retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

There was an interesting and thought-provoking piece in the Chicago Tribune the other day about the challenges of the electric car movement. It is, the Tribune suggests, a chicken-and-egg situation: “Consumers won't buy electric vehicles without somewhere to charge them. But no one will build charging stations without electric vehicles to use them.”

The paper notes that “to solve this quandary, local governments...and the federal government have pumped millions of dollars of public subsidies into building charging stations.” But the business that are creating these charging stations are aware that public subsidies will only give them the initial charge, and that there has to be a certain mass.

For these companies - and retailers that have installed charging stations in their parking lots as a way of offering one more convenience to their shoppers, as well as establishing their environmental credentials - there are some interesting statistics in the story:

• “(Charging station builder) 350Green's business model relies on consumers, especially renters without garages, paying $50 to $60 per month to charge at its stations. Relying on data from Nissan, 350Green projects that 7 percent, or 334,188 vehicles, in the Chicago metro area will be plug-ins by 2020. The company expects to share the revenue it collects from these customers with partners that allow the stations to be installed on their properties. Most likely these partners will be retailers or the owners of parking lots that serve large retailers.”

• “So far, electric vehicles are rolling out at a trickle, though manufacturer ECOTality is preparing to install 15,000 charging stations by midyear in cities across the country. By next year, a nationwide electric car rollout is expected to be in full swing, led by Nissan's Leaf electric vehicle.”

Adding to Americans’ interest in electric cars is the rising cost of fuel; there are more than a few predictions that $5 per gallon gasoline is not far off, and the unrest in the Middle East is fueling concerns.

It is an eventuality to which Americans need to keep their eyes open.
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