Charging stations open in Chattanooga, but few vehicles sold to use them

Charging stations open in Chattanooga, but few vehicles sold to use them

September 23rd, 2011 by Mike Pare in News

Nissan Leaf electric vehicles are parked at a Thursday morning event at 2 North Shore where five charging stations for electric vehicles and a parking area underneath a solar photovoltaic array were introduced to the public.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.


Among sites where stations are located or soon to be:

• CARTA parking garages

• Incline Railway's lower station

• 2 North Shore

• 212 Market St.

• DoubleTree Hotel

• Chattanoogan hotel

• Renaissance Park

• Murphy Express

• Rock City

• Ruby Falls

Source: Ecotality

James Dillard, of Hixson, bought his Nissan Leaf about three weeks ago and he's charged up about the all-electric car.

"It's a very responsive car. It's not slow. You're not doing a turtle," he said Thursday.

However, fewer than three dozen Leafs have been sold in Chattanooga so far this year. Dealers say its rollout was hindered by the tsunami that hit Japan in March. The Leaf's hybrid cousin, the Chevrolet Volt, is just now being introduced in Tennessee.

Some people also say buyers are slow to jump into the all-electric driver's seat because of the newness of the technology and so-called "range anxiety," or a lack of locations to charge up their vehicles, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

Nissan said last year that it planned to sell as many as 25,000 Leafs in the U.S. during the model's first year, according to Bloomberg, but U.S. sales through August were just 6,168. The Leaf's suggested list price starts at $35,200 but a $7,500 instant credit knocks that down to $27,700.

Meanwhile, the installation of charging stations in Chattanooga has followed the Leaf's emergence in the market. Five new chargers were installed Thursday at Greenlife Grocery on the North Shore.

"We want to have the same ratio of cars and stations," said Stephanie Cox of San Francisco-based Ecotality, which is responsible for the project of putting charging stations in the state.

Cox estimated that close to 30 stations are up and running in Chattanooga so far, or nearly one for every electric car. About 20 more stations are slated for the city, she said, while about 280 stations are installed statewide so far and 100 more are in the works.

Tom Dugan, CARTA's executive director, said the charging station project was a new program that started slowly, but he thinks it's now gaining speed.

"I'm looking forward to seeing cars arriving," he said.

About a year ago, estimates said about 37 charging stations would be set up in the Chattanooga area by the end of 2010, and Hamilton County had a wish list of 76 such facilities.

"We need more sites," Cox said Thursday, adding that $114.8 million in federal stimulus money helping to fund the project is slated to sunset at year's end unless it is extended.

The U.S. Department of Energy hired Ecotality to install a target of 14,000 chargers in homes, municipal buildings and business in Tennessee and five other states. The project is to cost about $230 million with support from Ecotality and its partners, the company said.

Cox said installing home chargers is part of the program as well, and that's running behind statewide projections. Each Leaf owner is to receive a free station at home, Cox said.

"It was originally anticipated that there'd be about 1,000 Leafs in the Tennessee portion. That's half subscribed. There's plenty of vehicle participation spaces left," Cox said.


On Thursday, five new chargers were unveiled at Greenlife Grocery in the 2 North Shore center on Manufacturers Road. The chargers sit beneath a roof with a solar panel on top.

On Saturday, Murphy USA and Eaton Corp. will install a charging station at the Murphy Express on Lee Highway, a first for Murphy, an official said. Murphy's president and others are slated to be at the kickoff.

Steve Arnsdorff, who developed 2 North Shore, said the Ecotality project was looking for sites for its charging stations and the shopping center worked out.

"It's a perfect fit," he said.

Arnsdorff said the solar project is a partnership with TVA and locally based environmental entity Green Spaces. Users will be able to plug in for free for about a year, Arnsdorff said, but will have to pay for power after that.

Cox said electric cars make sense to Chattanoogans with the city's long history of using battery-powered vehicles, citing CARTA's electric bus program.

Plans are to start installing charging stations at BP and Cracker Barrel locations between Chattanooga and Nashville and Knoxville before year's end, Cox said.

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