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ECOtality Builds Electric Vehicle Chargers, Infrastructure

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Are electric vehicles destined for a bright future in the U.S.?

One California company says yes, and is helping to push America's drivers towards electric vehicle adoption. ECOtality, which has received $230 million in private and public sector funding to install a network of electric vehicle charging stations across the country.

"Electric vehicle infrastructure is the ultimate enabler of electric vehicles," ECOtality CEO Jonathan Read told The Huffington Post.

Despite the over $100 million in Department of Energy funding his company has received, Read isn't looking to see much government support in the future. He believes electric vehicle infrastructure will come on a market-by-market basis through private-sector investment that is driven by the number of vehicles in each market. In fact, Read believes consumers will see "significant charge infrastructure by 2015 in most major markets."

He said the West Coast will be the first to see a significant number of electric vehicle chargers. Read explained that a temperate climate, where electric vehicles perform better, combined with a more favorable political and economic climate, make the West "the ground zero for electric vehicles."

Momentum may be building for electric vehicles and their requisite refueling infrastructure, but the process will take some time. PluginCars reported earlier this month that ECOtality's federally funded project is behind schedule.

He writes, "So far, only about 3,000 of the 14,000 chargers (plus 300 commercial units) have been installed, a less-than-scheduled number that ECOtality attributes to the unexpectedly slow rate of LEAF introductions (caused in part by the Japanese tsunami and hurricane)."

Read maintains demand is up and people do want electric vehicles. He said electric vehicles are fun to drive and also solve an important problem, regardless of which side of the political spectrum you fall. EVs, as electric vehicles are sometimes dubbed, both alleviate environmental concerns and help to lessen our dependence on foreign oil.

But the steep price tag on electric vehicles may scare away some consumers. Even with government tax breaks, electric vehicles can cost thousands more than their internal combustion counterparts. With the higher prices, wary consumers are "concerned that their own investment will be wiped out in a few years because the batteries may not last," Businessweek reported.

A new study from the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, entitled "Influences on the Low Carbon Car Market from 2020–2030," suggests that electric and fuel cell vehicles could soon become price-competitive with conventional cars.

Sales could also be bolstered by improvements in battery technology. A U.K. company recently recently unveiled a new battery that can increase electric vehicle range by 35 percent without increasing weight.

Critics of electric vehicles also cite range and charge time as some of the biggest stumbling blocks to their success. Read contends that "most people don't have any idea how far they drive," and that the approximate 100 mile range of cars like the Nissan Leaf is enough for most people.

The company is working with a number of corporate partners -- including BP, Best Buy and Cracker Barrel -- that will install Blink ECOtality chargers at their locations. In fact, Read says that within the next nine months, his company will be building an "electric highway" of EV chargers along the Interstate 5 corridor from Seattle to San Diego.

An important part of their plan is rapid-charging technology, which allow drivers to charge their vehicles without losing too much time.

"We can charge a 35,000-pound pushback tractor in 15 minutes," Read said, adding that his company has been involved in every electric vehicle infrastructure program in the U.S. and is a leader in industrial fast charging. They have rapid chargers in place across New York's Westchester County Airport and for airlines such as Southwest and U.S. Airways.

Central Parking System, the world's largest parking company, recently announced their partnership with another charging station company to install electric vehicle chargers at 2,200 parking garages around the country.

For those still scared of running out of power in their EV, AAA recently announced it will begin rolling out roadside assistance trucks that can provide a charge to stranded electric vehicles.

Despite the growing network of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, some locations haven't been quick to accept EV chargers. The city council of Mill Valley, Calif., recently rejected a plan for a government-subsidized charger in their downtown.

This may be another example of one of the lessons Jonathan Read said he's learned in the electric vehicle industry. "Anything that's being pulled by the government will fail. It has to be pushed by the people."

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