Electric Vehicle Anxiety – How Will Joe Consumer Spell Relief?

The scarcity of electric cars on U.S. roadways is expected to change in coming months as two major automakers begin selling models geared to Joe Consumer.

But recharging remains an issue. Very few fast-recharge stations have been installed along Interstate 5, although a number are planned. That lack of recharge availability could result in something I’ll call electric-charge anxiety:

“Will I make it, or will I run out of juice?”

Tow truck operators are ready. Believe me, I know. Owning a 74 Super Beetle as a daily driver meant I required wrecker services frequently.

Pike Research, a clean energy research consultant based in Boulder, Colo., has forecast that 4.7 million charging stations will be built in the next five years. However, there’s a caveat in the wording of the Pike report summary.

The phrase, “This evolution will require the ongoing buildout,” denotes that demand dictates the growth of “residential equipment to public, private and workplace charging stations” capable of charging a spent electric vehicle battery.

Should sales of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf prove lackluster, how will executives of Monrovia, California-based AeroVironment, a manufacturer of a fast charger, react? Will the company and others like it commit millions to develop road-side charging stations?

Or will charging stations be limited to clusters like those proposed by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which plans to build 50 fast chargers and 2,000 public chargers around San Francisco? Jake Richardson of Care2.com called it a big step.

Hard to tell.

“The success of hybrid vehicles in the 2000s gave drivers a taste for propulsion by electric power,” said Pike senior analyst John Gartner in a statement. “And governments around the world are now highly focused on creating the charging infrastructure to support the arrival of EVs in significant numbers.”

Yet, Pike also said “the economics of selling a few kilowatt hours per charge are very challenging” and that development of charging stations largely will be done by Hot Springs government money. And that’s a tough call in this economic climate.

Gartner said he expects that by 2015, more than 3.1 million electric vehicles, including plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles, will be sold worldwide.

Pike did offer clarity to the private-sector charger free-for-all.

The company said the market for electric charging equipment is likely to become crowded by the end of next year. “While the initial wave of vendors was led by niche vendors such as AeroVironment, Better Place, Coulomb Technologies, and ECOtality, heavyweight technology players such as GE, Panasonic, Samsung, and Siemens are now making bold moves into the space.”

Whether that’s enough to put a recharger where you need one on a freeway or remote highway will be what commuters of electric vehicles will be asking.