Energy grid startup says not enough electric cars

March 16, 2011

Carbon Day Automotive, a distributor of electric vehicle charging stations in the Midwest, said interest in its products has been rising along with the high price of gas at the pump. The problem is automakers aren’t keeping pace by delivering enough cars.

“The Midwest has been overlooked,” said Brian Levin, Carbon Day vice president and partner. “We’re definitely the chicken before the egg.”

Cars like the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf are being rolled out initially in more concentrated urban areas such as the coastal regions. That’s because the cars have a limited range that make them somewhat inconvenient in areas where consumers tend to travel longer distances, said John O’Dell, editor of Edmund Green Car Advisor, which tracks the industry.

“At this stage of the game most EVs don’t deliver more than 100 miles of range,” O’Dell said. “That works in urban areas. It doesn’t work in the vast middle of America.”

Despite these logistical challenges, Chicago-based Carbon Day is still seeing steady interest in chargers on the premise that demand for electric cars will remain steady and automakers will catch up. Its ChargePoint stations, made by Coulomb Technologies, are typically installed at commercial parking garages, corporate campuses and universities.

Depending on the vehicle, a charging visit requires anywhere from 20 minutes to eight hours, Levin said. Station owners set the price, based on what the market will bear.

“I’m getting 10 calls a day or more,” he said of recent months. “It’s been very exciting.”

Purchasers of the charging stations are enticed by the 30 percent federal tax credit of up to $30,000 per location, Levin said. That makes a big difference in cost for technology that runs anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 per charger.

“We’ve done a great job of infrastructure,” said Levin, noting that his firm has put in more than 150 stations in the region and hopes to surpass 500 by year-end. “Now they just need to be used.”

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