Automakers, Not Government, Should Provide EV Charging


ecotalityWith the recent announcement that public EV charging utility Ecotality was going into bankruptcy, a sober conversation is being had among the remaining providers of charging stations. Is there a sustainable business model for public charging points? The answer is no, not really, and if anybody should be providing customers charging points, it’s the automakers selling the EVs.

Common-sense studies show that EV owners do 90% of their charging either at work or home, leaving very few opportunities for privately-owned charging companies to make money. This is why Tesla is providing its Supercharger service for free, as it is seen as both a perk of ownership, and there probably wasn’t any way to Tesla to make enough to support each station. And where Tesla paid off its government loan, Ecotality looks like it could swallow most of the $99.8 million government grant it got in bankruptcy.

Most EV drivers have found that they can easily stay within the driving distance provided by a single charge, with studies confirming that even short-range EVs like the Nissan Leaf can handle 95% of trips. There’s simply no need to have EV chargers everywhere when most charging is done at work or home, and certainly not when it costs a premium price. Project Better Place, another bankrupt charging concept, learned that lesson the hard way as it was forced to charge a high-price for its complicated, membership-only charging infrastructure. But the slow adoption rate of the specialzed electric vehicles meant few buyers, and a billion dollars later Project Better Place is dead.

Still, there is need for some charging stations outside of the home garage or office parking lot. Tesla has the right idea, installing Superchargers along major driving routes like Interstate 95 on the East Coast, as well as up and down California. In fact, other automakers should lead by example and start installing charges sans government assistance, because our dysfunctional nation can’t even keep our national parks open. America the beautiful, am I right?

By providing EV charging stations at dealerships, which are often located near major shopping areas, it would give salesmen a chance to pitch the latest and greatest products to a captive audience. Pair charging points with coffee shops or delis, place stations near malls or stadiums, or even offer exclusive specials to drivers of high-end plug-ins. It would also give automakers a chance to sell “lifetime charging plans” that charge a flat monthly fee for use of well-placed fast-chargers at dealerships, malls, and elsewhere.

Dare I even suggest that automakers get together and contribute in equal parts to a universal charging network? Install them at key places, use the SAE-approved Combo charger, and almost overnight a national charging network would pop up. Keep these stations “advertising neutral”, but only put them along major interstates where drivers are likely to need to stop, rest, and recharge. There is no need to have EV chargers at every Starbucks or Trader Joes. Ecotality installed 13,000 chargers nationwide, but many of those were barely used at all; they put the cart before the horse, and so far the only bid for Ecotality is a paltry $3 million.

The idea that the government and local businesses should provide the infrastructure for a very minor part of the driving population is as dead as Ecotality and Project Better Place.

 Source: Green Car Reports

About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.
  • egogg

    I just bought a Coda sedan (post-bankruptcy discount, naturally). I also purchased a sub-$500 level 2 charger for it from Clipper Creek.

    With the Federal and State refund, and savings of over $8,000 in fuel over 5 years, I’m basically getting a free brand new car.

    My local town government installed chargepoint level 2 chargers that are free (for now), and walking distance from my office. While I agree automakers should install charging stations, I think governments should do their part to aid in the transition from liquid fuels to alt fuel. Even though most charging stations are underutilized at present, they won’t be for long. The technology is improving rapidly as people are taking to the electric car en masse, and having a huge number of charge points will only serve to make people get over their silly range anxiety issues.

    A business model for charge stations is clearly difficult, and needs subsidies just like the rest of the alt fuel industry. I have no problems with these subsidies. Any tea partiers reading this: they are a fraction of a percentage of the the subsidies given to oil/gas/coal companies yearly.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Businesses and schools should install Level 1 and 2 chargers in their parking lots. This would provide an outlet for many of the 40% of drivers who now do not have access to an outlet. And they would serve as ‘range doublers’ for those who have a long commute.

    Set them up as card swipe or RDIF chargers. Go with inductive charging. Install enough so that people can park all day and not have to move their car.

    People could install solar on their houses and basically pay the grid a small fee for shipping their electricity.

    Restaurants and businesses along our travel routes should set up Level 3 chargers in their parking lots. Provide at least three cords (or coils) per charger for progressive charging so that customers wouldn’t need to move their vehicles as soon as they were charged.

    Getting people to stop in your business parking lot and spending some time has value. Many are going to do some business with you while they charge. There’s value in offering charging and that should mean that businesses would charge only modest fees for charging. Perhaps a free charge with a $10/whatever purchase.

  • Jason Carpp

    I totally agree. Why should the government be involved in everything car makers do?