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author photo by Autotrader October 2010

With the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt just a few months away, it seems electric cars are moving rapidly from future technology to imminent mainstream. But a new study rating 50 major metro areas across the United States for EV readiness has found some cities better prepared than others.

Conducted by consultants Roland Berger and the Rocky Mountain Institute, a non-profit group dedicated to energy efficiency, the study applied 15 metrics including infrastructure funding, planning, education programs and general attitude. “Some pioneer cities have been planning for years and are aware of the key issues,” said Antonio Benecchi, a partner at Roland Berger and one of the study’s authors. “But within a few years, [plug-in electric vehicles] will be available nationwide, so it is critical for all cities to start preparing.”

Those pioneers are Los Angeles, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Jose, along with Austin, New York, Phoenix and Seattle. These are all named as “leaders” in the study.

Portland and San Francisco provide instant permits for residential EV charging stations and have committed to adding electric vehicles to municipal fleets. In Denver (another “leader”), a $6,000 tax incentive for buying an electric car sweetens the deal. And in Los Angeles, residents with an electric car can get a discount on their utility bills.

The study names some “aggressive followers” and “fast followers” close behind the leaders, and it also singles out some metro areas much further behind the curve as “followers.” These are Boston, Charlotte, Miami, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. But according to the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Matt Mattila, the study’s co-author, being a follower isn’t necessarily a bad thing – for the moment.

“Forty percent of cities have not even started thinking about how to build an infrastructure,” said Mattila. “That’s OK. You don’t want cities blanketing charging stations just because they know it’s a critical part of having EV success.” He says a city’s strategic plan can be just as important as its infrastructure – because ready or not, electric cars are coming to the leaders and followers alike.

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Current State of the EV Nation - Autotrader