JUICED: City Hall's fleet of electric vehicles line the Civic Center charging station. (File photo)

JUICED: City Hall’s fleet of electric vehicles line the Civic Center charging station. (File photo)

CITYWIDE — Santa Monica is leading a nationwide charge to replace gas-guzzlers with electric, hybrid and alternatively fueled vehicles, according to a new report.

From January to July of 2013, 3.6 percent of all new vehicles registered within the city were powered only by electricity, read an analysis from car database Edmunds.com.

Combined, all hybrids and plug-in cars accounted for more than 15 percent of registrations.

These numbers, while proportionately small, put Santa Monica among the top three cities for electric car use in the nation — only Silicon Valley communities Atherton (19.4 percent) and Los Altos (16.1 percent) had higher electric vehicle registration rates in that time frame.

Compared to Los Angeles (.6 percent), San Francisco (1.9 percent) and the nation (.3 percent), Santa Monica fared exceptionally well. Then again, those cities are far larger than Santa Monica. The report did not break down cities by the number of total cars registered.

“The city of Santa Monica is doing a fantastic job incentivizing the purchase of these cars,” said Plug-In America co-founder Paul Scott.

City Hall offers free parking at all public meters for low- and zero-emission vehicles, over-the-counter permits that allow residents to install chargers on private property and 24 public charging units throughout the city, said Dean Kubani, director of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment.

Plans are underway to add an additional 51 charging units, 30 of which will be in Parking Structure 6 on Second Street.

“We’re seeing that [the] electric vehicle chargers we’re installing in public property are constantly in use,” Kubani said. “We’re not trying to flood the city with electric vehicle chargers with the expectation that nobody’s going to use them — we’re hearing from people that there’s demand.”

City Hall is not the only one welcoming electric vehicles in the city.

At last week’s Santa Monica Alt Car Expo, an annual event that brings together advocates of vehicles using clean and renewable energy, Santa Monica High School students showcased a Volkswagen Super Beetle they converted into an electric car.

Additionally, Santa Monicans will participate in the National Plug In Day, a celebration of the growing popularity of plug-in vehicles.

The festival in Long Beach, which according to Scott will be the largest out of 95 global Plug In events, will allow visitors to test drive “virtually every electric car available on the market today.” The event takes place Saturday, Sept. 28 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information visit www.pluginday.org/event.php?eventid=54

While Santa Monica has rolled out the red carpet for electric vehicles, the fact remains that the machines still only account for less than 4 percent of new registrations.

“People are buying them as fast as they can,” said Scott, who is also a Nissan LEAF dealer.

The LEAF, an entirely electric vehicle with no gas or tailpipe, sells out “as soon as they come in” to Scott’s Downtown Los Angeles dealership.

While he has topped 20 LEAF sales in a month, Scott said the low proportion of electric car registrations in Santa Monica is likely indicative of how Nissan and other car companies are simply maxing out on production.

“The sales are there, that’s not the issue,” he said.

After placing a new LEAF order in March, Scott said the vehicles have yet to be delivered, the result of a lengthy battery curing process.

“The pipeline was tapped out because they’re selling all over the country,” he said.

At Santa Monica Ford, sales representative Noel Bloom said the problem is not getting people to buy alternative energy vehicles, but getting them from the manufacturer is another story.

In the last month, the dealership sold roughly 10 electric or hybrid vehicles.

“We could have sold more, we just didn’t have them,” said Bloom. “The only one we have left on the lot is a used car [for test driving].”

Their showroom features the C-MAX Energi, Fusion Energi and Focus Electric, of which Santa Monica Ford was the nation’s leading dealer when the car first emerged on the market.

“The demand is there,” Noel said. “Getting it in inventory, at least for us — it’s just getting them in.”

 

editor@smdp.com