Automakers offer charging stations to early buyers of EVs

(June 30, 2010) Recently, automakers announced they will be offering free home charging stations to early buyers of new plug-in electric vehicles, such as the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, Ford Transit Connect, and Smart Fortwo.

General Motors has said it would offer the first 4,400 buyers of its new Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid the chance to have a free 240-volt charging station installed in their home garage. The cost of the charging stations will be covered by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Nissan Motor also is working on an electric-vehicle (EV) project for 2,600 drivers, with the launch of its new Leaf plug-in electric car. Powergram asked Mike Omotoso, senior manager of global powertrain at J.D. Power and Associates for his insights regarding the EV charging infrastructure:

Q: Private and government investment is involved in setting up electric-vehicle charging stations. Will this speed up creating a charging infrastructure for EVs?

A: This will definitely speed up the creation of a charging infrastructure across the country. Anything that reduces overall vehicle purchasing and running costs to the consumer will help the sale of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Government assistance also encourages automakers to develop EVs because it makes them more confident that there will be a market for their new, advanced vehicles. It avoids the chicken-and-egg situation, where carmakers are reluctant to develop EVs because there is no charging infrastructure and utilities and other companies are reluctant to develop the infrastructure because there are no EVs. Now we have the EVs and the infrastructure being developed simultaneously.

Q: The Department of Energy is conducting a 15,000-car study to find out the habits of electric-car owners and how these owners’ cars and charging routines will affect the electrical grid. Will this spur interest in automaker development of more EVs and consumer purchase of EVs?

A: That depends on the results of the survey. If the survey results are positive and car owners say they love their vehicles and will buy another EV in a few years, automakers will be encouraged. But, if the EV owners say that they don’t like their EVs, are unhappy with the initial price, running costs, hassle of charging the batteries, insufficient driving range, and battery or other electrical problems, automakers may slow down or even stop EV development. The survey results may be mixed, in which case EV development is likely to continue but automakers will adapt their strategy based on customer feedback.

Q: GM, partly owned by the U.S. government, is contributing to planning for an electrical infrastructure. Will this information be helpful to other automakers launching EVs in the future?

A: The information should help other automakers, regardless of GM’s ownership situation. As the first automaker to produce a mass-market plug-in hybrid in the U.S., GM will serve as a test case for other automakers. The success of the Chevrolet Volt and corresponding electrical infrastructure may encourage other automakers to follow the GM blueprint. But, if GM is not successful, other automakers may cancel their own plans for a similar vehicle and infrastructure setup, or switch to Plan B and set up a different type of infrastructure and/or design a different type of EV to suit the U.S. consumer.

J.D. Power