As Apple continues to make headway with plans for its first electric car, code name ‘Project Titan’, all attention is focused on the viability of a 2019 shipment date.
Equally innovative but decidedly less glamourous is what is happening behind the scenes with the growing infrastructure to support electric vehicle (EV) charging, a stimulant for wider adaptation of the plug-in models.
The U.S. currently touts 360,000 highway-legal plug-in cars, representing the largest fleet in the world. Owning approximately 40 percent of the global stock, the U.S. has achieved a little more than one third of President Barack Obama’s goal of having one million EVs on the road by the end of 2015.
At present there are more than 20 highway legal plug-in cars available in the American market from 12 car manufacturers, along with several models of electric motorcycles, and utility vans to reduce oil dependence and cut greenhouse gas emissions.
However, consumers have been cautious about putting the car before the charging station.
“Infrastructure for EVs is crucial to the adoption of use of electric cars. You’re not going to buy a car if you don’t know where and how to charge it,” says Erin Mellon, Director of Communications with ChargePoint, which operates the world’s largest EV charging network. “The first place drivers need to be able to charge is at home. Being able to charge at work is the second most important.”
Sean McNamara, General Manager for JLL Property Management, began looking at electric charging stations for an office building in San Francisco several years ago. “In the beginning of the discovery process, there was just not enough demand or infrastructure,” he says.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu initiated the ‘Workplace Charging Challenge’ in 2013 to increase the number of U.S. employers offering electric vehicle charging stations – tenfold – by 2018.
“The proliferation of electric cars has made these stations much more relevant over the last two years,” McNamara says.
Trophy and Class AA office buildings, such as the Georgia Pacific Center in Atlanta, were among the first to respond to Chu’s challenge. “Ownership and JLL are compelled largely because it’s the right thing to do for our environment. We are a LEED certified building and our objective is to maintain the highest status possible,” explains Michael Strickland, a VP/Group Manager for JLL in Atlanta.
Strickland says that the building’s 10 EV reserved parking spaces plus two public parking spaces equate to about 1 percent of the total parking spaces. “The building has immediate access to public transport, which plays a role in how many building tenants drive and utilize the parking garage,” Strickland says. “It’s definitely a growing trend. But it’s not currently on par with having a sundry shop or a dry cleaner – yet.”
Currently, California represents about half of the U.S. fleet, making its residents the owners of more plug-in vehicles than any other state, and also more than any other country.
“With 46 percent of EV car ownership in California, that region seems to present the most appropriate implementation environment. It remains to be seen when the rest of the country will catch up,” McNamara adds.
Responding to demand
Today, McNamara is the General Manager of Southeast Financial Center, a Class A trophy office building in Miami. He oversees an 1100-space parking structure with valet services and two EV charging stations. “In a class A building, if the demand is there, the spaces will be added. Once the setup is done, scaling the delivery is even easier. Ultimately for landlords, it is not a matter of cost, it is a matter of appropriateness.”
Porsche Latin America, for example, a tenant in the Southeast Financial Center, installed two electric charging stations with special adapters, as a unique term of their lease. Then again, Porsche is not the average tenant. Earlier this month, the car manufacturer unveiled its first all-electric Mission E concept car at the Frankfurt Auto Show. It looks like a futuristic 911.
The Mission E, along with Audi’s etron quattro, a hybrid SUV, would challenge Tesla’s Model S in the luxury category. Like Apple’s Project Titan, though, these models will take years to develop.
Until then, drivers can take their pick from available models such as the Nissan Leaf all-electric car, the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, all-electric Tesla Model S and the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, and a growing public infrastructure in which to park and charge them.