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On-the-job jolts

Yesewlik ¿Leo¿ Ayalew, chief financial officer of Calstart, connects his electric vehicle and a charger at his Pasadena, Calif., workplace, a clean transportation consulting firm. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times photo)
Aug. 31, 2013, 4 p.m.

By Catherine Green, Special to Tribune Newspapers

Electric cars will probably remain a tiny niche of the auto industry until drivers see a serious expansion of charging stations.

But you can’t just put one on every corner next to the gas station. The cars can take hours to fully charge, which would create a big parking problem, among other issues. Even if consumers bought electric cars in droves tomorrow, the infrastructure to keep them rolling would look much different.

Charging starts at home, with a charging station that can cost drivers $500 to $2,000. But the real key to extending the cars’ range, and easing consumer fears of running out of power and getting stranded on the road, may well be getting large workplaces to add chargers — allowing electric vehicle-driving employees to double their commuting distance or to run more errands.

“That would really help increase the viability of the EV market,” said John Boesel, chief executive of Calstart, a clean transportation consulting firm.

According to statistics provided by charging station supplier Ecotality, workplace chargers are used three times as often as typical public chargers.

In a recent survey, Ecotality found its workplace chargers showed a dramatic increase in usage during the first half of 2013. That growth mirrored a rise in EV ownership. The Electric Drive Transportation Association reported that about 7,500 plug-in hybrids and battery electric cars were sold in the U.S. in July, compared with about 3,000 in July 2012.

As of late July, there were 7,849 public and private nonresidential charging stations in the United States, according to the Department of Energy.

Some automakers have taken it upon themselves to grow the public charging network. Nissan, which makes the electric Leaf, has been especially aggressive, aiming to triple the number of 30-minute quick chargers in the U.S. to 600 by the middle of next year. That plan includes more than 100 quick chargers at Nissan dealerships in about 50 key markets.

“There’s a certain obligation to make sure you’re leading the effort,” said Brendan Jones, Nissan’s director of electric vehicle infrastructure strategy, though he gave most of the credit to charging companies. “They’re really putting in the capital to build out infrastructure.”
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