The interior of the General Motors Detroit Hamtramck Assembly Plant is shown October 11, 2011 in Hamtramck, Michigan. Officials from the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration toured the plant today to highlight the Obama administrations fuel economy standards.

Electric vehicle manufacturers and advocates are facing questions from an increasingly interested US public about how the cars work and whether they can meet conventional driving needs.

“They want to know how long does it take to charge and how long can I drive on that charge,” said Karl Popham, Emerging Technologies and Electric Vehicles Manager at Austin Energy, a community-owned utility that is promoting EV adoption in the Texas capital.

With a total of 17,000-18,000 plug-in hybrid Chevy Volts and all-electric Nissan Leafs sold in the US in 2011, EV promoters including manufacturers, utilities and environmentalists are seeking to calm public concern over the vehicles’ driving range and the availability of stations for charging their batteries.

Range Awareness Building

“We don’t like the term ‘range anxiety’ – we prefer ‘range awareness,'” said Joe Delello, Director of Electric Vehicle Operations for Mitsubishi Motors which is in the process of rolling out its MIEV electric vehicle in the U.S. market.

During a conference call with reporters organized by the Electric Drive Transportation Association, Delello said the company has partnered with the town of Normal, Illinois to create “EV Town”, a campaign to promote public awareness of electric vehicles.

“The idea was to show the community that EVs really are a viable form of transportation,” Delello said, adding that an ad campaign for the vehicles used the tag line ‘The New Normal’.

The central Illinois town now has 14 charging stations, and plans a total of 50. Its municipal fleet runs six electric vehicles.

Other communities selected by the EDTA as “EV friendly” were Austin, Texas, where Austin Energy has created the first charging station network to be completely powered by renewable energy; Los Angeles, where the local utility offers EV customers rebates of up to $2,000 on home-charging systems, and Mercer Island, Wash., where the police department is changing to EVs and officials have streamlined the process of installing home-charging equipment.

In Los Angeles, the Department of Water and Power LADWP is offering a discount of 2.5 cents/kwh on off-peak electricity used for EV chargers. That’s the equivalent of paying about $1 a gallon for gasoline, or around a fifth of current retail gas prices at some LA filling stations, said Scott Briasco, Manager of Fleet Environmental Compliance and Electric Transportation at the utility.

The utility is also helping customers install EV chargers, expediting the permit process, and installing new charging technology at about 100 public charging stations.

A recent report from IBM highlighted the gap between industry and customer interest in electric vehicles. Read more about that report here.

More Than Just Carmakers

The construction industry, too, is seeking information about installing electrical circuits that are compatible with EV-charging technology, said Austin’s Popham. Although “level 1″ chargers can be used with 110-volt circuits, Popham said he advises builders to install 240-volt circuits for use with “level 2″ charging stations.

Along the West Coast, officials are installing charging stations every 40-60 miles on I-5 with the aim of allowing EV drivers to travel from British Columbia to Baja California by the end of 2012, said Mike Grady, a city council member of the City of Mercer Island, Wash.

There are about 2,000 charging stations already installed in the Puget Sound area, with another 1,500 to come over the next year, Grady said.