EV Veterans Honor SCE’s ‘Dean’ of Electric Vehicles

The retirement celebration becomes a reunion of electric car trailblazers.
Jul 16, 2019 10:00 AM ET
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by Paul Griffo, Energized by Edison Writer

By the early 2000s, the battery electric car in America seemed all but dead.

General Motors had stopped making its EV1 electric car, and, after more than a decade of modest progress, not much else was on the horizon for the movement to popularize electric vehicles.

“When the electric car got crushed, it felt like we were Don Quixote tilting at windmills,” said Dean Taylor.

One of the very first employees of Southern California Edison’s electric transportation program, Taylor wasn’t giving up. He was part of a small band of EV die-hards that continued to toil against all odds, doing their level best to keep their fading hope of mainstreaming electric cars on life support.

It was during that dark period that Taylor and his fellow EV advocates held onto a promising concept that they believed could breathe new life into their languishing movement: the plug-in hybrid EV, or PHEV for short.

It turns out they were right. In recent years, sales of plug-in hybrids — battery-powered electric cars that also have backup internal combustion engines — have taken off, especially in California, contributing to the recent milestone of 500,000 electric cars being sold in the state. 

“We were doing everything we could in the 2000s to make plug-in hybrids happen and bring back battery EVs, too,” Taylor said of his fellow EV advocates, whom he likens to Jedi warriors.

“The PHEV campaign started with five and grew to 50 people,” he added. “Our campaign’s multi-stakeholder study on PHEVs had a major impact in Washington, D.C. Paper studies aren’t usually a turning point, but this one was. Major automakers started producing plug-in hybrids.” 

Last month, more than 100 people, many of whom were involved in the decades-long push for plug-in hybrids, gathered for a reunion and to wish Taylor the best as he retires from SCE to start a consulting practice. Those well-wishers included Dr. Andrew Frank, a former UC Davis professor who is recognized as the father of the plug-in hybrid, and California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols.

“He’s an extremely intelligent man who understands that the way to get things done is not necessarily by lobbying the legislature or coming to CARB board meetings and giving eloquent testimony,” Nichols said of Taylor. “He, in fact, does the somewhat behind-the-scenes work with tremendous skill and persistence over a period of many years.”

And persist he did. Taylor started in SCE’s newly formed electric transportation department in 1991 and has served in that capacity longer than anyone in the company’s history. Diane Wittenberg, SCE’s first director of electric transportation and former president of the now-defunct Edison EV, called Taylor “the brains” of the fledgling operation.

“At first, no one knew what the impact of EV charging would be on the distribution and transmission system,” Wittenberg said. “Dean worked up the scenarios that helped the whole utility get comfortable with the advent of EVs and get behind it.”

During his 30-year tenure with SCE, Taylor drove numerous EV technical studies, led a campaign that secured the federal EV tax credit, spearheaded utility efforts to make the Low Carbon Fuel Standard benefit utility customers, helped design and justify SCE’s EV charging infrastructure programs and helped to write many new EV laws, including those that give utilities an expanded role in accelerating all types of electric transportation.

Taylor credits Edison International and SCE leadership with making these accomplishments possible. “Fortunately, we were very lucky to have supportive management and still do,” he said.

Felix Kramer, who founded California Cars Initiative, or CalCars, a nonprofit that promoted plug-in hybrids, told fellow attendees that Taylor is responsible for bringing the California PHEV community together. 

“Dean was this incredible connector, more than anything else he did,” Kramer said. “Everybody in this room met somebody else and their lives have changed because of Dean.”

As Taylor departs SCE, he commends the company for helping to mainstream EVs and training the next generation of EV experts.

“Edison is in a very good place for the future,” Taylor said