Nissan expanding electric charging launch in Arizona

Ecotality to expand chain of electric charging stations from Tucson to Phoenix in anticipation of launch by end of 2010.

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
3 min read
An artist's rendering of what Ecotality fast-charging commercial stations may look like. Ecotality

Nissan has promised to supply its highway-legal electric vehicles to the Phoenix area, as well as the previously announced Tucson area, for public and private fleets by the end of 2010, the Renault-Nissan Alliance plans to announce Thursday.

"This is a deployment well in excess of a couple hundred," said Mark Perry, director of product planning for Nissan North America.

In anticipation of Nissan's municipal and eventual commercial electric vehicle (EV) launch, the energy technology company Ecotality plans to also announce on Thursday an expansion of its chain of electric charging stations beyond the Tucson Metro area stations it announced in March.

The total plan, which includes partnerships with the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) and Pima Association of Governments (PAG), is that Ecotality will create an electric plug-in infrastructure corridor encompassing the greater metropolitan areas of both Phoenix (Maricopa County) and Tucson (Pima County), as well as the 116-mile stretch between them along the Interstate 10 highway.

Using a 480-volt rapid-charge option, Nissan's EV-02 prototype--which has the battery pack and motor that will be used in the final commercial version--can charge up to 80 percent capacity in about 26 minutes, according to Perry.

Ecotality's CEO Jonathan Read said charging up at its SAE Level 3 (440V) fast-charging stations may actually even be a little quicker in practice.

Ecotality's fast-charging commercial stations may look similar to those Ecotality stations used for typical private off-road EV fleets. Ecotality

"Nissan's conservative. We believe that generally the charge time can be 15-20 minutes, given most people are not going to run to zero. I almost dare you to try to get a Starbucks in less than 15 minutes. It's really conducive to a stop for a beverage, a quick shop, a stop at the pharmacy, so we're going to position these where people normally stop for a few minutes anyway," said Read.

In addition to commercial charging stations, there are also plans to work with local utilities to install 220-volt outlets in the garages of would-be EV owners. At those outlets, Nissan's EV would take an average 4 hours to recharge from zero to full capacity, according to Perry.

But you won't have to be a Nissan customer per se to get a charge from an Ecotality-built station in Arizona.

"Our charging stations are going to be agnostic; they'll work on any battery in any vehicle that adheres to the SAE standards. So while Nissan will be the first here, they'll attach to any vehicle that comes along," said Read.

Phoenix and Tucson residents may actually have cooperative community leaders to thank for the EV opportunity, if Nissan is to be believed.

Never underestimate the value of municipalities that get along with each other, their utilities, and the private sector when embarking on projects that require permitting, said Perry.

"Phoenix had all the things we were looking for in a launch market: High consumer interest, but really something you shouldn't underestimate (is) a regional planning authority that has a history of working well together and moving things forward in a coordinated fashion to make Phoenix plug-in ready. Plus, we have support from the utility companies. Plus interest from the private sector, support from Ecotality, and major employers interested in participating. When those factors are there, that's what you want," said Perry.

Perry said he's seen interest from companies who'd like to provide employees with free charging stations in their parking facilities as part of a sustainability plan.

Ecotality, which is based in Scottsdale, Ariz., had another logical reason.

"We actually have a long and storied history in electric here. We worked on charging stations for the old EV1s before they were crunched by General Motors," said Read, referring to Ecotality's subsidiary eTec.

While the charging equipment was made by Delphi, eTec installed many of the residential charging stations for General Motors' EV1 customers in the Southwest, particularly Arizona, as well as some public charging stations, according to Ecotality.