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USA: Electric car use becoming more mainstream

Todd Dore has no worries about gasoline shooting up to $4 a gallon. He has converted his cars to run solely on electricity for eight years, and juices up his VW New Beetle every day in an Interpark garage in the Loop.

The juice up is free.

“I can drive more than 80 miles on a charge, and it would take eight hours to fully recharge,” said Dore, a North Riverside resident who commutes 13 miles each way to his downtown office on weekdays.

Dore, whose love of tinkering is evidenced by his position as treasurer of the Fox Valley Electric Auto Association, hired an electrician to install a high-voltage outlet in his home garage and ensure that it met village code.

Dore is finding that his hobby is going mainstream. He will soon be sharing his Loop charging station with a local company’s Nissan Leaf, and he is starting to find other charging stations downtown.

“Our [auto] club has been an advocate of electric vehicles since the mid 1970s, and part of our mission is being fulfilled,” Dore said.

The charging station at the Interpark garage runs on the Chargepoint Network, is made by Coulomb Technologies and is sold and distributed by Chicago-based Carbon Day Automotive.

Carbon Day, which kicked off Chicago’s electric-car charging installations two years ago, has set up 100 charging stations at private and public sites throughout the Chicago area, including 22 stations at 11 Interpark garages downtown, two at the 900 N. Michigan Ave. building and four in the garage of the Parc Huron apartment building known for its environmentally friendly construction certification.

“The owners of the charging stations determine the pricing and set it in real time, with the majority of our customers offering electricity for free until more vehicles hit the road,” said Brian Levin, Carbon Day Automotive’s vice president.

Carbon Day is looking to install another 150 to 200 electric charging stations locally this year, and touts the fact that its stations are part of the nation’s largest network of charging stations.

Carbon Day and other early players are seeing rivals quickly emerge as auto companies roll out hybrid and electric versions of their mainstream models. Chicago officials announced last week a $1.9 million contract with California-based 350Green to install 280 electric vehicle charging stations throughout the region, and long-standing companies such as Siemens AG, General Electric Co., Eaton Corp. and Leviton Manufacturing Co. have announced plans to introduce their own electric charging stations later this year.

The Chicago area could be home to as many as 950 electric charging stations this year, and, as more electric and hybrid cars hit the road, play host to 2,600 charging stations in 2012, according to a forecast by Pike Research, a Boulder, Colo.-based clean technology consulting and analyst firm.

Said John Gartner, a senior analyst at Pike Research, “The charging-station market will become a commodity market relatively quickly and [ownership] prices will come down.”

Mariana Gerzanych, CEO of 350Green, foresees increased interoperability, too, as electric cars roll out with GPS systems that will show every charging station within driving range, regardless of the manufacturer.

“For electric vehicles to catch on, drivers need to feel that the use of any charger is easy, convenient and affordable,” she said.

The companies manufacturing, selling and distributing the charging stations are offering a variety of revenue plans.

Chicago and 350Green have agreed to a ceiling on the charging prices, and drivers can pay on a per-use basis or through a monthly subscription rate. Prices have not yet been set, but a monthly subscription is estimated to cost $50 to $60 and include unlimited use during off-peak electricity timeframes.

The company shares a portion of the revenue with each host location.
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