Electric Car Industry Cheered By Market Growth

(Los Angeles Times/MCT) -

The electric-vehicle network is expanding in both technological advances and new markets, according to representatives from the auto industry and energy community.

During a media call this week, Nissan North America and Bosch Automotive Service Solutions highlighted rising sales for electric cars and 240-volt charging stations.

“We’re on a roll,” said Brendan Jones, director of electric-vehicle infrastructure strategy for Nissan. The carmaker had a record Leaf sales month in May, boasting 2,138 registrations – a 319 percent increase compared to the same month last year. Jones said June was on pace to be another good month. “We have high expectations.”

Infrastructure played a big role in Nissan’s campaign to boost Leaf sales and electric-car use on a large scale, Jones said. He cited a three-pronged approach to ensure electric vehicle, or EV, customers could charge when and where they needed: at home, at the workplace and out in the community.

Kevin Mull, Bosch vice president of EV solutions, said the tech company has installed 7,000 residential charging stations in the past four years. “Seventy to 80 percent of charging does happen in the home,” Mull said. “Customers are looking for that high-value unit.”

He acknowledged that high value comes with a high price tag for now. The just-released wireless station runs new customers about $3,000 for vehicle-adapter installation alone, while the floor-bound power pad and wall controller cost an additional $800 to $900. “There’s a premium for this level of convenience,” Mull said, “but it’s the first of its kind in the market.”

He also highlighted one of Bosch’s less expensive offerings. The Power Max Level 2 station costs $449, Mull said.

However cheap or convenient, home charging needs to be supplemented by public stations. Karen Glitman, from the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, touched on benefits for retailers installing stations to bolster public infrastructure.

“There’s a business case for retailers to have that installed, just like there’s a business case for providing covered parking,” Glitman said. “EV drivers will spend three times more time in a store (if stations are available), and are twice as likely to return to a store that has EV charging.”

She said the EV community expects stations will continue to be funded largely by private sources as the network grows.

Nissan’s Jones noted a trend of EV sales increasing along the East Coast, outside of “sustainable markets” in the West. He said Atlanta was “advantageous” for EV buyers with Georgia’s tax break for purchases of electric cars, while Virginia and Washington, D.C. had both seen an uptick in sales.

Renewable energy company NRG recently announced it would install 30 DC Fast Chargers in the Washington metropolitan area, Jones said. “Infrastructure on the East Coast tends to play more of a role” in taking EVs mainstream, he continued. “Our plans focus on the East Coast, to drive that sales equation moving into fiscal year ’14.”

Farther north, Glitman plugged her state’s work in connecting Burlington, Vt. with Quebec, establishing a green corridor between Vermont and the Canadian province. With 19 active stations installed around Vermont, she said, “People are recognizing electric is here, and it’s growing.”