Attendees Flock to Plug-In 2010 Conference in San Jose

A couple hundred plug-in vehicle industry employees and advocates for plug in vehicles gathered in Sillicon Valley this week for Plug-In 2010.

Although the cavernous San Jose convention center left plenty of room for attendees to spread out, the number of companies exhibiting their products and number of visitors demonstrated that interest in plug-in vehicles is growing.

Approximately 30 companies had stalls in the exhibit hall. At the entrance of the exhibit hall were two of the most high profile plug in vehicles — the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt.  Nissan had a sleek exhibit space with an actual battery pack exhibited and an iMac computer set up where people could sign up for the waitlist with a $99 refundable deposit.

Of course, the star of the shows were the cars. I was impressed by the Leaf, which appeared larger than a Prius (the Leaf is actually wider, taller, and longer than a Prius) and very roomy. It also has a very impressive navigation/computer system in the dashboard which rotated various information regarding the state of charge, location of charging stations, and other battery information.

GM’s Volt display was set up like the interior of a garage, complete with various rakes and shovels hanging against one wall. I didn’t get to sit in the Volt itself, but it appeared sporty and not very different from most mid-sized sedans, which is the point. GM is hoping consumers will embrace the vehicle in spite of its innovative battery-electric drivetrain as they would an ordinary automobile.

I was underimpressed with a Mitsubishi iMiev, which I was able to sit in. The iMiev appeared very small and cramped on the inside compared to the Volt and the Leaf, even though rumors are that the iMiev will be priced at more than $50,000. I don’t see how Mitsubishi will sell any cars at that price when it’s competing with the Leaf at $31,000.

Many other notable vendors which are involved in charging infrastructure and battery technology had exhibit booths. AeroVironment, which is the exclusive vendor installing Nissan’s Leaf chargers, had a booth, and they were showing off the Leaf’s charger. Coloumb Technologies, which is rapidly deploying public charging stations using an innovative subscription model, also had prototypes on display.

Better Place continues to impress. Better Place’s goal is to provide fast-swap battery changing stations like a self-service car wash, which would allow drivers to driver farther distances by swapping out their depleted batteries.  The company had at least 6-8 staff members available to answer questions, a slick backdrop, and video monitors powered by an Apple Macbook.

Another exhibitor was Plug in America, an advocacy group which was selling copies of Who Killed the Electric Car? I met their co-founder Linda Nichols, who owns a bright red Tesla Roadster and who recently blogged about a 98-year-old Roadster owner.

Later that evening, there was a panel presentation and question and answer session with Chelsea Sexton, star of Who Killed the Electric Car?, Jessie Deeter, producer of the movie and its forthcoming sequel, Revenge of the Electric Car, and Bill Nye “the Science Guy.”  Sexton was charming as always, and Deeter gave a great summary of the storylines which the filmmakers were focusing on in the Revenge movie.

Nye was interesting in that he was actually an EV driver twice over, having driven the EV1 and most recently, having driven a BMW Mini E until he had to give back the vehicle at the end of its lease. Nye’s most forceful response came when someone commented about large supplies of lithium being found in China.  Nye called that issue the “reddest of herrings” and said he wasn’t concerned about there being a lack of lithium at all.

Overall, the attendance at the concert showed an incredibly impressive amount of interest in this industry and great potential for its growth.

John Corcoran is an Associate with Plastiras & Terrizzi.