S.F. Mayor pushes for green transportation

February 22, 2008 12:57:43 AM PST
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom plugged a modified Toyota Prius into an electric outlet at a Bayview auto repair shop this morning in the first unveiling of the city's recent push for green transportation.

Newsom was enthusiastic about the newly converted electric vehicle, calling it "game changing" technology, and hopes to see more green cars on Bay Area roads and more auto companies manufacturing and selling them at affordable prices.

Newsom and mechanics at Pat's Garage on 26th Street introduced three city-owned Prius cars that were converted into plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs. Converting the cars was a quick, though expensive, process.

Mechanics completed converting the three cars with about $60,000 in funds secured by the city's Department of Environment. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District contributed another $44,000 to the process, spokeswoman Karen Schkolnick said.

One of the cars will be used for daily use by the Public Library, one by the Department of Public Health's Hazardous Materials Program, and the last for public outreach.

Newsom explained that the three vehicles are meant to bring attention to a technology that could decrease the cost and environmental impact of driving traditional vehicles.

"The reason this is an important occasion here in San Francisco is that we are raising awareness," Newsom said. "We have got to lead by example."

The vehicles contain an internal combustion engine and a Lithium-ion battery that can be recharged when plugged into a traditional electricity outlet.

PHEVs are similar to existing hybrids, but contain a larger battery that would suffice for a shorter trip and can be fully charged in five to eight hours. Electricity charged to the vehicle can also be charged back to the home outlet.

San Francisco will submit a soft fleet order, officials said, meaning that the city and county will commit to purchasing up to 250 PHEV sedans, trucks and vans if and when the vehicles become available commercially from major manufacturers.

Newsom will also send letters to city and county leaders throughout the Bay Area, encouraging officials to participate in a joint soft order for PHEVs in order to create a larger regional purchase order and garner auto manufacturers' attention.

"I think this is where change occurs, on a local level," Newsom said.

Newsom estimated the cost of converting an existing individual hybrid vehicle at about $20,000. PHEVs are not currently manufactured, leaving anyone interested in the technology to foot the bill for a conversion.

"Yes, this costs more money, and that's why we need to create a market," Newsom said.

Officials said that introducing the technology to the public and municipalities will create demand, lead car manufacturers to build and sell the vehicles, and eventually lower the price of purchasing a ready-made PHEV.

Pat's Garage doesn't currently offer conversion services, but is working to make the service available to hybrid owners as soon as May, said garage owner Pat Cadam.

"Electrification of transportation is really viable," Cadam said. "We view our role as the facilitators for this."

Cadam and another hybrid enthusiast, Nick Rothman, founded Green Gears, a partnership company with Pat's Garage that converts vehicles for large company and institution fleets. Green Gears has concentrated on Toyota Prius and Ford Escape hybrid conversions to PHEVs for businesses such as Google and Pacific Gas and Electric Co., and is working to develop PHEV conversion technology for light trucks.


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