Why Is Costco Not Upgrading Its Electric Car Chargers?

By · August 16, 2011

Costco can upgrade its electric car chargers, like this one in Mountain View, Calif., for free. But Costco is refusing.

Costco, the big box retailer, has for over a decade been the business with more electric vehicle charge stations in more places around California than any other. Put in service during California's Zero Emission Mandate between 1997 and 2003, when about 6000 EVs roamed the streets, these charge stations have continued supplying power to the RAV4 EVs and other electric vehicles saved by Plug In America when it was known as DontCrush.com, a struggle chronicled in the film Who Killed the Electric Car. Costco's own magazine proudly reported in 2006, just as the film was being released, that 64 stores had a total of 90 charge stations.

Take Action

Plug In America wants EV supporters to urge Costco to upgrade its chargers.

Now, Costco has the opportunity, thanks to the California Energy Commission's ReConnect California program with ClipperCreek, to upgrade legacy AVCON charging equipment to J1772 at no cost. As I see it, Costco's noteworthy participation in California's earlier electric vehicle program will give them a deserved leg up on all the national retailers now looking into providing electric vehicle charging stations for their customers. While their competition is trenching through concrete and striking costly deals with new businesses long on promises but short on experience, at Costcos a quick swap-out could quickly give them the opportunity to tout the most extensive retail network of EV charging stations.

It seems, however, that Costco has chosen to look this gift horse in the mouth. The company has refused to consider the CEC grant to upgrade their charge stations for free. And it has actually begun to take out the chargers that it has, despite the fact that they have been used a lot by their own customers. Just take a look at an evchargermaps.com entry for a Costco with chargers. For example, the Mountain View location, a place I've charged and shopped at a few times a year since 2004. It has 44 reports going back to 2008. And dozens more going back to 2003. (This doesn't include every time someone charged, merely the times a driver made the effort to confirm the condition of the charger for other drivers.)

EV Charger Maps shows charging activity at Mountain View Costco. A free upgrade for compatibility with today's electric cars makes sense.

It has been reported that some store managers would rather not be removing chargers right when we see plug-in cars coming to market. Providing charging fits well with the company's sustainability efforts, including both the physical stores and the products they sell. President and CEO Jim Sinegal touts Costco as "one of the early companies to embrace many of the earth-friendly technologies, such as skylights and recycling" in its Corporate Sustainability Report from 2009.

Why Costco isn't embracing their early support for plug-in cars now that the rest of the world is jumping in is beyond me. Given that it will actually cost the company more money to say no than to say yes makes this a no-brainer for me. It should be for Costco as well.


· Paul Scott (not verified) · 6 years ago

I appreciate Marc bringing this important story to the public. The timing of Costco's removal of existing chargers is surprising. And the fact they won't even consider upgrading to the new J-plug with state money is troubling. I can only conclude that they current leadership of Costco has not paid attention to the changes coming fast and furious to our transportation system. They were leaders, now they'll be late to the game... unless we convince them otherwise.

· Tom K (not verified) · 6 years ago

Costco blows the big one... I guess I'll be shopping elsewhere.... ;-/

· · 6 years ago

It's puzzling if you ask me. They already have them installed and they can have them upgraded at no cost? What's the downside? The only thing I can imagine is that now that there actually are going to be EV's to use them, they are afraid the parking spaces will be tied up all day with people charging and some of those people won't even be shopping there, or perhaps they are worries about the electricity cost? I know they are lame excuses, but what other reasons would they have?

It's like they installed them years ago when there really wasn't many EV's to use them, just to give the appearance they were behind environmentally responsible transportation. However now that there are EV's to use them, they have decided they really don't want to get involved. It's like we called their bluff. Strange.

· · 6 years ago

From home: Costco is close enough to my home (within 12 miles, according to Bing) that I'd only need to use a charger if I was planning additional errands that took me further from home. I wouldn't be willing to spend money on it L2 charging, though, because of how little it would actually charge my LEAF in the amount of time I'd be there. Keeping the charger spots at the locations farthest away from the store, though, might eliminate the need to use charging fees as a way to prevent abuse. For instance, if the spots were in a prime location, EV drivers who really don't need to charge might plug into that spot just to have a good parking location, denying someone who truly needs a charge in order to get to their next location. Keeping them far away (but still within reasonable walking distance) might prevent them from being ICEd or being squandered on EV drivers who don't really need to charge.

From work: Now that I'm trading my primary vehicle for a LEAF, though, I'll have to reconsider my trips to Costco on my way home from work, since the trip to Costco is a very significant detour. In that scenario, I am definitely more likely to need a charge to make it home without anxiety, and the limited time I'd spend at the charger at Costco would actually give my what I'd need to get home. Without a charger, I'm likely to skip the trip to Costco.

· · 6 years ago

It is confounding why Costco wouldn't want to modernize their existing EVSEs for free. Could it be they don't want to cover the long term opex for the EVSEs? Some of the older Costco EVSEs I've seen were in rather poor condition. Also they would need to potentially deal with their customers issues such as having an ICE vehicle moved who was parked in the EV space or an EVSE not working properly, etc. Could it be Costco didn't want to work with ECOtality? Lastly, perhaps the issue resides with the ReConnect California program itself. From what I'm told, the program has been horribly mismanaged.

· Max Reid (not verified) · 6 years ago

I wont criticize Costco, since they are selling Solar PV Panels at an affordable price.
See this 1.


Its sold at $1.95 / watt and thats a very low price.

· William Edwards (not verified) · 6 years ago

I wonder what would happen if every Costco member took a few moments to politely share their thoughts? Heck, you can do so on their web site using an email form...

· · 6 years ago

"I wonder what would happen if every Costco member took a few moments to politely share their thoughts?"

I did. Click on the Take Action icon above and fill out the form It will take you less than a minute and Plug in America will send the message to Costco.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

No one can see a down side!? I suppose electricity is free to Mountain View. How nice that must be. The rest of us have to pay for it. If I were Costco, I wouldn't upgrade either in this tough economy.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

Ah, ... why does Costco have to provide EV chargers at all ..?? Really... ? Costco does allot for its paying members at it is. When they decide something is a long-term benefit for its members, they commit and implement. Even so, they'll try things and if they prove to not be a benefit then they move on. Everything has a cost as nothing is ever "free". Even if its just the real estate foot prrint these charger stations are using, the ratio of their use is probably not high enough to warrant keeping them, and maybe Costco has decided to use these spaces for more whse merchandising for its members or just use them for the majority for the member who have the usual gas automobiles, ... Whatever it may be its probably a smart long-term business reason.

For the EV owners, they should be lobbying the EV auto manufacturers to engineer better battery technology to provide better battery life, ... right? ... Instead of making others (businesses, etc.) provide something that is their own responsibility based on their own decisions (to buy such a vehicle). If you don't like the limits of your EV auto, then why did you buy it in the first place ... ?

Costco is one of the few businesses that really provides great services for of its paying members.

· McHammer (not verified) · 6 years ago

Costco usually has the best gas prices anyway, too .... If your a member, I guess ...

· · 6 years ago

@Anonymous: How often do Costco parking lots actually fill to capacity? We are only talking about a couple of parking spots, and they are likely to be used given the increasing number of EV owners, who by the way fit the profile of Costco shoppers.

Yes, of course we all want better battery range/life. But what's wrong with lobbying a business to provide a service? For instance, if Costco were to remove their gas stations, I know that plenty of people would be disappointed, and many would probably write letters.

While Costco is under no obligation to provide EV charging, I think they are making a poor business decision by choosing not to accept charger upgrades at no additional cost to them. Whether I can charge at Costco or not, I am happy with my EV and am using it more than I had anticipated. But given the distance/elevation between my home and the nearest Costco stores, I'm not going to go out of my way and shop at Costco if I can't charge at the same time. There are plenty of other shopping options available.

· Jeff R. (not verified) · 6 years ago

Response from Costco via email in answer to my inquiry:

We appreciate you taking the time to email Costco Wholesale.

As of today's date we have no plans to update the outdated electric vehicle stations. It was presented to upper management but the decision was to not embark on a major installation as of yet.

The decision was primarily made because of the use (or should we say non-use) of the units a few years back. PLUS sales of the electric car are currently minimal,so once the trend starts to shift is when it will be revisited.

Thank you,

Costco Wholesale Corporation

· JJJJJJ (not verified) · 6 years ago

"No one can see a down side!? I suppose electricity is free to Mountain View. How nice that must be. The rest of us have to pay for it. If I were Costco, I wouldn't upgrade either in this tough economy."

Protip: A single (yes, one) surface parking space costs $8,000 to build. Costco seems to have no problem providing free use of hundreds of those.

How much does electricity cost?

· Shopper (not verified) · 6 years ago

Big mistake by Costco since the number of EVs is growing and is forecasted to expand enormously.

Too bad they lack the forethought to participate in ReConnect California program.

· · 6 years ago

>> No one can see a down side!? I suppose electricity is free to Mountain View. How nice that must be. The rest of us have to pay for it. <<

Wow, really? You want to go there? Electricity is cheap... and with the incentive of getting a charge - Costco has always made money off of me. When I shop at Costco, my bill is typically between $200 and $300. And I consume about $0.50 - $1.00 worth of electricity.

When you shop, do you use the lights? Maybe the bathrooms? The AC? The heat? Is it free? Or do we all pay for it?

How about air pollution from gas cars? Is that free, or do we all pay for it? At some point we all have to decide what we SHOULD all be paying for, and what we should all be charging (pun intended) for.

And one final note: Did you realize that Costco's official reason for removing the chargers is that, "they are not being used?"

· · 6 years ago

Thanks for the great article, Marc! The day after Marc and I were discussing this issue last weekend, my local Costco surprised everybody by tearing out its chargers. This Costco is in the city of Vacaville - that has more chargers per capita than any other town in the country. So let me tell you what is crazy what happened here - with a Costco that boasted six chargers. Costco had the option of upgrading the chargers *for free* - or paying money to remove the existing chargers (that many of us are still using!). Not only did they pay money to remove the chargers, they took the next step and actually filled in the empty conduit with concrete. So if/when they DO change their mind about these, the cost to install the new chargers will be about as bad as starting from scratch, instead of just reconnecting the wires from the conduit again. So they've spent money in order to ensure that more money will have to be spent down the road.

Raise your hands - who still thinks this decision was made to save money?

Honestly, I can't figure this out for the life of me.

· · 6 years ago

Watch this vid. Costco stuff starts at about 2:13.

As Costco removes chargers, other companies are just starting to install them.

· · 6 years ago

@darelldd, That move by your local Costco is bizarre. I wouldn't have believed it of a company with their reputation.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

That's not nice. I shop at the Richmond CA Costco all the time on my way back home and since I got my Leaf in July I have been waiting for some news on when costco might install EV charging stations at their locations and now that I am hearing that they are actually removing existing ones I will have to start looking at other stores for my regular shopping. for my other car which is a hybrid i will start filling at other locations. Thanks Costco, you probably lost $2-$3K sales per year.

· · 6 years ago

@Anon - We also shop at the Richmond Costco. I spoke with the LEAF salesman at the Richmond Nissan dealership, where we bought the LEAF, and he said that he's up to about 60 LEAF sales so far. That's already about 60 LEAF owners in the vicinity of the Richmond Costco who could use the charger when shopping (nice park nearby as well), but who are now thinking twice about buying gas, tires, or anything from the Costco. Time for a call to boycott?

· · 6 years ago

Obviously this weird behavior by Costco doesn't affect their bottomline st. away. It is just a bad PR move - afterall there is little upside to what they are doing. Only possibility is the downside of bad PR.

We used to shop a lot at costco - not much now-a-days. First I don't need to fill gas anymore ;-) But mostly because we switched to buying mostly organic and they just don't have that much organic stuff ...

· · 6 years ago

@Tom Moloughney,
"I did. Click on the Take Action icon above and fill out the form It will take you less than a minute and Plug in America will send the message to Costco."

I hate to say this, but sending your message through Plug in America, really dilutes the message, versus sending something personal directly. Costco management is not going to pay much attention to a special interest group. They will pay attention to Costco customers if they get enough feedback. Also a Plug in America message could even just end up in Costco's spam filters.

· · 6 years ago


I started to think about that after I sent it through PIA. I then looked up James Sinegal's(Costco CEO) email address and sent a letter directly to him. His email address is: jsinegal@costco.com if anyone else would like to do the same. I would suggest sending the message through PIA and then also sending one directly like I did.

· pakrat (not verified) · 6 years ago

Actually, it is less the cost of electricity and more the cost of the cars. With the unemployment levels so high (12% for California in July 2011), rising prices of consumer goods (look at common staples like corn, wheat, and milk), and the seeming oncoming recession, many people can't afford a new car, let alone an electric one. In addition, people are holding on to their cars longer (reason why the Big 3 had troubles a few years ago), and used car sales are increasing because they offer lower payments.

The Costco have college educated economists getting payed good money to forecast trends accurately (via pro/con analysis). If the economy looks shaky, they are going to advise scaling back and investing in better returns. And those charging stations aren't free. Everything needs maintained at some point, and those are dollars they rather spend elsewhere. Just because something is offered for "free" doesn't mean it's a good idea over the long term.

And while talking about "free," NOTHING is ever free. It always costs someone something; in this case, it is the Californian taxpayer. With the financial problems the state has been having over the past decade, is it really wise to just give away resources without a promise of a return? It won't spur EV car sales, so no tax can be collected from that and if they aren't being used as the Costco executives are claiming, the gov't isn't collecting taxes from charging station use, either.

Basically, I'm getting at we need to focus more on R&D than production to lower costs on efficient technologies. That is why green alternatives struggle without government subsidies. If more focus is placed on refining the technology than production itself, you will get a long term benefit of lower prices allowing for a spur in demand that can be sustained.

That is the problem with environmentalists these days... too impatient. The US has made so many environmentally friendly health regulations to allow use to actually start reversing the damage past pollution has done. Just hold your horses and let the technology mature. You can't just go around with short term solutions and expect long term results.

· · 6 years ago

Another NYT blog on the subject.

After the first handful of comments, it really gets derailed. EV drivers don't think about where their energy comes from... Costco should top up customer's gas cars... EV drivers don't shop at places like Costco... We kill millions of birds with wind farms...and on and on....

· · 6 years ago

Wow. Those NYT comments are venomous! Lots of emotion and inaccurate information.

@pakrat: Yes, I guess I am impatient. I'm tired of my kids having to breathe smog and exhaust, I'm tired of sending many billions of dollars overseas to buy oil from terrorist sympathizers, and I'm tired of having to send our sons and daughters to die to protect access to oil. I'm also tired of our economy being held hostage to world oil markets, and I'm tired of us not owning up to the virtual certainty that we are changing global climate for the worse. Ultimately my hope is in Jesus and not in any political system or technology. But I'd still like to see innovation and better stewardship of what we've been given, for the benefit of our children if nothing else.

· · 6 years ago

@ pakrat

>> And while talking about "free," NOTHING is ever free. It always costs someone something; in this case, it is the Californian taxpaye <<
Correct. And yet we as a gasoline-car-driving society seem to think it is "free" to pollute the air and water we all need. Who pays for the damage that gasoline cars create? Is it not us the tax payers too? And us health care premium payers? What is lung disease worth in dollars? Who pays for oil wars?

>> That is the problem with environmentalists these days... too impatient. The US has made so many environmentally friendly health regulations to allow use to actually start reversing the damage past pollution has done. Just hold your horses and let the technology mature.<<
So if I understand your position correctly, it is good that we have so many environmentally friendly regulations in place today... but that we now need to just sit back and let things go their own course? Do you think that all those beneficial regulations were put in place through the environmental apathy that you are now proposing? You can't have your cake and eat it too.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

I didn't realize that EV owners were such whiners .....

Are there other EV owners that are also business owners that feel they too should be forced to provide EV chargers for the public?

I think EV's have potential, but I don't think businesses should be forced to provide such chargers because no other supporting infrastructure is currently provided. Lose the entitlement mentality and maybe others will agree more.

Costco makes sound decisions for its members. I will keep shopping at Costco, even when I too own an EV. Such a pitiful issue that has nothing to do with what Costco provides and does well. Where most companies are laying off staff, downsizing, and/or closing, Costco is in the 'Green' - great pricing for its members, remaining profitable for its shareholders, opening new locations, creating jobs and actually hiring people across the board. Hard to beat this these days ... !

EV chargers compared these facts are just small potatoes for the small number of EV owners out there.

If/when there is a market, Costco will provide ... which is why they will be around for the long haul .... .. will the EV be ... ?

· · 6 years ago

Anon - I'm pretty sure you've missed the point here. Yes, I see how it appears to be whining. But read the message. Read the *reason* Costco gives. What is being done is being done based on faulty/misguided/wrong information.

Costco was never forced to put the chargers in, and nobody is trying to force them to keep the chargers. We (at least *I*) just can't understand why they would spend so much money REMOVING the chargers (and filling the conduit with concrete to make replacement that much harder and more expensive) when their complaint is that "nobody is using them." First off, that quite simply is not the case. And secondly... This year there are thousands more EVs on the road than last year, and production is on the brink of ramping up exponentially.

Now if Costco is complaining about too much use of the chargers, that would be a different issue all-together. But no... they're removing them now as demand goes through the roof... for the reason that they aren't being used enough.

Riddle me that one, and we can have a discussion.

And for the record - man (most?) of the business-owning EV owners I know DO provide public charging. Hell, one friend (a member here) goes so far as to provide EV (Leaf) loaner cars as well!

In general, EV owners want to be part of the solution. We can't do it without community support. Every EV that replaces a gas car helps everybody. Every gas car... damages everybody.

· Shiela Q. (not verified) · 6 years ago

These chargers are not being used, so Costco has decided to remove them ... So, am I missing something then ... ?

The facts are out there. For such a small percentage of EV owners out there, it is a sound BUSINESS reason to remove them.

· · 6 years ago

Anonymous: When retailers make a decision that you do not like, you should let them know you are a customer and you are not happy with their decision. I'm a business owner and I make decisions all the time that some customers with like and some will not. If enough people tell me that aren't happy with a new policy, or recent change I made then I'll consider rethinking the change. Nobody is suggesting throwing Molotov cocktails at Costco, just letting them know there are people out there that aren't happy with their decision.

It's not like they are doing this to cut costs either. What they are doing will cost them more money than accepting the FREE upgrade to the new J connectors and allowing their customers to charge while they shop. They only have one or two EVSE's at each location and even if they were to be used frequently it would barely cost them more than a couple dollars a day. Ripping out the equipment and filling the holes with concrete will probably cost more than operating the EVSE's for a year or two, what's the point? It's not like two parking spaces in a huge Costco lot is critical.

Remember, we're not asking them to spend any money to upgrade them, they can have it done for free, and nobody is saying they need to install more chargers, they are just asking them to keep the ones they have had there for the past few years. There were very few EV's on the roads before now, and now that there are actually cars to use the EVSE's it doesn't make any sense to pay to remove them.

Nobody here ever said Costco or anyone should be forced to install EVSE's, and nobody has even said Costco should install any now, they are just asking for them to leave the ones they already have now that there are actually cars to use them.

It's just my opinion, but I think EV's will be around a lot longer than Costco.

· · 6 years ago

Shiela Q.: A sound business decision?

-Pay money to remove them when the California Energy Commission's program will upgrade them for free.

-Tell your customers that are electric vehicle owners "We used to support EV's but not anymore"

-Possibly lose thousands of dollars of sales each day over the cost of about $5 in electricity.

I would really like to see the business you run.

"The facts are out there" Really? Please list them for us.

· · 6 years ago

>>These chargers are not being used, so Costco has decided to remove them ... So, am I missing something then ... ?...... The facts are out there.<<
Yes, you have missed something. You missed the part where Costco is *saying* something that conflicts with reality, and you are taking what Costco says as fact. You've heard the phrase that you can't believe everything you read? Or that not everything is as it seems?

The facts ARE out there, as you mention. But what Costco is saying isn't one of them. The chargers HAVE been used. They ARE being used. And the flood gates for more EVs have just barely begun to open.

As Tom brilliantly points out, there aren't all that many "sound business decisions" that tick off your customers. Especially when it involves going BACKWARDS in regard to environmental stewardship. Good news though! They keep adding more and more gas stations to their stores!

And I'll ask the same as Tom did: Please list the facts that are out there.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

I wonder if a scheme can be worked up similar to what they do with their gas pumps? One gets electricity with a member's card swipe. Seems like yet another benefit to club membership.

· · 6 years ago

> I wonder if a scheme can be worked up similar to what they do with their gas pumps? One gets electricity with a member's card swipe. Seems like yet another benefit to club membership. <

Certainly there's no technological reason that this couldn't happen. And as the cars and chargers become more popular, it likely would make plenty of sense - for chargers in private parking lots.

· · 6 years ago

I'd certainly be willing to pay a modest fee to charge while at Costco. Given the distance and 5000' elevation between our home and the nearest Costco locations, an hour of charging sure would make shopping there a lot more convenient. But it's not like Costco is the end all and be all of shopping. Instead of renewing our Costco membership, we've been doing more shopping online and at closer stores. I'm more concerned as to the negative precedent Costco's decision sets than anything else.

· Cosco Member (not verified) · 6 years ago

I have been a Costco Member for many years and always looked up to them for doing something to give back. Thought the issue was the crushing of the EV-1. Now I am thinking they don't care, and why should I shop there if that is their approach. I am a Leaf and Volt owner and would certainly take advantage of the charger to extend my range or travel from city to city if I knew there was a charger available.

The last time I went to park in the EV spot there was a gas car parked there. I did not make a stink as there was no J1772 plug. I thought they were going to modernize but now it looks like they are not. I will talk to the store manager at the one by my house. They are the ones that need to convey the message.

I do agree that they are spending money vs. upgrading for free. What a shame (on Costco), wonder if it was tax payers money that put them in in the first place?

· Michal (not verified) · 6 years ago


We've known we have to make a change from fossil fuels to alternatives for a variety of reasons (health, peak oil, support for unfriendly regimes, pollution, increasing costs, inefficiency of the internal combustion engine, etc.) for how long now???
How about 30+ years. 3, almost 4 decades. An entire lifetime for some.
That's impatience?
You must be a zen master.

· · 6 years ago

> wonder if it was tax payers money that put them in in the first place?

While Costco certainly put up some of the money, there was also public money used for every one of these installations, yes.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

Because the 10 of you that use them isn't worth tying up the parking spot? Look, it's great to be "green" and all, but this is like a bicyclist complaining they do not supply bike racks. Until there are more EV's around, don't expect free charging stations to proliferate. Yes, electricity is cheap... and so is soda. Stores aren't handing out free drinks are they?

To those that won't shop at Costco now because they don't offer you free charging... seriously? You're going to shop at another store that never offered free charging as a protest? Really? If that was the biggest benefit you saw to shopping there, I doubt you'll be missed.

· · 6 years ago

Dear Mr. Anonymous -

Thanks for your compelling words of wisdom. And I'm glad that you think it is "great" to be green and all. Too bad the rest of your comment misses that ideal. I'll go ahead and point out that I also request bike racks at local stores. If you owned a business, wouldn't you want to know what the customers want? We are all better off when more people shop by bicycle or EV.

While the number that you pull out of the air (ten) makes your point, it is of course baseless. And tying up the parking spot? You mean while we drop money in the store like all the other folks tying up parking spots in their gas cars?

We didn't need many gasoline cars around before we determined that it should be free to pollute everybody's air, did we? By all means, let's hinder an delay the rollout of EVs as much as we can. Otherwise, we may end up with WAYYYY too much clean air and oil independence.

Yeah. I'm grumpy today. I almost got run over by one of those dangerously quiet gasoline cars.

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