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Can Electric Cars Avoid Running on Empty?

Kelli B. Grant

Senior consumer reporter and “Deal of Day” columnist Kelli B. Grant navigates the New York International Auto Show in search of the best, worst and coolest from automakers’ new lineups. Join her as she roams the exhibit floor before the show’s public opening on Friday, with dispatches here and on Twitter @kellibgrant

It’s clear from the show lineup that drivers will have more opportunities to buy an electric car in the next few years. Pretty much every big manufacturer either has one in the works, or is toying with the technology in a concept car.

The next challenge: keeping it charged.

As we reported yesterday, the electrics coming to market vary widely in their mileage between plug-ins, with some traveling as few as 11 miles before needing more juice. And experts say that although the number of charging stations at parking garages, malls and other locations is growing, they’re still too few and far between more drivers in most areas to rely on. (The Department of Energy reports that there are just 2,600 stations nationwide.)

“It does take some dedication to buy an electric car,” says Jessica Caldwell, senior director of pricing and industry analysis at Edmunds.com. “Not everybody is ready for that.” Manufacturers will need to both improve battery life and charging speed to increase adoption among vehicle buyers and businesses installing charging stations, she says.

Right now, drivers who have the most options live in green cities like Santa Monica, Calif., she says, which has a number of independent charging stations in public areas. Malls including Simon Property Group have started adding stations, too. The government’s 2009 EV Project aims to have at least 14,000 public stations in the next few years, and a number of independent companies are planning their own nationwide chains of pay-for charging stations.

In the meantime, many electric vehicles offer a backup gas engine if needed. A spokeswoman  for the all-electric Nissan Leaf says the car has a dashboard feature that automatically looks for nearby stations.


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    • We’re a firm installing charging stations in parking garages, outside parking lots, malls, Walgreens, office complexes, and apartment complexes. We’re installing at the rate of a few locations per week and increasing every month. The industry is exploding and distributed charging stations will be persuasive sooner than you think. These systems come with a variety of intelligent features and functions to know when utilization reaches a certain threshold, service providers like us will add additional stations. There’s also reservation capabilities too so drivers are guaranteed availability.

      The sooner we create a marketplace whereby drivers don’t alter their lifestyle, the faster this market will accelerate. The charging infrastructure will get there very quickly.

    • Agentg-My employer charges me for the electricity and I am happy to pay. There is no additional infrastructure because I use existing plugs and there are plenty of plugs for everyone who wants one. I’m going to be at work anyway so I don’t mind if it takes a while to charge. I run the heat and AC as much as I want. It is still much cheaper than gas.

    • Battery technology is not there yet, Lithium Polymers get hot and catch on fire. A 240 volt system requires 4-6 hours to charge on 220volt input. 240 volts gets you 40 miles without Air conditioning, radio, power steering. If you use those three, then it drops to 25 miles. we are 5 years out on new battery designs.

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