Flex-Fuel Cars Find Few Pumps, Chargers Aplenty: BGOV Barometer

Public charging stations for electric autos outnumber outlets for alternative motor fuels by almost two to one, even though there are hundreds of times more flex-fuel vehicles than plug-in cars on U.S. roads.

The BGOV Barometer shows drivers of the approximately 16,500 highway-worthy electric vehicles in the U.S. can choose from 4,448 public charging stations should they want to plug in someplace other than home or work, according to U.S. Energy Department data.

That’s one per 3.7 electric cars, such as General Motors Co. (GM)’s Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Motor Co. (7201)’s Leaf or Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA)’s Roadster. That compares with 2,468 places to fill up the 7.6 million vehicles that can run on E85, a fuel that is 85 percent ethanol. E85-capable vehicles, also known as flex-fuel vehicles, can run on either E85 or traditional gasoline.

The Obama administration is pushing for still more charging stations, with $230 million worth of support from the Energy Department and private investment. Ecotality Inc. (ECTY) received funds under the federal program to install 14,000 chargers in 18 metropolitan areas in six states and the District of Columbia.

“Electricity is the flavor of the month, just as others have had their time in the sun, electricity is now there,” said Brett Smith, co-director of manufacturing, engineering and technology at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Is this a long-term technology or is it just that flavor of the month?”

Smith cited E85 and hydrogen fuel-cell cars as examples of technologies that have been favored by the government before the Obama administration choose to promote electric vehicles through policy and spending.

Hours to Charge

The question with public charging stations is whether electric-vehicle drivers will use them, Smith said. Even a quick charge to “top off” an electric car can take two to three hours, leading most drivers to charge at home or work, he said.

Fifteen electric models will be will be brought to market by the end of 2014, according to LMC Automotive, which forecasts a glut of electric cars given that hybrid-electric sales are only about 2 percent of U.S. sales this year.

The number of charging stations available today is “a good start,” said Brian Wynne, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association.

“Bear in mind that this is going to change quite dramatically,” Wynne said of electric-vehicle demand. “We’re selling every car we make. The question is what kind of a curve are we on.”

Nissan announced Dec. 6 it would expand Leaf sales to 30 U.S. states on Dec. 11 and plans to take orders for it in all 50 states by March.

To contact the reporter on this story: Angela Greiling Keane in Washington at agreilingkea@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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