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David Pendered

Metro Atlanta on cutting edge of electric vehicles, commute options

By David Pendered

Editor’s Note: This story retracts a comment in the original story that was attributed to Jules Toraya, Zero Waste manager with the city of Atlanta, and adds new comments from Toraya.

Metro Atlanta’s traffic congestion may be a mess, but the region is at the forefront of changing the vehicles in which people travel.

Atlanta ranks No. 2 in the nation for electric car sales. Georgia Tech engineers are devising self-driving cars. Uber – the rides-on-demand service that fended off the state Legislature this year – on Friday announced it has raised $1.2 billion from investors who now value the four-year-old company at $18.2 billion.

Taken together, these developments point to a vastly different future in terms of how people metro Atlantans may commute in the future. Although the vehicles won’t be flying cars like in the Jetsons cartoon, the trajectory seems toward a very different mix of vehicles and drivers on roadways.

Start with electric cars.

The Wall Street Journal broke the story this week, evidently by picking up a report released May 15 by the IHS Automotive trade group. Because IHS priced the report at $4,400, this report is sourced from the story on wsj.com.

Atlanta trails only San Francisco in sales of electric vehicles. Reasons include state tax credits averaging $4,000-plus for electric vehicles, access to charging stations, and access to HOV lanes.

Cheap electricity is a big factor. Georgia Power’s off-peak rate is 1.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to the average national cost of nearly 12 cents per kilowatt hour.

Until cars can fly, self-driving vehicles appear to be the next-bet option. This model came from a lab at Georgia Tech. Credit: cc.gatech.edu

Until cars can fly, self-driving vehicles appear to be the next-bet option. This model came from a lab at Georgia Tech. Credit: cc.gatech.edu

Capitol City Nissan says the cost of driving a Leaf will be a total of $28 a month. That’s based on a projected cost of $9,022 to drive the vehicle for 24 months – including taxes, a monthly lease of $199, a down payment of $2,499, and a $5,000 Georgia tax credit.

“I think it’s because the technology and understanding and how it fits into the lifestyle of people is really starting to resonate,” Jules Toraya, the Zero Waste manager with the city of Atlanta, was quoted in the wsj.com article.

Toraya sent an email Monday to SaportaReport to clarify his comments in the wsj.com story. Toraya also elaborated with the following thoughts about tax credits for electric vehicles:

“The Georgia low emission vehicle and zero emission vehicle tax credits are important because they help consumers pay attention to advanced vehicle technologies,” Toraya wrote. “The Georgia General Assembly has sent a clear signal to the market that the State of Georgia welcomes the deployment of advanced vehicle technologies.”

In terms of self-driving cars, Georgia Tech is pioneering vehicles that can navigate city streets. There’s not been much discussion on websites, but a flier for an event stated the work is guided by Henrik Christensen, the KUKA chair of robotics; is built from a Porsche Cayenne; thinks with an, “entire 8-blade server rack in its trunk and sports aviation-grade inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensors.”

The fun fact is that the vehicle, “loves to shuttle passengers around town, but can’t until it’s legal in Georgia for a car to drive itself on city streets.”

Meanwhile, Google grabbed headlines last week by announcing it intends to have about 100 prototypes on the road later this summer. They’ll be test-driven with manual controls with the goal of having a small pilot program on the road in California within a few years, according to Google’s blog:

“We’re going to learn a lot from this experience, and if the technology develops as we hope, we’ll work with partners to bring this technology into the world safely,” Google said in the blog.

Uber is one potential partner for Google’s self-driving vehicles, according to blog chatter.

Such an innovation would ease regulatory pressures of the type Georgia lawmakers attempted this year. House Bill 907 did not pass. It would have required ride-share drivers, the jargon for Uber drivers, to register with the state and pay an annual license fee of $100. The service would have to comply with local taxicab ordinances.

Uber defeated the legislative effort with help from Lewis Massey, Georgia’s former secretary of state who’s now a lobbyist with clients including Tesla Motors, an electric vehicle company with a showroom in Marietta.

On Friday, Uber announced it had raised $1.2 billion in investments, with an additional $200 million to be announced soon. The first round of investment valued the company at $18.2 billion, according to reuters.com.

The company’s growth stats astound. According to Uber’s statement, the company:

  • Started four years ago this week, in San Francisco;
  • Now operates in 128 cities in 37 countries;
  • Creates 20,000 jobs a month, around the world.




David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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