some want to go green – but fear they won’t get far

Elec­tric cars spark in­ter­est, but lack of charg­ing sta­tions gen­er­ates con­cern

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS & PERSONAL FINANCE - Ad­di­tional ma­te­rial from staff re­ports.

The auto in­dus­try calls it range anx­i­ety: Driv­ers want elec­tric cars but worry they won’t have enough juice to make long trips. Af­ter all, what good is go­ing green if you get stranded with a dead bat­tery?

It’s a con­cern that au­tomak­ers must over­come as they push to sell more bat­tery-pow­ered cars. So govern­ment and busi­nesses are tak­ing steps to re­as­sure driv­ers by build­ing up the nation’s net­work of elec­tric charg­ing sta­tions.

The hope is Amer­i­cans will be­come more com­fort­able buy­ing cars such as Nis­san’s all-elec­tric Leaf, due out late this year, which can travel just 100 miles on a sin­gle charge. That’s fine for a com­mute but po­ten­tially stress­ful for longer road trips.

“I think the Leaf is a beau­ti­fully de­signed ve­hi­cle, but

50 miles in one di­rec­tion is just not enough,” said Bob Shafron, a for­mer elec­tric car owner in Cal­i­for­nia. “I think they are go­ing to run into prob­lems in mar­kets like LA, where things are spread out.”

Al­though au­tomak­ers and elec­tric car ad­vo­cates ex­pect most charg­ing to be done at home out­lets, those plugs won’t help driv­ers run­ning low on power far from their garages or caught in traf­fic.

Only a few hun­dred pub­lic charg­ers ex­ist now, but sev­eral govern­ment grants, to­tal­ing $115 mil­lion, will help add thou­sands more.

Coulomb Tech­nolo­gies Inc. ex­pects to start in­stalling pub­lic charg­ing sta­tions in Austin dur­ing the third quar­ter of this year. Austin is one of nine cities slated to re­ceive the sta­tions, which are to be paid for by a fed­eral grant. In ad­di­tion, Austin En­ergy ex­pects to start in­stalling pub­lic charg­ing sta­tions through­out the city late this year.

Pub­lic and pri­vately funded charg­ers are go­ing up in places such as rest stops, ho­tels and fast-food lo­ca­tions such as McDon­ald’s and Star­bucks. Still, even the most op­ti­mistic es­ti­mates put the num­ber of pub­lic charg­ing sta­tions at 16,000 by 2012, tiny com­pared with the 117,000 gas sta­tions on Amer­i­can roads.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has set a goal of 1 mil­lion elec­tric cars on Amer­i­can roads by 2015, but ex­perts say a chicken-and-egg prob­lem stands in the way. Be­fore enough cars hit the road, pri­vate ven­dors may be re­luc­tant to build many charg­ing sta­tions — and with­out many charg­ing sta­tions on the road, driv­ers may be re­luc­tant to buy.

Most pub­lic sta­tions will take eight hours to fully recharge a ve­hi­cle, about the same as charg­ers in in­di­vid­ual homes. Even a par­tial charge will take a while — 2½ hours to get 30 miles. Some of the charg­ers will be fast-charg­ers, which take 30 min­utes for a full power-up.

In 1999, Shafron ran out of power as he was driv­ing his EV1, the al­l­elec­tric car that Gen­eral Mo­tors Co. made in the 1990s, from his beach home to Northridge, Calif. His range me­ter told him he had 20 miles left, but it quickly ran down to zero.

That dif­fi­culty was a com­mon is­sue with the EV1. Vary­ing road con­di­tions and weather, which can take a toll on bat­tery life, made the range of early elec­tric cars dif­fi­cult to pre­dict.

Au­tomak­ers say that new range me­ters in to­day’s elec­tric cars are much more ac­cu­rate.

Re­gard­less of whether the in­fra­struc­ture is ready, many au­tomak­ers will be putting out elec­tric cars, with an es­ti­mated 146,000 on the road by the end of 2012.

Tesla has sold a lit­tle more than 1,000 high-end elec­tric sports cars and plans to of­fer a lower-priced sedan in the next few years. Nis­san has its Leaf, and Ford is aim­ing to en­ter the mar­ket with an all-elec­tric Fo­cus in 2012.

The Chevy Volt — which is sched­uled for limited re­lease this fall in sev­eral cities, in­clud­ing Austin — al­lows the driver to drive on bat­tery alone for 40 miles be­fore switch­ing on a gas-pow­ered en­gine that can take the ve­hi­cle up to 300 miles.

GM said Tues­day that the Volt will be priced be­tween $41,000 and $44,600. The cost will be re­duced for many con­sumers by a fed­eral tax credit worth $7,500.

Nis­san notes that most peo­ple drive well within the Leaf’s 100-mile range in a given day. Govern­ment data said that about 78 per­cent of Amer­i­cans drive 40 miles or fewer to and from work.

Ralph Bar­rera

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