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Center Aims to Help California Grow Its Electric Vehicle Lead

The California Mobility Center recently opened in Sacramento as a one-stop location to grow next-gen transportation companies. The center will serve as a foothold for new companies in the state and the explosive EV market.

An engineer designs an electric vehicle on a computer.
California is positioning itself as a leader in transportation innovation, expanding the electric vehicle ecosystem to grow not only the adoption of EVs, but their development as well. 

The California Mobility Center officially opened March 11 in Sacramento and is the latest facility to help early stage transportation companies get a footing in a state whose No. 1 export is electric cars. 

“California is the largest EV market in the western hemisphere,” said Mark Rawson, chief operating officer for the California Mobility Center (CMC). “The only market bigger is China. And California is where some of the most progressive policy is being made, that’s really driving the future mobility market, whether it’s electrification, or shared mobility, or new business models in mobility.” 

The CMC aims to grow the number of early stage companies by offering not only the traditional incubator setting, but also the kind of support needed to navigate the often daunting regulatory landscape, not to mention inroads into the region’s venture capital and investment community. 

“What we try to do is we act as that single point of entry for these early stage companies, and help them kind of orchestrate that commercialization activity in a way that makes it easier for them. And in that way, reduce the friction points, and speed up the commercialization process,” said Rawson. 

Grooming the state to be the center of next-gen transportation and technology has become a strategy for others in the EV community as well. Tom Steyer, founder of the nonprofit NextGen America and former 2020 presidential candidate, has characterized transportation as “at an inflection point.”

Steyer, a billionaire philanthropist tapped by Gov. Gavin Newsom to lead a new Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery, has voiced support for the governor’s executive order calling to end the sale of new fossil fuel powered cars after 2035. At the recent Veloz annual summit, Steyer also noted significant moves by the auto industry — such as the announcement by General Motors that it will phase out the production of gas-powered cars — as a sign of the times and an indication of where the transportation sector is headed. 

“We’ve moved from the advocacy point about strategy to actually executing a world that’s 100 percent ZEVs. And that is a disruptive situation. That is not a marginal change,” said Steyer in his comments at the forum. 

“The state of California has, I believe, a renewed push toward electric vehicles, and sustainability, in general,” he added. 

Southern California Edison, a major utility provider in the Los Angeles region, anticipates a need to power some 7 million EVs in the state by 2030. Edison is supporting policy decisions and programs to help overcome three EV adoption barriers: affordability, availability of charging infrastructure and consumer awareness. 

“Building momentum toward 2035 calls for a collaborative, cross-industries approach to be most effective and to maintain resiliency and affordability for all,” said Caroline Choi, chair of the Veloz Board of Directors and senior vice president of corporate affairs at Southern California Edison, which plans to invest $417.5 million toward deploying charging infrastructure across its service area.

Developing EV technology and business in the Sacramento region makes sense, in part, because the city sits at the center of state government, said Rawson from the CMC, but also because the region has become a natural next landing site for Silicon Valley companies looking beyond the Bay Area. 

“It’s the place where we see a large trend in innovation companies coming off of Silicon Valley because of the cost of living and the cost of real estate,” said Rawson. 

Sacramento is also more competitively priced when thinking about developing innovation in hardware, which generally requires the space for testing and other developments. 

“I think Sacramento, as a region, is one of the largest migration destinations for companies coming out of the Bay Area,” Rawson added. “We’re seeing a lot of growth in the innovation space in the region.” 

To be clear, there’s no shortage of facilities around the country where next-gen transportation technologies are being incubated, tested and developed. The GoMentum Station in the Bay Area has established itself as a location to test autonomous vehicle technologies at all levels. The Curiosity Lab in Peachtree Corners, Ga., helped to develop the technology guiding remote-operated scooters, in-pavement solar panels, 5G communications applications and more. 

The CMC sets itself apart by its ability to provide support across a number of areas ranging from the public approval process to lining up investment, said Rawson. 

“When you look at that broad spectrum of the types of services we provide, it’s more than just testing in a laboratory environment. It’s just more than say, business acceleration, or incubation types of things. It’s really a pretty broad spectrum,” said Rawson. “The idea is to give them a fuller picture of the types of things they really should be thinking about.” 

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.