MADISON, Conn.—Tire dealers who like to stay on top of the latest market trends may want to consider installing a charging station in their shops as an added customer service for the growing number of electric vehicles (EV) in the U.S. vehicle parc.
Sales of plug-in EVs in the U.S. jumped 35 percent through the first five months of 2014 to 43,480 units, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA). This raises the number of plug-in EVs registered to more than 211,000.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) launched the “EV Everywhere Grand Challenge” with the goal of making the U.S., within 10 years, the first nation to produce plug-in electric vehicles that are as affordable and convenient for the average American family as gasoline-powered vehicles. Today, there are more than 15 models on the market and sales doubled from 2012 to 2013, according to the DOE.
The government even offers an Alternative Fuel Station Locator website and iPhone app for the public charging stations that have been popping up across the nation at gas stations, shopping centers and employee parking lots to accommodate these EV drivers traveling long distances. According to the EDTA, there are about 8,222 public charging stations with 19,993 outlets in the U.S.
“At this point we are in the early adoption stage and therefore (EV owners) are really keen about the product they chose,” said Guy Mannino, founder and CEO of Verdek L.L.C., which markets charging stations. “I think it's very important that the dealers understand that this is not a fashion that is going to go away. I think they should know that all the car manufacturers have electric vehicle models coming out to the market.
“And when you see a company like BMW coming out with the BMW i3 and i8, that tells you that this is a market that is going to stay.”
Mr. Mannino is no stranger to the tire industry. He worked 25 years with Pirelli Tyre S.p.A., before leaving his post as president of Pirelli Tire North America Inc. in 2007 to launch Verdek.
Madison-based Verdek markets charging stations and support services, with plans to introduce its own line of charging stations later this year. Last year Verdek sold 500 units and this year expects to double that, according to Mr. Mannino.
While he hasn't sold any yet to auto repair shops, he sees them as a potential market.
“I think it will become a service, almost a requirement, for tire dealers to top off the battery while they do the service,” he told Tire Business.
“I think that would be a plus for whoever is going to consider that because you need to think that the EV driver, he moves around and knows where the stations are and he does some planning for that. Especially for those with smaller battery packs, they do plan for the trips knowing that there is another location where they (get their car serviced), they can also top off.
“I think it's a plus. In the long run, when they have to choose one dealer over another, that could be an influential factor.”
Since an electric vehicle usually needs only tire and brake services, a battery can be “topped off” while the auto technician is performing these jobs.
“I think it will be a service that will be appreciated. Of course there are costs involved and the costs vary because in some cases you have state financing or state incentives.... But overall it's something they should consider and put it into the package that they offer,” Mr. Mannino said.
Depending on the model and a shop's size, charging stations vary in price between $1,000 and $5,000, he added.
The cost of charging is based on local kilowatt-hour costs — the national average is 10 cents. For a Nissan Leaf with a 24-kwh battery pack, it would cost about $2.40 for 100 miles worth of charge, according to Mr. Mannino.
Verdek provides a site inspection, set-up, power source adaption and permits when installing a charging station. “Generally speaking for a tire dealer, with all the equipment they have, they should have enough power,” he said.
He encouraged tire and auto repair shops to expand their offerings to include the growing number of EV owners.
“Because they are buying an electric vehicle, these drivers are a little bit more skilled and spend more time deciding on the type of car and they are very proud of that car.... So knowing more about electric cars is a plus with this type of customer,” he said.
For many EV owners, most of the battery charging is done at their homes, but there is a growing number of public locations offering slow-charge stations, such as shopping malls, hospitals and businesses. These charging outlets — called Level 2 stations — provide a full charge over the course of about one to three hours, depending on the battery. Level 2 charging stations would be most appropriate for tire dealerships, Mr. Mannino said.
Verdek is among several companies and states that are working on setting up a nationwide infrastructure of Level 1 fast-charging stations to accommodate EVs travelling long distances.
These types of stations are being set up at gas stations and other locations along highways where an EV driver can charge up a battery in about 15 to 45 minutes.
Mr. Mannino also is chief operating officer of GOe3, an organization that is working on creating an infrastructure of universal-connector, fast-charging stations across the country to allow motorists mobility between cities. The group is raising funds and negotiating with companies, highway departments, state transportation departments and even national parks officials to install about 1,000 charging stations across the country. These locations would have an average distance of 25 to 50 miles between them, according to Mr. Mannino, who hopes to accomplish the task within two years.
Overall, EV market growth is expanding from the West Coast, he said. California and the Pacific Northwest are leading the way with adoption of EVs and charging stations with “Nevada, Arizona and Texas going strong,” he said. Lately, with the help of incentives, there is strong growth in Georgia and in parts of the Northeast.
“It's moving across the country but not all over the country. Some markets are growing faster than others,” he said.
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