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Electric Cars are Ready, Public Charging Stations - Not Yet

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author photo by Autotrader December 2010

Last week the world’s first mass-produced electric cars started making their way into the hands of consumers. Although 2011 will see a steady rollout of Nissan LEAFs and Chevrolet Volts–to be joined by others such as the Ford Focus Electric and Mitsubishi i-MiEV later in the year–the question of where owners of these cars can find juice while out and about is still a work in progress, and is turning out to be a bit harder to answer than originally expected.

The single largest effort to deploy public charging stations in the U.S. is being led by ECOtality–manager of the EV Project, a $250 million dollar public-private partnership that seeks to install almost 15,000 stations in seven early deployment areas by the Fall of 2011 (Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, D.C.). Other regions of the U.S. are also running their own public station deployment efforts on a much smaller scale, including parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, Michigan, and South Carolina–mostly with the help of additional federal, state and local funds.

ECOtality and the EV Project had originally targeted November 2010 to start installing public stations, but due to delays in standardization, certification, manufacturing, and vehicle availability, as well as unexpected bureaucracy and holiday retail demands, those dates have now slipped somewhat. According to John Gartner, a Senior Analyst at cleantech consulting firm, Pike Research, in some parts of the country potential station suppliers have been jockeyed around due to their failure to actually deliver stations.

“Originally there were supposed to be significant numbers of stations before now, but ECOtality won’t start shipping until January so public deployment will roll out slowly across the year,” said Gartner in an interview with AutoTrader.com. “The major impediment has been that the equipment in general hasn’t been ready. Right now you have few vendors actually selling product on the market, with companies like Eaton, GE, Siemens, Leviton and others not shipping until sometime next year.”

According to ECOtality, however, the major hold up hasn’t been equipment, but the need to “follow the vehicles” as well as avoid construction during the busy retail holiday season, as Colin Read, the company’s VP of Business Development said in an interview with AutoTrader.com.

“Part of our goal with DOE is to provide a commercially viable infrastructure and prove that there is a business case behind these commercial chargers,” said Read. “So as a result we are making sure that we roll them out in parallel to vehicle deployments. The other fact of the matter is that I cannot find a commercial property that will allow me to install a charging station between now and the end of January, just because it’s the busiest season for retailers–we’re not wanting to trench their parking lots right now.”

Regardless of the reasons, it looks like the early EV adopters will have to wait at least a few more months to have good access to public charging, yet that doesn’t worry Read who says ECOtality hopes to have lined up 10 to 15 national corporate installation launch partners by early next year.

“We have already signed up ARCO, BP, Best Buy and Cracker Barrel–at this point we’ve gotten through the C’s in the alphabet,” he joked. “By the end of February we will probably have more public chargers than there are vehicles deployed. So we are going to be putting the chargers out in advance, but as long as these first users have a residential charging station to get them back and forth, we believe that will lead to a very successful consumer experience.”

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Electric Cars are Ready, Public Charging Stations - Not Yet - Autotrader