Nissan's early commitment to push its autos from the pump to the plug is paying off.
In June came the news that the automaker landed $1.6 billion in lucrative loans to electrify American cars. And now the company has won another $200 million to help deploy the charging network that will power them.
When it happens, it will be the largest roll out of electric charging stations and electric vehicles in the history of the world, by far.
Half the funding will flow from the Obama administration's $2.4 billion electric car grant program. The other half will come from local project participants.
All of it is a sign that Nissan, the Obama government and certain states are serious about achieving technology leadership in producing the car of the future.
The Nissan electric car project was developed in cooperation with Electric Transportation Engineering Corporation (eTec), a subsidiary of Arizona–based ECOtality and specialist in clean electric transportation and storage technologies.
eTec will provide the charging stations, Nissan the cars.
The automaker will deliver 5,000 of its LEAF EVs, the planet's first affordable, zero-emission, "fast-charging capable" vehicle. The LEAF, a medium-sized hatchback that runs on a lithium-ion battery, was announced to the world on August 2, to great cheers, and will hit the U.S. market by the fall of next year.
Beginning in summer 2010, the companies will start installing 13,000 220V charging systems and 250 fast-charge stations in five states: Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona and Tennessee.
The plan will create 750 new jobs by 2012 and more than 5,500 jobs by 2017, eTec said in a statement. The hope is to pave the way for electric car networks nationwide.
"By studying lessons learned from electric vehicle operations and the infrastructure supporting these first 5,000 vehicles, the Project enables the streamlined deployment of the next 5,000,000 electric vehicles," said Don Karner, President of eTec.
Nissan won't be the only car manufacturer to benefit, the automaker said.
"[The eTEC chargers] will work for anybody's plug-in vehicle...One system will work for all," said Mark Perry, Nissan North America director of product planning,
eTec explains further:
The Level 2 (220V) residential infrastructure will be provided specifically for the Nissan EV, but will meet the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J1772 connection standard that will be used by all major automotive manufacturers. All public charge infrastructure will also use this standard and other applicable standards devised by the SAE.
The $99.8 million from the feds was handed out as part of a $2.4 billion slice of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that was earmarked to accelerate the manufacturing and deployment of EVs and their components.
Around 50 companies were awarded the money. Some two-thirds of the total, or $1.5 billion, will be steered into battery manufacturing. That has prompted the confounding "chicken or the egg" dilemma: What comes first, the car or the fleet-pluggable stations to recharge them?
The top priority for the Obama administration, for now, it seems, is the car. Specifically, the feds are intent on making the batteries EV-ready -- to improve capacity, safety, charging time and longevity. They also want to ensure the batteries are made in the USA.
As the president said this week:
"I don't want to have to import a hybrid car. I want to build a hybrid car here."
But charging infrastructure isn't getting completely brushed off, despite some media hype on the topic. While no single project earned the same scale of funding as the Nissa-eTec plan, other plug-in demos got millions. Via Green Car Congress:
$70 million to Chrysler to develop, validate and deploy 220 plug-in hybrid electric pickups and minivans
$45.4 million to California's South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) to develop a production plug-in hybrid system for Class 2-5 vehicles and to demonstrate a fleet of 378 trucks and shuttle buses.
$39.2 million to Navistar to develop and deploy 400 battery electric delivery trucks with a 100-mile range.
$30.5 million to GM to demonstrate the Volt EREV, with 125 Volts to electric utilities and 500 Volt EREVs to consumers
$30 million to Ford to deploy up to 150 PHEVs, including 130 Escape PHEVs and 20 Ford E450 Van PHEVs
$10 million to Smith Electric Vehicles to develop and deploy up to 100 electric commercial vehicles, including the Ampere, Faraday, Step Vans and Newton.
The transition to electric cars seems inevitable at this point. And Nissan has been positioning itself to blow away its rival car and battery manufacturers for some time.
On charging infrastructure, though, it's a different story. The work of Arizona's ten-year-old ECOtality, whose stock shot up 170 percent when government grants were announced, has suddenly become the potential "game changer" to watch for the rapid adoption of vital electric car grids.