BNET Exclusive: U.S. Fast-Charging for Chinese EVs

Better Place is definitely better known, but ECOtality is making a strong case for leadership in the race to wire cities, states and whole countries for the electric vehicles (EVs) of the very near future. In a exclusive, we can report that it will become the first American company to expand into China. And it's starting to look as if the world's most populous country will have a charging network in place before the U.S. does.

Scottsdale, Arizona-based ECOtality announced July 6 that it had signed a letter of intent for a joint venture with Shenzhen Goch Investment, Ltd. (an investment holding company focused on high-tech). The deal calls for ECOtality to receive $15 million to set up manufacturing ($10 million) and distribution ($5 million) for EV charging systems in China. The first $2.5 million was paid today.

A report by Pike Resarch, "Electric Vehicles on the Grid," says that by 2015 the global EV charging network market will be at $1.9 billion annually, and China will account for almost half (47.8 percent) of total sales. Shai Agassi of Better Place told Wired Autopia that China is on the verge of green-lighting electric cars in a big way. "And when that happens," Wired said, "it will have more influence over global automobile production than California's school board has over textbooks." A revitalized Detroit Electric is also planning to build electric cars in China.

"The Chinese approached us," says ECOtality president and CEO Jonathan Read. "They're working to fulfill their requirements to build a charging infrastructure for electrified public transit, initially buses."

According to Read, the ECOtality-designed networks for buses will soon expand into the taxi fleet (with centralized charging stations) and then into private cars--a huge and growing market in China. "They are likely to get there first," Read said. "They're racing us at breakneck speed--and they're already producing electric vehicles. We used to have an arms race with the Chinese; now it's an EV race."

Wiring China will be a challenge, because so many people live in vertical high rises. But the Chinese also patronize U.S.-style big-box stores, and those are likely to get 15-minute fast-charging--again, probably ahead of the U.S. itself. ECOtality's fast-charging technology is called Minit-Charger, and can recharge a car in as little as 10 minutes.