Ecotality Blinks Out, But EVs Still Growing

Guest Blog | August 23, 2013 | Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles

In recent news, electric vehicle charger developer and EV Project coordinator, Ecotality, announced that it is likely to file for bankruptcy. Ecotality has spearheaded some of the largest charging infrastructure installations in the U.S. over the past few years (see our blog here) with support from the Department of Energy (DOE). This news may raise immediate questions about the future of the industry and its government support.

It appears that Ecotality is under investigation for insider trading, violation of labor practices and a recall of some 12,000 of their charging stations installed with DOE funding. SACE actually has two of these charging stations installed at our Knoxville office, and we have had our own challenges with their employee responsiveness.  It’s a disheartening situation and we support a full investigation of these allegations.

But what could this mean for electric vehicles (EVs)? Does this send the signal that EVs aren’t viable long-term? We certainly don’t think so.

The truth is that this program has also accomplished a great deal with the investment of more than $100 million in DOE funding.  It has jumpstarted the deployment of hundreds of charging stations with significant investment in the Southeast, particularly Tennessee and in other targeted markets.  This could not have happened without DOE support and the partnerships built from this program.  It has helped drive tremendous sales of electric vehicles–the largest growth of EVs in history. SACE has also experienced the benefits of the program directly. Our Executive Director and staff have driven some 17,000 miles in our Nissan LEAF acquired through the program over the past two years and used Ecotality’s Blink charging stations full time during that period with very few problems.

We also must recognize that all of this happened in just two years. It has taken more than a hundred years to build our gasoline filling station infrastructure and I know I still can’t find a gas station when I need it some times. In all new industries, you have companies that fail and companies that are successful. In a world where entrepreneurship is encouraged and new start-up companies crop up everyday, the truth is that very few ever succeed. Venture capitalists are just really good at promoting only their successes. It’s a little more difficult to cover up the failures – as it should be – when public funding is involved. We applaud DOE for recently stopping the program, in order to determine any deficiencies and new directions that the program should take.

Growing pains are part of any new business and budding industry.  So what else in happening in the growth of the EV industry?

You may recall that a few weeks ago, Elon Musk and his little company, Tesla, paid off their loan in advance of the required term. Consumer Reports also just gave the Tesla Model S,  their ~230-mile range EV, an exceptional score of 99 out of 100 – the highest score of any car they’ve tested. This is no surprise to me. I had the privilege of test driving one and it is the coolest car I’ve ever been around!  They still have a long way to go, but this growth is extremely positive.  (Speaking of which, make sure to stay tuned for an upcoming blog on Tesla.)

A Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt Charge Up on Solar Power in Atlanta

EVs are entering the market rapidly. Analysts believe that any car maker without a strong line up of electric vehicles these days is “signing its death warrant.”  It is also projected that EVs will make up more than a quarter of sales by 2025. Ford, for example has six hybrid or electric vehicle choices, GM leads its electric portfolio with its Chevy Volt, and Toyota is going for all hybrid in upcoming motor shows. Nissan has also already sold more LEAFs in 2013 than they did in 2011 or 2012.

EVs are growing increasingly popular in urban areas, and don’t count out the Southeast. Atlanta ranks one of the top 5 cities for the number of EVs we have on the road. Battery technology is also rapidly improving for with longer battery life and range, which will help drive down the costs of EVs.

We should certainly learn from the mistakes made in the industry and hold those like Ecotality accountable for their actions; however, we shouldn’t count this industry out too soon or let this failing dictate the future of EVs. We are achieving real results in cutting emissions that are harmful to public health and reducing our oil dependence.  And, we think it’s only going to keep improving!

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