We are still waiting for a comprehensive plan to roll out electric cars' infrastructure to be announced in USA as France did this month, but it is better than nothing and Nissan push is necessary to create a mass market for electric cars. Colorado initiative will fuel interest for EVs as well and then we can start to worry about Rare Earths. better place was active in California as well, but recently more news are coming from Europe and Australia, than from US.
With Nissan planning to roll out its first electric vehicles in five states next year and nationwide in 2012, the Japanese automaker is racing to set up a recharging network quickly enough to be ready for them.
Tennessee, Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington are the states getting the vehicles first; they won't be available in Texas until sometime in 2012.
Even before the nationwide rollout, thousands of chargers will be needed. Nissan has ambitious plans to sell thousands of the cars in the first year as it becomes the first automaker in the world to attempt to mass-market an all-electric vehicle.
Unlike the popular hybrids on the market today, Nissan's new Leaf, a five-passenger compact hatchback, won't have an internal-combustion engine onboard to back up the electric power. When the battery runs down, the car stops.
Getting the charging infrastructure in place may be a herculean task, said Mark Perry, director of product planning for Nissan North America Inc., but the automaker vows to be ready when the first cars come to market in December.
“We have to have a different approach from what's been done before because we're looking to mass-market this vehicle rather than just test a few,” as General Motors did with the EV1 in the mid- to late 1990s in California and Arizona.
“It's a much bigger process than 50 or 100 cars in a city,” he said. “We're looking at thousands.”
Nissan will spend $1 billion to build a plant adjacent to its Tennessee manufacturing facility to assemble the new, high-tech lithium-ion battery packs for the Leaf. And starting in 2012, the automaker plans to begin assembling the cars in the Tennessee plant, near Nashville, as well. Initial capacity there will be about 150,000 vehicles a year.
Until then, the cars and batteries will be built in Japan and exported to the United States, Nissan said.
But there are high hurdles to leap to get to that point, Perry concedes, including persuading local governments to cut the red tape of strict building codes to allow for speedy installation of home chargers in the garages and driveways of buyers of the zero-emission Leaf.
“We don't have a choice,” he said. “We have to be ready. But there is a lot of work to be done and not a lot of time to do it.”
About three-fourths of the recharging for the typical Leaf consumer is expected to be overnight in the family garage, Perry said. “We will have chargers at every location where one of these cars is parked for the night.”
A full charge would take about six to eight hours, and, ideally, charging would occur during the late hours when electricity demand is at its lowest, he said.
But for about 20 percent of the time, other options must be available, such as 20-minute fast-recharging stops at shopping malls, stadiums, light-rail stations, big-box retailers such as Costco, Wal-Mart, Sam's Clubs and supermarkets, or at rest areas or convenience stores scattered along interstate highways between major cities, Perry said.
Phoenix-based ECOtality Inc. has partnered with Nissan to set up charging systems in consumers' homes, as well as public networks in the first five states.
ECOtality has received a $100 million loan from the U.S. Energy Department to help pay for the system, which will consist of “two layers of infrastructure,” said Colin Read, ECOtality's vice president for corporate development.
Read said many of the first buyers will get free home chargers installed, which could run up to about $1,500 each for the equipment and installation combined. Without that help, the biggest expense for some Leaf buyers might be getting the home garage wired for the 240-volt chargers, which themselves could cost as little as $500 each.
Local building and electrical codes threaten to hold up installation of the home chargers, though, as those regulations vary by community. Some make it easier than others — Oregon, for instance, has a statewide law governing such installations.
It's not that simple elsewhere, Read said, recalling the company's experiences installing chargers for GM's electric car.
“We could get permission to install a charger in a home in Phoenix in three weeks, but it took six weeks in Scottsdale,” he said.
Scottsdale is an upscale suburb on the eastern edge of Phoenix.
“Our biggest issue is trying to get the red tape out of the way,” Read said. “We're working with the state of Tennessee as well as local governments to streamline the process and not have to wait weeks. We're urging municipalities to incorporate proactive steps in their building codes.”
It's not only important to the buyers of the Leaf but to the individual cities' own energy-sustainability goals, Nissan's Perry said.
“We're working at the state level to hold everybody to same standard and rolling up our sleeves to get down to the local communities to see how to save time, with ideas such as online permitting and 24-hour turnaround times,” he said.
Peer pressure might help, Perry said.
“We could show a city like Scottsdale what we've worked out with other cities, and ask, ‘Why does it take six weeks for you when others can do it in two days?' But we can't leave it to chance.”
As for the fast chargers, Perry said cities might choose to put some in municipal parking garages and at on-street parking spaces, which would complement installations at malls or big retailers.
“That public infrastructure will be important,” even though the Leaf will have a 100-mile range between full charges — enough to last all day for most people, he said. “That will allow them to recharge at home most of the time.”
Getting retailers such as Wal-Mart involved requires convincing them that the expense of installing a charging station — about $35,000 per hookup — makes sense by increasing sales in their stores as people wait for their batteries to charge, Perry said.
Seattle-based Costco Wholesale Corp., which has two members-only warehouses in Nashville, might be interested in installing the chargers here, said Joel Benoliel, the company's senior vice president for legal and administration.
“We installed the chargers at some of our stores in California for the GM electric car, and that worked out pretty well,” he said. “There weren't many of those cars around, though.”
It should be different with the Leaf, Perry said, with Nissan planning to sell them at affordable prices, not only to fleets, but to individual consumers as well.
Nissan has discussed the idea of charging stations with Wal-Mart, too.
BP, the giant British oil company, is a partner with Nissan and ECOtality in the electric-vehicle project, but only for the purposes of evaluating the technology to decide whether further participation might be feasible, BP spokesman Scott Dean said from the company's Chicago offices.
ECOtality's Read suggested that BP's ARCO AM/PM markets might be a good place to start putting chargers in convenience stores.
But Dean said those stores mostly are independently owned and it would be each owner's decision whether to invest in the chargers.
Installing chargers in the parking lots of fast-food restaurants is another idea Nissan has suggested.
“Studies have shown that the average customer stays at a fast-food restaurant for about 20 minutes, which would be perfect for charging,” Perry said.
One drawback will be figuring out how to make money from the chargers, which will cost about the same as a modern gasoline pump or one of those “huge soft-drink fountains” that convenience stores have for their customers, Read said.
There are laws prohibiting the resale of electricity by anyone other than a utility company, so companies that install fast chargers might find other ways to collect from electric-vehicle customers, such as renting the parking space for 20 minutes for $1.75, Perry said. “That would more than cover the cost of the electricity the car would use.”
But “revenue models are still being determined,” Read said. “It's a very infant industry.”
In California, Costco allowed customers to recharge for free, with the idea they would be inside the store spending money.
Despite Nissan's belief that most recharging will be done at home, getting chargers in strategic locations will be important to the success of the project, Read said.
“Fast charging will be the great enabler of electric vehicles,” he said. “People will want to be able to travel between major population areas without having to worry about stopping several hours for a charge. If the car's 100-mile range is not enough, fast-charging stations must be available, or this will never work.”