April 17, 2011

Car-charging market is becoming competitive

The competition is heating up for Phoenix-based Ecotality North America, which got a $115 million stimulus grant to roll out electric-car chargers in several cities nationwide.

Thousands of people will get free Ecotality chargers when they buy Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt vehicles thanks to the stimulus grant. The recipients must share their charging data with the company and the government in exchange for the $2,000 chargers.

Company officials hoped that the EV Project would give them a jump start on the competition from other companies hoping to sell car chargers as automakers release electric vehicles in the next couple of years.

But competitors are getting big deals to be the exclusive providers for some of the automakers, so Ecotality won't have the market to itself.

Nissan North America has a deal with Aerovironment Inc. so that people who buy the company's cars, and don't qualify for the free Ecotality charger through the stimulus project, are referred to Aerovironment to buy chargers.

Ford Motor Co., which said last week that Phoenix and Tucson would be among the first cities to sell the new Focus Electric later this year, has a similar deal with Leviton. And the company will partner with Best Buy for home installations, said Mike Tinskey, Ford's manager of vehicle electrification and infrastructure.

Electric cars can be charged with a standard wall plug, which can take eight to 10 hours to replenish a battery, or a Level 2 charger that is 240 volts that can charge them in four to six hours.

"The beauty of that (Leviton charger) is that it has a larger capacity than most competitors," Tinskey said. "It can charge the car in just over three hours."

Ecotality also will make some Level 3 chargers for the EV Project that can recharge a car's battery in about 20 minutes, but those chargers are much more expensive to install and not all cars will be capable of receiving that much electricity without an additional charging port.

Campbell, Calif.-based Coulomb Technologies also makes chargers, and the company got a $15 million stimulus grant.

Some readers no doubt will also consider Better Place a competitor. The company promotes public-service stations to swap out depleted electric-car batteries, although the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt and Focus Electric won't have batteries that can be swapped out with Better Place's technology.

by Ryan Randazzo The Arizona Republic Apr. 17, 2011 12:00 AM

Car-charging market is becoming competitive

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