMiev Part 2 from 89.3 KPCC on Vimeo.