DETROIT — One of the themes of the Automotive News Green Car Conference every year is the collaboration necessary among automakers, suppliers, utilities, governments and other interested parties as vehicles are increasingly electrified.
Last year, BMW reported that one of the major roadblocks to putting more electric vehicles on the road was the hodgepodge of local zoning and construction regulations. Before BMW could begin its real-world test of the Mini E electric car, the company had to get city inspectors to approve putting vehicle charging stations into folks’ garages. In some municipalities, inspectors said no. They hadn’t seen chargers before, or the initial chargers didn’t have the Underwriters Laboratories seal of approval.
Even today, all buyers of a Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Volt have to get their local inspectors to approve putting in that charger. Nissan won’t even sell you a car unless you have a charger. Getting all those inspectors up to speed on whether to approve a charging station is a city-by-town-by-village process.
But not in Portland, Ore.
Portland is a leader in electric vehicles. It was one of the selected first markets for the Leaf and Volt. Almost every other automaker — major and startup — that makes an EV also is there.
Portland General Electric, the local utility, has a charging station out front of its downtown headquarters. Some days, there’s even congestion as electric cars line up for their chance to be recharged, I’m told by Charlie Allcock.
Allcock is director of economic development at Portland General Electric. He’s also one of the Automotive News Electrifying 100, our list of leaders in the electrification of vehicles.
As he explains it, for reasons that predate the modern EV, all of Oregon has a single building code.
In addition, contractors in Portland can go down to city hall and get a book of approval forms. When they wire a house or whatever, they can self-certify that they’ve done the work properly, and file the form with the city. The city can do a spot inspection of any work, but it does not send an inspector to every house and garage.
In business, companies try to learn and emulate best practices from each other. Maybe other government entities could look at the Portland experience and learn a thing or two.