ECOtality: Marking a Milestone, But Still Challenged
There are a number of ways to evaluate the performance of an electric car charging company, with the number of home and public units installed being perhaps the best measure. California-based ECOtality, which manages the federally financed EV Project, has another historic first: The company’s Blink chargers have now surpassed one million “residential charge events.”
40 Million EV Miles
CEO Ravi Brar describes this as “an iconic milestone for ECOtality, the EV Project and the industry." Available data includes 40 million miles of EV driving recorded, and 1.7 million gallons of gas saved. All very nice, but I was curious how the EV Project was actually faring.
I last checked in on ECOtality for PlugInCars.com almost exactly a year ago, and at that time the company was dealing with some issues, including falling behind in its EV Project schedule and dealing with connectivity issues in the Blink home units. The latter is still an issue, albeit at a somewhat lower volume than last year. “Gaswalla” says at MyNissanLeaf.com that “the stupid thing has broken 4 times in past 15 months,” and some others complain about the length of time it takes to get a service call. But the number of issues that are of recent vintage appear to have declined.
Some users grouse about “reboot loops” and “the notorious SD card failure.” Connectivity is not yet seamless, and in some cases the company is addressing it by recommending the installation of new routers in consumers’ homes. There also appear to be timer issues. “TonyWilliams” recommends “getting the Blink number in your speed dial.”
Now, to a certain extent these kind of things are to be expected with any relatively new product. The forums for the iPhone 5 are similarly full of complaints—especially about those problematic Apple maps.
ECOtality, in a statement, claims to have smoothed out most of the connectivity problems. “Maintaining a reliable network is ECOtality’s top priority,” it said. “We entered the market with an industry-leading ‘smart’ product, one that offers advanced communication capabilities and is simple, easy and safe for consumers to use. We currently are experiencing a connectivity rate of upwards of 90 percent residentially and commercially.” The company says it has executed a number of “core upgrades” and will continue to update the Blink network.
The EV Project Lingers On
My other question concerns the EV Project. As you may know, in 2009 and 2010 ECOtality received $115 million in two federal grants to install 14,000 Blink chargers in 18 cities, in six states. There were delays, in part due to the slow pace of the electric car rollout, and ECOtality applied to the Department of Energy for an extension with an anticipated completion date of the second quarter of this year.
That date wasn’t met either, though the company is much closer than it was a year ago, when 3,000 chargers had been installed. The network has also been expanded. “We are in the final phases of the EV Project,” the company said. “Currently, ECOtality has installed approximately 8,500 charging stations in 21 metropolitan areas—which include Chicago, Atlanta and Philadelphia, which were recently added to the EV Project. This number does not reflect chargers already in the queue for installation—the reality is the supply is low for residents and commercial hosts alike to become involved in The EV Project.”
There are other issues, including an ECOtality stock price at just 52 cents when I checked it Thursday.
ECOtality rolls on, still a major player in charging but with some challenges moving forward. CEO Brar sees forward movement. "We're seeing significant acceleration of the EV Project as EV sales continue to rise, and expect that trend to continue as vehicle prices fall and gas prices rise," he said. The one million charges, he said, are "proof that EVs are here to stay.”
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