Ted Simons: Hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius enjoy a small degree of market success but is America ready to go all-electric? Some carmakers think we are and they are getting ready to release a new generation of all-electric vehicles over the next few years. Nissan is partnering with Phoenix-based eTec for what is being called the largest rollout of electric cars and charging stations in US History. In August, eTec was selected by the U.S. department of energy for a nearly $100 million grant to deploy 5,000 electric vehicles and charging stations across five states. As David Majure reports, the company has been plugged into the EV industry since the last big push to bring electric cars to market.
David Majure: From an industrial district in downtown Phoenix, ETec is quietly planning to electrify the way we get around.
Garrett Beauregard: ETec was formed in 1996 as an electric vehicle infrastructure company. The founders saw that general motors and Honda and ford and Toyota coming out with on road-electric vehicles and that there was a need to install infrastructure.
David Majure: So eTec installed charging stations all over the valley. They weren’t used much and were eventually removed.
Garrett Beauregard: I wouldn’t necessarily say it wasn’t successful for our company, it gave us a lot of opportunity to get involved. It's the case that electric vehicles didn't catch on.
David Majure: Since the 1990s, eTec has remained active in the EV industry. It provides charging systems at Sky Harbor Airport and other industrial settings and it's constantly developing new, more efficient ways to charge batteries. And it’s constantly developing new way to charge batteries.
Garrett Beauregard: This is a battery pack you would add to a hybrid. This is for a Prius. It's a smaller version than what you would see for an all-electric vehicle.
David Majure: Now eTec is in the driver's seat, hoping for an electric car revolution. With a $100 million grant, they're partnering with Nissan to roll out 5,000 electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure needed to keep them running.
Garrett Beauregard: We're going to have the opportunity to deploy these chargers at home. And we'll roll out a fancier box. It will have more functions and a display and has the ability to communicate back data we'll collect.
David Majure: ETec will collect and analyze data from its charging systems to see how people are most likely to use them.
Garrett Beauregard: We’ll be deploying fast-charging systems that will allowing vehicles to extend their operating range to a much wider area and look at what are the issues installing that. Where do those need to be located, and they're expensive so you want to deploy them in critical locations. This is all you need do at home to recharge your vehicle. Take the connector off the hook. Plug it into the vehicle and you're done. Ready for dinner. You’re certainly going to make a decision to buy an electric vehicle based on driving habits. If you're driving around the state, you’re probably not the best person to be an EV owner. But the average in the United States right now is under 40 miles a day and an electric vehicle is perfect for that.
David Majure: With a range of 100 miles, electric cars like the Nissan leaf may not be for everyone. But eTec hopes they'll appeal to enough to be a success this time around.
Garrett Beauregard: We feel confident that eTec's going to have a strong position in this world, as we roll out infrastructure this time and really do think this is the final one. It's going to catch on this time.
Ted Simons: Joining me now to talk about his company's efforts to electrify our transportation is Donald Karner, president, and CEO and cofounder of eTec. Thanks for joining us on "Horizon."
Donald Karner: Thank you. It's my pleasure to be here.
Ted Simons: $100 million grant. Surprised?
Donald Karner: Well, we're very happy with that. We obviously have been working at this for some years, trying to build a business around electric vehicle infrastructure. So I wouldn't say so much as surprised as joy, perhaps. And an opportunity to really move forward infrastructure in a number of cities in the U.S. and to learn what it will take to develop mature infrastructure to support the electric vehicles that are coming from a number of manufacturers.
Ted Simons: I was going to say, this is -- a lot of this is a test to find out really how consumers behave. What works, where it works and how it works, correct?
Donald Karner: That's correct. We'll be deploying 5,000 of the Nissan leaf electric vehicles. The largest deployment of battery electric vehicles anywhere in the world. And gives us an opportunity to look at what type of charge infrastructure is necessary to maximize the use of those vehicles and give people the feeling that they can go anywhere with the vehicles and not limited by the range of a battery electric vehicle. From the studies of these five cities that we'll be deploying vehicles and infrastructure in, we hope to develop guidelines and protocol for the next 50, 500 cities to roll out their charge infrastructure as Nissan and other manufacturers bring battery electric vehicles to market.
Ted Simons: Why Nissan? Why the Nissan leaf?
Donald Karner: They're first out of the chute. It's as simple as that. Nissan is bringing a production vehicle to the U.S. market and they are the first ones to bring a battery electric vehicle, it's the first opportunity to do this study. And they were willing to work with us and with the United States Department of Energy in putting this project together.
Ted Simons: I know that Tucson is included along with Phoenix.
Donald Karner: They're a city pair and then Seattle, Portland, San Diego and then three cities in the state of Tennessee -- Chattanooga, Nashville and Knoxville. And, of course, Nissan's headquarters are in Nashville.
Ted Simons: Why this particular cluster of cities? Is there a reasoning for this? Different climates? What's going on here?
Donald Karner: Nissan and eTec worked over a period of several months exploring a number of cities in the U.S. Cities that have historically been friendly to alternative-fueled vehicles and specifically to grid-connected vehicles, and talked with the city fathers, and picked these cities because of their friendliness and willingness to welcome with open arms this kind of experiment. Because we do need the involvement of the city officials and communities in trying to make this a success and trying to learn as much as possible from the deployment of the vehicles and the charge infrastructure.
Ted Simons: Let's say I'm someone with a Nissan leaf, do I have a charging station at my home? Do I have to fill out a log? How do we find out what my consumer behavior is?
Donald Karner: The basic infrastructure everyone needs is a charger at home. Or for a fleet, a charger at the overnight location of the vehicle. With this project with the department of energy, if you qualify to be a part of the project, then we would install the charger in your home, at no cost to you. And that charger will be capable of collecting data on how much energy is used by your vehicle. We'll also install an equal number of chargers in commercial locations where you work, where you're entertained. Retail locations, where you shop. So that you can go out beyond just the radius around your home and do charging where you live your life. As I said, where you work, where you're entertained, where you eat, where you buy things. And the paradigm shift we're looking for with the electric vehicle, rather than taking your vehicle to a place where you fuel it, that you fuel your vehicle as just a normal part of your life.
Ted Simons: But when you do go to a place -- and I know malls are being considered and these things -- how long will it take? You can't just walk in there and zip and be out of there like with gasoline.
Donald Karner: That's true. We have two types of chargers. The overnighter, a level two charger, what you have in your home and will be deployed in commercial locations. If you drive to work and plug in in the morning and there eight hours, that's more than ample time for the charger to recharge your vehicle. But there will be times when you'd like to get a 50% charge and you want to do that in minutes rather than hours. And we'll deploy a fast-charge network. These are higher power and placed in locations where you'll spend 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes and they'll be able to recharge the vehicle in that kind of time frame so that in those instances where you need a quick charge because your plans have changed, you'll be able do that through the fast chargers.
Ted Simons: And if you're unable to get it done at home or can't wait at a charging station away from home, these vehicles -- the leaf, these have gasoline engines that kick in or are they all electric?
Donald Karner: The leaf does not. It's all battery electric. And in Nissan's view of where the automotive industry is going, in order to meet greenhouse gas and carbon emissions and goals appropriate for the automotive industry, the battery electric vehicle is the only way to do that. So they've jumped over plug-in hybrid vehicles. Nissan does have them, but they've gone directly to battery electric and they're the first to bring those to market in a full production rollout.
Ted Simons: I assume at home, I'm paying when I charge up my Nissan leaf. If I go to the mall or the coffee shop with a charging station, who pays for that?
Donald Karner: Well, that's part of what we're working out with this study. Because at home, the charger and the vehicle are owned by the same person. That's the only place that happens. Everywhere else, the charger is usually owned by someone different than the vehicle owner and we need to work out a bargain between them that makes it worthwhile for the charger owner to provide a charge. There are a number of ways to do that. Actual exchange of revenue. Advertising, retail promotions. You can see where a retailer may provide charging at their location as a promotional effort. An employer may provide it as an employee benefit and there are both the altruistic ways of doing it, where there's no money exchanged, and there's sophisticated revenue systems for charging dollars for charging electricity.
Ted Simons: Ok. Three-year experiment?
Donald Karner: Three-year experiment. Actually two years of actually collecting data from the vehicles. Six months of preparation and six months of wrap-up on either end. And we hope to learn a great deal about the future of electric transportation in this project.
Ted Simons: We hope to hear what you've learned. Sounds fascinating, and sounds like electric cars are here, huh?
Donald Karner: We think they'll stick this time.
Ted Simons: Thank you.
Ted Simons: Coming up on "Horizon," you heard what President Obama had to say about healthcare. And find out what Arizonans have to say. That's Thursday at 7:00 on "Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.