It may not want to be known as the next Detroit, but Los Angeles is quickly and quietly developing as a new-age car capital.
As Detroit has slowed amid financial catastrophes at the makers of traditional vehicles, L.A. companies have sped ahead in the race to develop the coming generation of electric and hybrid-electric vehicles and components for them.
In recent weeks, a plant that makes electric trucks that service the ports opened in Harbor City, and an electric sport-car maker announced its intention to build a plant in Los Angeles County. Meanwhile, Miles Electric Vehicles Inc. in Santa Monica plans to introduce a mass-market car as early as this year while companies such as Quallion LLC in Sylmar are concentrating on advanced battery technology to serve electric vehicles.
They aren't alone. Calstart, a non-profit organization that advocates for improved transportation, counts more than 50 companies in the L.A. area that are involved in developing some kind of technology for alternative fuel vehicles. And more companies will likely spring up as the federal government pours billions of dollars into tech research and development.
In fact, Southern California Edison, a utility company that serves 13 million customers, is getting its grid ready for bigger electricity demand that will result when all these new cars plug in.
"There's going to be multiple nodes of the clean vehicle industry in the United States, and do I think Southern California will be one of them? Absolutely yes," said Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president at Calstart.
Los Angeles has attracted green vehicle companies for a slew of reasons. It has ready access to two of the largest ports in the world the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach for imported materials, a large talent pool drawn from the aerospace industry, and renowned research universities such as Caltech and UCLA. Studios full of car designers are here, and Los Angeles is in a green-friendly state that has adopted strict vehicle emission standards, which has made the need for transportation innovation more urgent.
As the auto industry shifts away from gas-guzzling SUVs to eco-friendly cars, billions if not trillions of dollars are up for grabs. While it's difficult to quantify what the alternative fuel vehicle industry will be worth in the near future, the market for lithium rechargeable batteries the kind that will likely power the all-electric and hybrid cars of the future is now worth about $8 billion alone, and should double in six years.
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