Oh Come On, I love Baby Seals, Whales, and Polar Bears…


Oh Come On, I love Baby Seals, Whales, and Polar Bears…

I have posted below responses to my blog post and column in PT about my concerns over charging stations in garages. First let me set the record straight.  I love my environment,  I love clean air, I love animals.  I have a cat and a dog. I separate my trash. I recycle. All that being said, I think that if being environmentally sound is not a good business model, then we should rethink the model, and what we are trying to accomplish.

Seamus from UC Berkeley notes below that in 1983 a cell phone cost $4 grand ( and from my experience didn’t work.) It took 15 years to catch on, and another 15 to become the industry we know today. Although hybrids (Prius) have been around for 20 years, the idea of a true EV selling like cell phones, is certainly a long way off.  But that’s not my point.

I questions whether or not putting charging stations in parking garages is a good business model, everything else being equal.

I got a call yesterday from a parking manager at SeaTac airport in Seattle. He had read my piece on charging stations and wanted to comment. Seems they had installed six for customers in their garages and he had some problems. Folks would park in the spaces, plug in their cars, and then leave for Hong Kong. This was causing consternation for other EV drivers who couldn’t get to the taken spaces. I told him that he was experiencing the one of the primary problems with charging stations.

I recommended that he put them in his valet area and then require that people who wanted to charge, valet. (He said that they didn’t have valet, but that they had been considering it and it was a great idea.)  They would by definition pay more for the charging service and he could take on a surcharge for the charging service.

Herein lies the problem.

This manager told me he had received complaints from customers because they couldn’t charge, even though charging stations were located at the airport. So what was at first thought to be a great PR coup, became a PR problem. That law of unintended consequences had not been repealed. He is located in Seattle, a ground zero for EV sales.

It seems if you want these to work, you have to have an evalet in place to jockey cars around. If you already have a valet then it makes sense to add the charging station in the valet portion of the facility. If you don’t, does it make sense to add the valet?

I have done a lot of research on this and am told that in major cities, adding a valet operation 16 hours a day, 7 days a week including additional insurance costs, is about $125,000 a year, or in round figures, $350 a day. So assuming you park what, 20 cars a day, you have to recoup $17.50 per car to cover labor and insurance costs. Assuming it costs $2 in electricity to charge each car, that means to squeek buy, you have to charge an ADDITIONAL $20 per car to cover your costs. If you park more than 20 a day you are in hay, less, you are losing money.  All this assumes the cost of purchasing and installing charging stations is free.

Does anyone know a garage where they charge more than 20 EVs a day. My guess is that they will have to sell a LOT of pure EV’s to get to that point. In the mean time, is the parking lot owner/operator supposed to foot the cost. If the average costs for parking a car per day (monthly) is $8 a day, is the operator going to surcharge $16 a day to those who charge. Or is the charge going to be a flat $20 to charge your car.  These are business decisions you have to make. An operator in New York City told me that he would have to get 53 new monthlies that he didn’t have before to break even (not charging a surcharge). He says that is a big number.

Does the Leaf driver realize that after all the hype shakes out and the good business models kick in, he or she will have to pay upwards of $25 for a charge when they charge away from home, plus the cost of the parking space.

Charging electric cars away from home is a tad more complex than simply plugging it in for an hour or two.

So the basic question, polar bears, the middle east, and tax subsidies aside, what is the true cost of charging EVs, and while we wait for technology to catch up who is going to pay for it? If it continues to be the government, I say an emphatic NO. Products can and will stand on their own. Seamus may be right. Should we jump in or wait?

This is not a conundrum for the charger companies. They simply need to adjust their pitch and show owner/operators where they need to be to profit from charging stations. The rubber is beginning to meet the road here. How much is an operator willing to spend to become greener? The cost of the charger is only the beginning.

Each garage owner will make that business decision.

OK, Charging salespersons, jump back in.





Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

One Response

  1. I’ve seen estimates that Electric vehicles reduce in greenhouse gasses anywhere from 30% up to 65% compared with a vehicle using an internal combustion engine. However, I can fit 5 people comfortably in my Tahoe and if we car pool to work then we’ve reduced greenhouse gasses by 400% by taking 4 cars off the road.

    Technology is advancing at a pace where what is the latest and greatest today will be obsolete in a couple of years. Thinking that a wholesale change to some new technology is the answer is to ignore what we’ve all seen happen in just the past decade. The real answer to reducing pollution and saving the environment is to use what you have more efficiently, not to just throw it away and simply replace it with something else.

    I have yet to see a smart car with more than one person in it during my commute, I have yet to see ANY electric vehicles in one of my parking garages (have seen a couple around town) and I have yet to have had a single request or inquiry about charging stations from a customer or visitor. Bottom line is that if demand requires charging stations then the market will respond, but I’d be willing to bet that within the next 3 years something else is going to come along that will cause the electric vehicle to go the way of the 8 track tape.

    Having our entire transportation system reliant on the power grid is ridiculous and foolhardy, even more so than having a reliance on foreign oil supplies.

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