Are We Approaching The EV Tipping Point?

By Roy L Hales

Screen-shot-2014-03-18-at-3.43.47-PM1It has been almost ten months since the NRG eVgo Freedom Station in the Fashion Valley Mall, in San Diego, opened. It was hailed as the first station capable of supporting “all EVs on the road”. There are now eVgo networks in Los Angeles, San Francisco, the greater Washington, D.C. area, Dallas and Houston. A company spokesperson says that, in conjunction with their new partnership with BMW, they will be installing 100 DC SAE Combo Fast Chargers in California. One of their infograms shows a band of green stretching from Washington state down through California and across America to Washington DC. Much of this is future, but eVgo is not the only charging network. Tesla’s expanding Supercharger system is expected to make their vehicle to 80% of the US public this year. Are we approaching the EV tipping point?

Expansion of eVgo Network - Courtesy eVgo
Expansion of eVgo Network (Click on image to expand) – Courtesy eVgo

An eVgo executive wrote:

In the four years since EVs first debuted (and the three years since I have been driving one), the number of auto makers participating in the electric drive market has increased seven times, and there are nine times more EV models available for purchase. Yet, that tipping point will not happen unless we solve the charging needs of these vehicles—it wasn’t automotive mass production that brought about the golden age of the car but rather the interstate highway systems and the ubiquity of fueling stations.

“eVgo has increased our total number of fast charging sites by more than 40 percent in the last six months and, according to Department of Energy data, we currently own, operate and manage the largest network of fast-charging sites in the nation, “ a company spokesperson said.

I counted 124, using their “find a station” tool.

Tesla's Supercharger Network - Courtesy Tesla Motors
Tesla’s Supercharger Network (Click on image to expand) – Courtesy Tesla Motors

Tesla, which pioneered Fast Chargers, has 103 stations in North America. Almost all of these are in the US. The exception is the station that opened in Squamish, BC, two weeks ago. Thanks to the Model S’ long range, they claim that by next year Tesla’s network will cover 98% of the US and parts of Canada.

Tesla’s problem, of course, is price. The Model III is expected to be more affordable, retailing for $35,000, but will not be available until 2017.

Unlike Tesla’s Supercharger stations, eVgo’s network can be used by any EV.

Yet eVgo’s network is an urban phenomenon, defined by a handful of clusters.

I set the parameters to search for All DC fast chargers within a 500 mile radius.

Five of the green states on that infogram – Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Tennessee and Georgia – are empty.

This is not surprising. A company spokesperson told me, “We’ve made a commitment to 20 new markets across the country.” Now we know where they intend to go.

I decided to restrict my search to the cities specifically named in their news release.

eVgo Charging Stations in the Washington DC area - Courtesy eVgo
eVgo Charging Stations in the Washington DC area – Courtesy eVgo

There are a dozen DC fast charging stations within the 500 mile circle around Washington DC. The most distant is around 50 miles from the city center.

“Freedom Station sites are generally located adjacent to major thoroughfares or near high-traffic areas so EV drivers won’t have to go out of their way for a charge and can easily fit it into their daily routine,” the spokesperson said.

“We take great pride in the quality of our sites and breadth of our network,” she added. “We have invested time and energy to partner with the best retailers in the country like Simon Premium Outlets, Whole Foods Markets, Kimco and Macerich Malls.  As a result, our sites are distributed across each region to give drivers options wherever they go and the best shopping or dining experience available while they charge.”

There were much more impressive clusters in Texas. Forty three stations spread out for 253 miles. They are found in two groups: Houston or Dallas.

eVgo Charging Stations in Southern California - Courtesy eVgo
eVgo Charging Stations in Southern California – Courtesy eVgo

Even in California, where eVgo is partnering with BMW, the stations are found in two clusters. There are 69 of them, stretching out for almost the full 500 miles, but in two clusters. Some are in the Bay area, the rest are found in the area centered on Los Angeles and San Diego.

The eVgo spokesperson bragged about their new partnership, “BMW, in cooperation with NRG eVgo, will offer no cost charging to i3 drivers at participating eVgo Freedom Station sites equipped with DC Combo Fast Charging in California through 2015 embedded with purchase of the BMW (like XM radio coming with the purchase of a car).“

“Using their ChargeNow cards, BMW i3 drivers will have access to unlimited 30-minute DC fast charging sessions with the ChargeNow DC Fast program. BMW i3 owners can sign up easily for ChargeNow DC Fast at chargenow.com/us. In order to receive the full benefits of the program, BMW i3 drivers must use the ChargeNow card, provided with their BMW i3, to charge the vehicle at least once by December 31, 2014, at a participating eVgo Freedom Station. By doing so, BMW i3 drivers will enjoy continued access to no cost DC charging sessions through the end of 2015.”

The NRG eVgo Freedom Station® - Courtesy eVgo
The NRG eVgo Freedom Station® – Courtesy eVgo

The BMW i3 is a +$42,000 vehicle that gets 100 per charge. Given that the average driver travels less than 40 miles a day, this is an excellent match for urban dwellers serviced by eVgo.

It is not practical for someone in a rural area hundreds of miles from a DC fast charging station.

Even the Tesla Model III’s 200 per charge range is limited and, once again, that is not expected to debut until 2017.

So is the EV market approaching a tipping point?

I believe it is.

One of the most obvious signs is the disdain that most EV drivers have for “gas cars.”

As one put it, “They rattle and sputter and are so inefficient! EV’s are just better vehicles, in almost every way!”

Many seem to honestly believe gas cars really belong in museums.

As the EV infrastructure spreads, so does the plausibility of this becoming the vehicle of the future

(Image at top of page: BMW i3 at Freedom Station – Courtesy eVgo)

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