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Best Buy to Plug In Customers' EVs [Exclusive]

Major big-box retailer Best Buy says it plans to not only add electric vehicles to its Geek Squad fleet, but also EV charging stations for its own vehicles -- and those of customers. Charging will probably be offered first in California, which appears likely to be the largest EV market in the U.S.

Best Buy is probably the first large chain to confirm customer charging plans, though a working assumption of EV enthusiasts is that the big boxes will add the feature not only as a convenience for customers but as a way to keep them shopping in the store. A charge could take anything from 10 minutes (Level 3 fast charging at 480 volts) to six hours (Level 2, 220 volts).

According to Rick Rommel, a Best Buy senior vice president of emerging business, the company has 5,000 vehicles in the Geek Squad fleet, four of which are Mitsubishi I-MiEV plug-in electrics.

"We like what we see," Rommel said. "They're pretty good and our agents like them. Those vehicles are parked at our stores, and so we'll need to have charging capacity for them. It's not too big a leap to see that we can re-purpose the charging infrastructure to make sure our customers can charge their cars too. 'Golly gee, if we have an electric fleet and charging stations already--.'"

According to Jack Nerad, an executive marketing analyst at Kelley Blue Book, "This is great public relations for Best Buy. They get their name out there in a positive way connected to a real leading edge kind of thing, and at very little cost to them. It shows that companies like Best Buy are really feeling their way forward with how to respond to electric cars."

As I reported, big-box stores, including Best Buy, are talking to charging providers like Coulomb and General Electric (which just introduced the WattStation) about retailing home, wall-mounted EV chargers. Rommel pointed out that Best Buy started out as a "stereo store" more than 40 years ago, and that it has continued to add categories -- cell phones, computers, appliances -- as they became relevant. "The march of relevancy doesn't stop," he said, "so we're looking hard at the electrification of transportation and what it can deliver in terms of personal technology."

Obviously, the amount of consumer electronics on board vehicles is continuing to rise, and EVs will up the ante further by interacting with cell phones and other devices to set up charging sessions and schedules. "The car is increasingly connected," Rommel said.

Best Buy is test marketing the sale of electric bicycles and scooters in 40 stores on the west coast and further east, and some California outlets are selling the Brammo electric motorcycle. Ramping up to sell electric cars is also a possibility, and some stores in Great Britain have "showcased" the Tesla Roadster and a Citroen EV. This video explores Best Buy's growing business in that field: Best Buy has made no decisions yet which level of charging it will offer, or how rapidly that option will be extended to stores in its chain. The numbers will be small to begin with. Rommel said he doesn't expect consumers will make specific trips to Best Buy just to charge their cars. "But when they pull up in their EVs, it will be nice that they won't have to be bothered by range anxiety," he said.

Best Buy and many other retailers lease some of their parking lots, but Rommel said he doesn't expect that to be an obstacle. The bottom line is that Best Buy considers EVs to be "cool technology," so expect to see a lot more of it in the stores.

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Photo: Best Buy
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