Are You Prepared for the Race for the Electric Car Market?
Gas prices are up … way up. The green movement is growing. Electric cars are dropping in price, charging more quickly, and running longer between charges. And the cost for the electricity runs about 2.5 cents per mile, as opposed to around 14 cents for gasoline. There are even tax credits for buying electric cars.
And the perception that electric cars are slow? That’s heading toward your rear-view mirror: A Tesla Roadster can go from zero to 60 in 3.7 seconds, faster than most Porsche 911s.
You do the math: More and more of your residents and prospects are going to be shopping for electric cars. Will you be able to accommodate them?
Under the hood
Picture it: an apartment parking lot full of electric cars, with a web of orange, green, and black extension cords running from the cars into the windows of the buildings. You don’t want that to be your property.
Sure, my example is an exaggeration, but it’s built on a real concern. One way or another, people will need to charge their cars. And electric cars can be charged through standard 120-volt outlets. It’s a slow process—anywhere from 10 hours to three days to charge the motor—but it works. The better option is a 240-volt circuit like you use for an electric dryer (and there are extension cords for those, too!). That can cut a full recharge to four to five hours.
Either way, you want to be prepared. If you don’t plan to have car-charging stations, then you need a plan for how to handle it if your residents start rolling out those cords. But better yet, give them a way to plug in.
Entering the race
The need for charging stations is about to rev up, so if you’ve got a new property, the time to start looking at building them in is now. Just ask Mark Humphreys of Humphreys & Partners Architects, L.P.
He says: “If you build an apartment project, whether it’s a garden apartment project in the suburbs or an infill apartment with a parking garage, I’d say 99.9 percent of the developments being built have no arrangement for electric cars.”
But that needs to change, he says.
All Humphreys & Partners projects have allocations for electric cars, “and it’s not expensive at all.” For example, for a suburban community with an attached garage, the cost of the additional 240V plug is under $75 and the electric charge is metered to the apartment. And planning for electric cars now will help you avoid retrofitting costs down the line.
At the pit stop
So what about existing properties? Look into adding some charging stations and making them available to residents. They need to be connected to the right wiring, and the combined unit and installation cost varies depending on your region, local regulations, and physical constraints. In an urban garage, a unit might cost around $2,000. In a garden-style property, the first station might set you back $5,000 if you had to dig a trench for the cables. But the next one might cost as little as $500 if you plan things right.
Aside from giving electric car owners an incentive to come to your property, the stations can generate money on their own, according to Richard Lowenthal, founder and chief technology officer of Coulomb Technologies, whose ChargePoint network of charging stations now operates in 14 countries. They also give you more flexibility than installing regular 240V outlets. Lowenthal says, “One of the things that we envisioned was that you could operate it sort of like you have a coin-op laundry. You make money on the use of it—we have a kind of ‘keep the quarters’ mechanism for multiple units.” You can earn money in a variety of ways. Charging up a car costs you roughly 50 cents in electricity. If you allow electric car users to share those spaces, they might pay $2 to $5 per charge-up. Or you can include the station in a designated parking space or garage, charging a flat monthly fee for the amenity.
How many? The rule of thumb is about 3 percent of spaces, but Lowenthal suggests starting conservatively. “Put in one more than the cars you have already,” he says. That signals people that you encourage electric vehicles without putting in more stations than you’re going to need. After all, if you designate too many spaces for electric vehicles only you could get a backlash of resentment from residents, especially if spaces are scarce. But Lowenthal also recommends that you make sure to include plenty of conduit so that it’s easier and less expensive for you to add stations later on.
Hitting the track
Once you’ve got charging stations installed, advertise! Humphreys suggests offering preferred parking spaces for residents with electric cars—a great move-in incentive (just keep Lowenthal’s advice and roll out that number of spaces conservatively). Clustering those spaces together also helps with your conduit planning. Use your charging stations to stand out before everyone else catches up.
Wave the green flag, too: In a recent survey by Apartments.com, 89 percent of respondents said they’d prefer to live in a green community. By supporting electric cars, you’re giving yourself a boost. It might even help you with Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification for your properties.
As Humphreys points out, it’s hard to name a single auto company that isn’t working on an electric car. Sooner or later, every property will need to plan for charging stations. Go ahead and give yourself a head start.
Are you seeing more electric cars on your properties? How are you meeting the demand, if any, for charging stations? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
Find out about subsidized programs in your area.
A strategic partnership between Coulomb and three leading automobile brands — Ford, Chevrolet, and smart USA — is designed to accelerate the development and production of electric vehicles and will provide nearly 5,000 free charging stations to program participants in ten U.S. regions:
Austin, Texas; Boston; Los Angeles; New York; Orlando/Tampa, Florida; Redmond/Bellevue, Washington; Sacramento, California; San Jose/San Francisco Bay area; Washington, D.C./Baltimore, Maryland; and Southern Michigan (including Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Lansing).
If you’re interested in free public ChargePoint stations, visit chargepointamerica.com for more information.