Nissan Renews Hope for Dramatic Increase of EV Rapid Chargers

By · April 30, 2013

Nissan wants to make the use of rapid charging a practical everyday reality for EV drivers. The DC Quick Charge port is on the left.

Nissan wants to see 600 electric car rapid chargers throughout the United States by the end of March 2014. The rapid chargers can add about 50 to 60 miles of range in less than 30 minutes. The company also wants to support a two-fold increase in Level 2 240-volt public charging stations—to 22,000 locations nationwide. The program, as reported by Automotive News, is Nissan’s attempt to convince new waves of customers that longer-distance trips can be practical in an electric car.

At this stage, there are fewer than 100 discrete locations for DC Quick Chargers in the United States. In February 2012, Nissan's Brendan Jones told Green Car Reports, “Our two year goal is to sell 1,500 to 2,000 [DC rapid] chargers. We will accomplish this goal via our retail and wholesale process.” At that time, Nissan expected more than 800 quick charging stations to be installed in the U.S. by summer 2012, with more than 1,000 of the rapid-chargers to be online by the end of 2012.

Last week, PluginCars.com reported that Nissan is currently installing nine rapid chargers at some of its Californian dealers—an effort to kickstart its EV infrastructure program by starting with its own properties.

But to reach its goals, Nissan must look beyond its own dealerships. The Japanese automaker recently formed a five-person infrastructure team whose sole job is to encourage the installation of rapid charging stations in the U.S. Headed by Jones, former head of electric vehicle marketing at Nissan, the team is working with large employers in key markets, many which already have the necessary power capacity on site to easily install a rapid charger.

Good for Some, Not for All

According to Jones, the key areas the infrastructure team will focus on include areas where LEAF sales are already doing well. These include most California markets; Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Atlanta; and Washington, D.C.

In other words, if you’re a LEAF owner outside of these “key markets,” you might not benefit from Nissan’s latest initiative.

As Nissan spearheads the move towards a larger and more comprehensive charging network, its attitude towards the LEAF can be contradictory at times. For example, Nissan recently turned down a request from Seattle Nissan dealers who wanted a LEAF-led sales event, despite the LEAF being the number one selling Nissan car in the city. Nissan explained that its North American LEAF production line, located in Smyrna, Tenn., isn’t producing enough cars to keep up with the additional demand a sales event would produce.

Unfulfilled Promises

Just as previous targets for EV infrastructure in the U.S. have fallen short, Nissan LEAF owners in Europe will also confirm that there’s a big difference between planned charger roll-out and installed ready-to-use units.

In 2011, many U.K.-based LEAF drivers bought cars based on promises that they could travel between cities and towns, rapid charging along the way. At its launch, Nissan Great Britain had a lofty goal of installing rapid charging stations at as many of its dealers as it possibly could.

At launch, the initial 25 LEAF specialists were expected to have rapid chargers. Very few did. Weeks turned to months, and months turned to years, as deadline after deadline for rapid charger installation passed with little progress. Moreover, with the majority of installed rapid chargers located in dealer lots, off-hour travel (after dealerships have closed) in a LEAF is still difficult or impossible for many.

This has resulted in a backlash against Nissan and the LEAF, with some drivers even trading their cars for a Chevrolet Volt instead.

Of course, selling electric cars should be about focusing on what they can do really well—98 percent of all daily trips, duties and chores are well within the capabilities of the LEAF. For the majority of dealers, this is the case, but with the rapid charger rollout now announced, it could lure many buyers into a false sense of security: believing that their EVs are truly suited to long distance trips when the reality doesn’t exactly match.

Focusing on the rollout of rapid chargers is a risk for Nissan, especially if the new 600-location target by March 2014 is not reached, or if infrastructure neglects the majority of the U.S. in favor of a few select EV-friendly markets.

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