GM Sees Hurdles Ahead for Charging Chevy Volt Curbside


chevy-volt-chargeAdd this one to the string of hurdles General Motors (s GM) faces on the road to a profitable Chevy Volt: Deploying public charging stations. While startups Better Place and Coulomb Technologies are building business models around dotting city streets with charge points for electric vehicles, GM sees public charging stations as one of the more challenging pieces of infrastructure for plug-in vehicles.

Mark Duvall of the Electric Power Research Institute and Bob Hayden, clean transportation adviser for the City of San Francisco, agree. Joining Volt vehicle line director Tony Posawatz in a call with reporters this afternoon, they said that while residential and workplace installations will be easier and cheaper to deploy than curbside stations, public charging is a must-have for mass adoption of plug-in vehicles — especially in cities where few drivers have garages.


“We know we need it, for people who don’t have dedicated parking,” Duvall said, but “we’re not sure how we’re going to handle it.” He put out three options: Municipalities, utilities or startups will tackle the challenge (and assume the risk of investment). Wariness of how to proceed with this infrastructure could work out OK for the Coulombs and Better Places of the world. Take San Francisco: Hayden, calling on-street charging “extremely challenging,” said the city is working on the lower-hanging fruit of publicly owned parking lots and garages. For a larger regional charging network, San Francisco Bay Area city governments have enlisted the two startups to work on pilot projects.

While GM could be happy to hand off curbside charging to Better Place, it’s not too keen on the startup’s scheme of standardized, swappable batteries. “If I went up to [GM’s] Tony with a two-foot-by-two-foot battery and said, here, stick this in your car,” Duvall said, “he’d tell me where to stick it.”


Darryl Siry

@Tony – seems to me that a lack of public charging infrastructure is a distinct competitive advantage for the Volt over your BEV competitors. As you say, with a range extender, you aren’t dependent on charging infrastructure. If I were driving a Focus EV or a iMiEV their usefulness would be significantly curtailed if I couldn’t find a place to park.

So while I’m sure the stance of GM is to welcome the establishment of plug-in infrastructure in the long term, in the short term the lack of such infrastructure is a strong argument for consumers to buy PHEV over BEV.

@kerry – even if the quick charge batteries were commercially ready in the short term, which I think is optimistic, the major problem with public fast charge infrastructure is that it requires power levels that are not currently widely distributed (anything beyond 240V and 30amps starts to get problematic on a broad scale) and will require investment in a lot of physical infrastructure.

kerry bradshaw

Tony is right – the idea that public charging stations
are a big problem is absurd. And Better Place is simply a concept that makes no sense, especially with the advent of fast rechargeable batteries as
described by MIT last week. With rapid rechargeability, then parking lot charging stations make no sense – we return to the traditional filling stations, which are already here right now, and they gradually switch their gas pumps over to charging stations as the fleet gradually changes over to electric propulsion (which will take a decade, even with an economically viable EV). I wrote a year ago that Better Place was not a sensible concept for two reasons : 1) it required multiple batteries (perhaps as many as 5) for each travelling EV, exacerbating one of the main obstacles (cost) to electrics and
2) if batteries gain fast rechargeability, the system is immediately bankrupt. Most of its apparatus is devoted and designed for a process that no longer makes any economic sense (if it ever did). It looks like I’m going to be right (I have complete faith in the MIT advancement – I believe it can be ready for the Volt’s launch) and Better Place will fade into history as a flawed business idea.

Tony Posawatz, General Motors

What conference call were you on? The one that I particpated in had GM posing the question, “What does it take to get to 1M Plug-in’s?” The answer is that it takes a Plug-in Ecosystem which includes relevant plug-in vehicles, enabling technologies (batteries), connections to the grid and plug-in ready communities.

GM never stated your title or headline. We welcome plug-in infrastructure and charging stations. The VOLT, however, is not dependent on them. We can plug-in at home every night and offer hundreds of miles of extended range capability.

Let’s report the facts and further the cause. Thank you.

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