Electric cars are revving up in the Central Valley.
Palo Alto-based electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors opened up one of California's six new supercharging stations at Tejon Ranch Commerce Center on Friday, and officials say the Central Valley is primed for a surge in electric car popularity.
"I see this as a transformational moment that will push people beyond their fuel prejudice," said Hugh McMahon, Tejon Ranch's vice president of commercial and industrial real estate.
The idea behind Tesla's six charging stations in California was to allow electric car drivers to travel long distances, said Franz Von Holzhausen, Tesla's chief designer. Tejon fits the bill because it's right off of Interstate 5; the charging station is on the west side of the highway near Yogurtland. Eventually, Tesla is looking to open up to 100 stations throughout the United States.
"You could go from LA to Boston completely free," he said. "It's the great American road trip again."
Filling up at one of Tesla's charging stations is free because the chargers receive energy from solar panels on the roof of the stations, Von Holzhausen explained.
But Tesla's charging stations only work for its Model S car. Although many electric car manufacturers have agreed to universal charging technology, Tesla's technology is proprietary.
The base price of a Model S is $49,900 after a federal rebate. The most expensive trim runs $97,900. Tesla started delivering the Model S in June. Between then and now, Tesla has delivered 400 of them. The company is planning to ramp up deliveries to 400 a week, Von Holzhausen said, making about 20,000 yearly deliveries.
A Model S can go up to 300 miles on one full charge, depending on which battery is installed. It would take 30 minutes at a charging station to fill up half way. Once someone is done grabbing a bite to eat and going to the restroom, the car should be charged enough to continue the trip, Von Holzhausen said.
"We say 30 minutes because that's kind of the threshold of people's attention spans at a rest stop," he said.
Linda Urata, energy watch coordinator at Kern Council of Governments, said Tesla may be the "high end, sexy sports car" of electric cars, but it is leading the way for electric cars to become more widespread.
She and others are working on a number of ways to ready the Central Valley for more electric cars, including testing two free chargers in parking garages in Bakersfield, making sure emergency responders know what do if an electric car is in an accident and teaching mechanics how to service electric cars.
She said she sees electric cars soon becoming a mainstay in the Central Valley.
"Air quality is always a driver in our area," she said. "We're very friendly to things that clean our air and allow us freedom with our vehicles."
What's keeping people from buying electric cars is that there are not many places to charge them, said Ahron Hakimi, Kern Council of Government's executive director. He drives Chevrolet's electric car, the Volt, which he can only charge at home, he said.
But few people buying electric cars is also why there are few charging locations. "It's sort of a chicken and an egg situation," he said.
But he's hopeful, he said, that will soon change.
"As a driver," he said, "I am looking forward to many more charging stations throughout California."