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Sacramento, Calif., to See Massive Electric Vehicle Investment

Electrify America is infusing $44 million into the state’s capital as part of the Green City partnership.

California’s capital is primed to set itself apart as a national leader in electric-car adoption by vastly building out charging infrastructure and unleashing more than 250 new electric vehicles available for rent for only a couple of bucks a mile.
Sacramento will be the site of a $44 million rollout of electric vehicle infrastructure and mobility services by Electrify America, a subsidiary of Volkswagen Group of America, which is investing some $2 billion nationwide over the next 10 years into electric vehicle infrastructure.
Sacramento is part of Electrify America’s Green City initiative, aimed at increasing the adoption of electric vehicles.
“We plan to review the data and results to see the impact of a targeted zero emissions initiative,” said Mike Moran, a spokesman for Electrify America.
“The end goal is to test the economic viability of ZEV (zero emissions vehicle) access and mobility programs such as car-share, ride-hail, delivery and possibly other programs as well,” Matt Nelson, director of government affairs for Electrify America, told the Sacramento City Council at a meeting in December, when the city adopted its Electric Vehicle Strategy.
“In our view, this is one of the best EV strategy documents we’ve seen nationwide,” Nelson added.
Electrify America itself is an outgrowth of the Volkswagen Investment Fund, which was created in 2016 as part of a gigantic package of fees and fines imposed on the German automaker after the 2016 revelation that Volkswagen diesel engines were bypassing pollution controls. The organization is spearheading similar electric vehicle infrastructure projects across 40 states. They include projects like the installation of 30 “ultra-fast vehicle chargers” at more than 30 shopping centers, or a 350-kw DC fast-charger in Chicopee, Mass., that is able to give electric cars 20 miles of range in only one minute, which is seven times faster than the more conventional 50-kw fast charger.
One of the most sizable pieces of Electrify America’s Sacramento project is the launch of GIG Car Share, a “free-floating” car-share platform, powered by AAA, that will place some 260 entirely electric cars in Sacramento available for rent. What makes the program so novel — aside from the fleet being 100 percent electric — is that the cars are not attached to particular designated parking spaces, which means drivers can drop them off in any legal parking space within a 13-square-mile “hot zone.”
“That includes metered spaces, pretty much any legal public parking space,” said Mike Blasky, a media relations specialist for AAA Northern California, Nevada and Utah. 
“We think it’s going to be the largest totally electric car-sharing fleet in North America,” he added.
GIG Care Share launched about a year ago in Oakland and Berkeley. The service has expanded to Albany and Alameda. The cars are all Toyota C Prius Hybrids. AAA is not yet ready to disclose the type of cars it will bring to the Sacramento market.
“It’s certainly going to be a big expansion for us,” said Blasky. “This isn’t just another small East Bay city. This is a large metro area.”
The service costs $2.50 per mile, $15 per hour or $85 per day, whichever is cheapest. Drivers locate the cars via a mobile app, much like app-based bike-rental platforms such as Lime.
Electrify America will also partner with Envoy Technologies to develop electric car-sharing services based in apartment buildings. The Envoy fleet will include 142 cars spread across 71 locations. Residents reserve the cars, use them, and then return them to the same location.
The first of the Envoy cars are projected to go online by the end of this summer. The GIG service is expected to roll out in the first quarter of 2019, said Moran. Electrify America is investing $15 million to $18 million into the GIG Care Share and Envoy projects.
A third piece of the new mobility options coming to Sacramento include an electric bus service between Sacramento and the University of California, Davis, about 15 miles west of the city.
The idea is to connect the campus and its more than 37,000 students and staff to Sacramento, a city of more than 500,000 residents. The new service would include a fixed route traveled by electric buses between the main campus in Davis and the UC Health campus in Sacramento.
Also included is an on-demand micro-shuttle service to be operated by Sacramento Regional Transit, using three zero-emission electric shuttles. The new bus and shuttle programs represent an $11 million to $14 million investment by Electrify America.
All of these new electric vehicles will need to be charged, which is why Electrify America will invest $14 million to $16 million to aid in the development of 10 “ultra-fast” EV charging stations in the Sacramento region. The stations will offer a range of charging speeds from 50-kw, which is fairly standard, to really rapid chargers that can supply 20 miles of vehicle range in a minute of charging.
Meanwhile, the city’s department of public works is developing new policies to allow for EV chargers to be placed within the public right-of-way so that electric vehicles parked on the street will have access to charging, said Jennifer Venema, sustainability manager for Sacramento.
Currently, the region is home to about 15,000 electric cars, said Guy Hall, chief strategy officer with the Sacramento Electric Vehicle Association. The state has a goal of having 1.5 million EVs on the roads by 2015. Some 356,000 electric cars have been purchased in the state since 2011, according to the Electrification Coalition, which aims to advance the use of electric vehicles to help reduce the country’s dependence on oil.
The Green City initiative is poised to make Sacramento a leader in putting in place the public policy to make electric vehicle adoption a viable option for more residents, and a plan for other cities to try out as well, say city leaders.
“We have to be early adopters. We have to help prove the technology, and work out the kinks in the technology. But those are things that will send a strong message to the public about why this important,” said Councilman Steve Hansen, speaking during the December 2017 council meeting.

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.