Way Behind on Seattle Charging Stations, ECOtality Blames EV Sales
Seattle is known to have some of the highest EV adoption rates in the U.S. It’s not alone in the region. In the states of Washington and Oregon, the LEAF is now Nissan’s number one selling car, outselling everything from Nissan SUVs to its popular Altima sedan. With these kind of figures, you'd expect public charging infrastructure to be similarly well represented.
That's why it's odd that electric vehicle infrastructure provider ECOtality told Seattle-based King5.com earlier this week that poor sales figures were responsible for lackluster EV charging station rollout in the area.
In 2009, ECOtality received $115 million in U.S. Department of Energy funds to help it build a nationwide EV recharging network, the largest amount given by the energy department to any EV infrastructure company. ECOtality also partnered with Nissan North America, Chevrolet, University of California at Davis, Idaho and Oak Ridge National Laboratories, Best Buy, Sprint, Cisco, and Fred Meyer on the EV Project. Despite these partnerships, ECOtality and The EV Project have under-delivered on public charging stations, especially in the Seattle area.
In early 2011, ECOtality said it would install 22 direct current rapid chargers and 1,200 Level 2 chargers in the region by the end of 2011. As of last week, the U.S. Department of Energy said ECOtality has installed six rapid chargers and just under 370 Level 2 units, once again revealing problems that ECOtality has acknowledged in the past.
An Unconvincing Scape Goat
Talking with King5.com earlier this week, ECOtality’s Northwestern sales manager Amy Hillman explained the lower than anticipated rollout of charging stations on sub-par sales, explaining that “the early car sales were not what we had anticipated.”
That’s hardly an unreasonable statement. After all, electric cars are needed to provide charging networks with the necessary custom to make their business goals work. But the $115 million given to ECOtality for The EV Project was not intended to put in charging stations as a response to sales figures, but to stimulate sales through adequate Level 2 and rapid charger implementation.
ECOtality even says this in section 4 of its official DCFC host agreement, filled out by prospective sites wishing to host a direct current rapid charging station:
“The United States Department of Energy (DOE) has provided funding for the EV Project through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to accelerate the development and production of electric vehicles (EVs) in order to reduce petroleum consumption.”
Hillman’s statement is also contradicted by ECOtality’s 2013 Q1 report. In it, ECOtality lists its EV Project rapid charging stations in the Seattle area as having extremely high usage, second only to Los Angeles and beating San Francisco.
As many EV owners in the Seattle area have told us, it’s even common to see owners queue for charging stations in the Bellevue College and Harvard Market locations. If that isn’t an indicator of demand, we’re not sure what is.
Focused On Residential
Despite its mandate on public charging stations, ECOtality is clearly focused elsewhere when it comes to a business plan: residential charging and its range of Blink charging stations.
“We have always sought to match the roll-out of the charging stations to the vehicle penetration rates,” ECOtality’s Joshua Katz told PluginCars.com earlier this week. “Blink expects to complete the installations of our Level 2 residential and public charging systems under The EV Project this summer. And we expect to complete DC Fast Charger installations by Q3.”
In a separate email, Katz confirmed that “we have commitments for a little south of 1,500 Level 2 chargers in Washington,” adding that “it looks like we are going to have 17 or more DC Fast Chargers in the state as well.” Less than twenty-four hours after reaching out to ECOtality, we were sent three separate emails announcing ECOtality’s latest home-charging unit: the Blink HQ home charging stations.
While it’s good to see ECOtality work hard to satisfy residential charging station demand, we can’t help but wonder if a little more focus on public charging for everyone would be better use of its time, especially considering the scale of taxpayer funding provided to the company.
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