Global Observer

Electric cars stall in Madrid

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MADRID -- Spanish government and private business use electric vehicles as a solution to high air pollution levels, but the public is not committed yet.

MADRID -- Spain's Ministry of Industry is driving the electric vehicle campaign, but the public is not going along for the ride.

Spain has invested 72 million euros (about 100.3 million U.S. dollars) into promoting EV-usage, focusing on it as a solution to further prevent air contamination and energy consumption, particularly in Spain's major cities. Minister of Industry Miguel Sebastián has set the goal of having 1 million electric vehicles the Spanish roads by 2014. Buyers can receive government assistance up to 6,000 euros towards buying EVs. In addition, in April this year, 472 charging stations were distributed around Spain's major cities.

The Ministry of Industry predicted the sale of 20,000 EVs in Spain in 2011. According to the Reial Automovil Club de Catalunya (RACC,) by the end of September, only 738 electric cars were registered in Spain so far this year, with just 211 registered for personal use.

Spanish industry has shown a much greater interest in investing in EVs than the average citizen.

HelloGoodbyeCars is a Madrid-based rental company, similar to the American Zip cars. HelloGoodbye has a full fleet of electric cars, prices starting at 4.90 euros per hour. The Eroski supermarket chain, beginning in the city of Bilbao, is going to use electric cars to deliver groceries around cities, while placing EV-chargers in their parking lots.

General Electric will install 53 DuraStation EV chargers in the Aena-managed airports in Madrid, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, and Lanzarote. These DuraStations allow batteries to be charged faster at higher voltages. Aena is using this three-year pilot program to assess the feasibility and affordability of replacing its traditional airport fleet with an entirely electrically-run counterpart.

Spain's capital, in particular, has invested in a future anticipating EV-drivers, as part of their 2010 to 2012 Electric Mobility Pilot Project (Movele.) For at least five years now, Madrid has exceeded air pollution guidelines set by both Spain and the European Union. According to Ecologistas en Acciónthe three major pollutants are particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and tropospheric ozone, which are all attributed to car pollution.

The City of Madrid has converted many of its redundant outdoor pay phones into recharging stations. The majority of these charging stations can be found in the central business district and near parking lots. The government is also funding the placement of chargers inside privately-owned parking garages. EV owners can use the Google map of charging stations found on the Movele site.

While the public and private sectors seem to be starting to support Madrid's green initiative, private citizens are not investing in the cause. The price seems to be the main reason most residents are not even looking into purchasing an electric car. According to the RACC, only 53-percent of Spaniards would pay "slightly more" for an electric car. They said that only 30-percent of the people surveyed knew about the governmental subsidies for buyers.

"An electric car would be great to have because they pollute less and make less noise--(driving one) would be like a relaxing stroll through the streets," said Alicia Osa Villegas in her native Spanish. Villegas lives in the southern part of Madrid and commutes to her own business with a previously-owned Peugeot 206. It is about a two-hour drive or 170 kilometers (106 miles) for her to visit her family's home outside of Cuenca, Spain, making it infeasible for her to use the more common electric battery. Villegas said, "While I think they are still very expensive in Spain, I am in favor of having an electric car in the future."

The typical electric battery, which costs between 4,000 and 5,000 euros, lasts between 100 and 150 kilometers (62 to 93 miles,) before needing a recharge. Residents that live in the suburbs of the Community of Madrid, like Pozuelo or La Moraleja, could commute daily to work, leaving their cars to charge while parked, when needed. However, they could not venture out for a few hour day trip to nearby cities, like Segovia or Toledo, because they could not be sure that there would be a recharging station on the way or in these cities.

Spanish residents can also buy a more practical EV battery, but at the steeper cost of about 12,000 euros. This longer-lasting battery can drive about 700 kilometers (435 miles) before it needs recharging. These batteries have a shelf-life of eight to ten years, three to four years longer than the cost-saving alternative.

Madrileño Juan Diego Romo drives a secondhand Salt Leon and a Volkswagen Caddy van, which he uses for work. Both run on diesel. Roma says he uses diesel because, in the end, it costs less because it is more efficient than gas.

"If you have 40 liters of diesel and 40 liters of gas, you will drive more kilometers with diesel," Romo said.

He still spends about 200 euros a month in gas. Romo said that, while he would consider buying an electric car in the future, they would currently be impractical for his job that has him driving around Spain. He is excited about the idea of one day buying a Toyota Prius, which is a hybrid that utilizes both electric and gas motors, which would be more practical for his travel-heavy job.

"They (Priuses) don't use as much gas. They are not noisy," Romo said. "When you are driving in the city, the electric motor is working, and when you are driving on a long road, the gas motor is working and electric motor is supporting, if necessary."

Roma is not alone in his opinion. Most Europeans think that the economically-priced engines are impractical, as the longer-life batteries are cost-prohibitive. Currently only 33-percent of Spaniards would consider buying a hybrid, while a mere 27-percent would consider the possibility of an electric car.

In this case, the royalty is not in the majority. Famously eco-friendly Queen Sofia of Spain spent her 2010 summer driving around in the world's first Peugeot iOn electric car, a gift from the car company.

Looks like it could still be awhile for the rest of Spain and possibly the rest of Europe to get on board with electric vehicles.

Photo: HelloGoodbyCars

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Jennifer Riggins

Correspondent (Barcelona)

Jennifer Riggins is the content manager and community builder for two SaaS Quote Roller and PandaDoc, as well as she teaches sales, English, and public speaking for Spanish small business. She holds a degree from William Paterson University. She is based in Spain. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure