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USA/Europe: GE, Siemens Set Challenge to Car Charger Start-Ups

General Electric Co. and Siemens AG are preparing to release their own lines of electric-car charging stations, injecting big-name competition into a nascent business now dominated by little known start-ups.

GE plans to deliver its first electric vehicle charger, called WattStation, this summer and Siemens will roll out its first models of what it calls the Siemens Charge later this year. The conglomerates are trailing a handful of small companies such as ECOtality Inc., Coulomb Technologies and AeroVironment Inc., that have already begun deliveries in California, Texas and Oregon.

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Bloomberg News

GE’s WattStation, above in San Fransicsco, will trail products from start-ups already sold to governments.

Right now, the market is largely dominated by sales to governments building public charging docks. But GE, Siemens and Eaton Corp., another large recent entry, believe that electric-car owners soon will be acquiring chargers for their home at about $1,000 apiece, boosting sales beyond municipalities.

Last year, world-wide sales of charging stations was about $69 million, but the business is expected to reach $1.13 billion by 2013, according to Boulder, Colo., market researcher Pike Research Inc.

“Siemens is extremely strong in the automotive sector. We are extremely strong with electronics,” said Ralph Griewing, who leads Siemen’s electric vehicle division. “There is a clear picture of a big, big opportunity coming,” he said.

GE is working on developing a suite of charging technologies, from car batteries to electricity control systems for utilities. “We think we can lead in communications to the grid, and communications to the upstream technology,” said Michael Mahan, general manager of GE’s EV infrastructure business.

He estimates that there will be 2.2 chargers installed for every electric vehicle sold in the first several years before the number falls to about 1.5 a vehicle sold. GE plans to sell its WattStation for about $1,000 and its commercial-grade chargers from between $3,000 and $5,000, Mr. Mahan said.

Late last year, GE said it planned to install 35,000 of its WattStations around the U.S., connected to its plans to purchase 25,000 electric vehicles for its own fleet and for its commercial leasing business over five years.

Existing buyers say they welcome the big-name entries. Arun Banskota, president of NRG Energy Inc.’s EV Services unit, which is building a private network of EV chargers in Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, chose AeroVironment’s chargers because they could deliver the right product the fastest . In its first phase, EV Services will spend $10 million to install 100 chargers in Houston by June 2011.

“We would like to, frankly, work with them all. If somebody else is ahead of the pack in all the criteria we look for, we will go forward with somebody else,” Mr. Banskota said. “The more competitors, the better for us, with potentially lower costs.”

Julian Prosser, an assistant city manager for Raleigh, N.C., said the city’s first public charging dock was supplied by Eaton. “GE was not in a position to respond to our first” request for bids, he said but since then has shown itself to be “really excited about talking to us.”


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