Way Behind on Seattle Charging Stations, ECOtality Blames EV Sales

By · May 23, 2013

BLINK stations

ECOtality is behind on the installation of its charging stations, and now 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.”

BLINK stations

Despite ECOtality's statement on poor sales, its charging stations are in demand.

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.


· · 5 years ago

What the hell? Their statement is completely out to lunch. Not only are sales of EVs in Washington state through the roof, but the state also happens to have some of the highest densities of chargers. Not that it even matters, because the fact of the matter is that the government paid them to do the work already. They have no excuse for doing anything but plopping them down as fast as they can.

Either way, Washingtonians can't really complain anywhere near as much as their neighbours to the north can. We have *no* quick chargers to date, and sales of EVs have been really weak so far.

· · 5 years ago

I think they should stop whining since Seattle area already have one of the highest density in public charging stations.

Blink's money is for the entire country, NOT just for Seattle. You said it the best. "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."

So, it should be focused on installing public stations across the nation instead of just focusing on "high sales" region...

· · 5 years ago

Look at the public documents and what the top leadership of this firm are getting paid and wonder if the tax payer is getting their money's worth! Notice the price of home charging EVSE is coming way down to around $500 and this company is going after the lowest profit margin item instead of public charging? This is what happens when government picks winners and losers. They can lose money for years with a grant of that size!

· · 5 years ago

The government does not need to be subsidizing residential charging dock installations. Mine cost under $800 total and I received no subsidy. Instead, public funds should be focused on public infrastructure, preferably in visible, high traffic locations where potential EV drivers will notice it getting used.

· · 5 years ago

Public charging stations don't make sense either if they are "free". Blink might get some assistance from the government in initial installation. But it has to have a business model to keep up the service and support. It needs to start charging people for it. But as soon as they do that, all EV owners will stay away unless they have to get a charge. This creates a business model issue.

· · 5 years ago

I see no issue with the business model of using free charging as a loss leader - get customers to patronize your business instead of the competition, while also encouraging them to stay longer.

I DO, however, see a problem with free charging as a BEV driver. A free charger is one that will likely be highly used. In other words, as more plug-ins hit the roads, the availability of these chargers will dry up. If I cannot count of a charger being available, it might as well not be there when it comes to planning. For a PHEV or an EREV, availability is not nearly as important - the ability to top off your battery is a perk, not a necessity.

· · 5 years ago

So, it should be no different than parking spaces.

Take your ticket to the business and they will give you a credit toward charging up to xxx number of hours (similar to free parking). Then rest of the time, it costs money.

In fact, busineses would probably like higher turn over rate rather than staying longer. Staying longer doesn't always gaurantee more revenue. Starbuck in SF has realized this with their "free wifi" service. So, they require you to buy another drink after xxx number of hours.

Either way, the so called "free for all" public charging doesn't work in the long term. That is why I have always said that PHEV/EREV is the bridge technology that works now until we have infrastructures.

Tesla is taking a seperate approach by offering exclusive charging facility.

· · 4 years ago

BLink L2 charging hasn't been free in Oregon for several months. That's not the problem, the main issue is their EVSE's rarely work, especially the QC units. I will only stop at a BLink as a last resort. ChargePoint and Aerovironment have been much more reliable.

· · 4 years ago

While I'm not a ECOtality fan (horrible support after my home EVSE was installed over two years ago) I've not had a bad L2 experience in the Portland area, all have worked for me. Once, I did come across a disabled L3 charger that I planned on using and called their support (they acknowledged it was offline but no date on when it would be repaired). My only beef is that they should charge in 6 minute increments not per hour, as I've been charged for two hours but used it for only an hour and five minutes. Btw I used a couple of the Aerovironment L3 chargers over the weekend, compared to the Blink L3's, much simpler and easy to use.

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