NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Charging stations in Tennessee outnumber electric cars and many aren't used for hours or even days at a time, according to a newspaper investigation.
State data analyzed by The Tennessean show that about 270 all-electric cars were registered in Tennessee in 2011 while there are about 500 charging stations set up in public areas to serve them (http://tnne.ws/s2Mldg).
The Tennessean said it visited more than 12 charging units over a 2-day period this month and found multiple cars refueling at only one site - Nissan's automobile plant in Smyrna. Nissan makes the Leaf model electric car.
The Tennessean also monitored the website of ECOtality Inc., the California-based company that built and installed the chargers. One station charged two cars while another station charged one in a day.5, according to the paper.
Officials with ECOtality and proponents of electric cars say the numbers aren't surprising because a critical mass of charging stations is needed to build confidence in all-electric vehicles. They said the units shouldn't be expected to get constant use until more cars are on roads.
ECOtality has 450 chargers "already in the ground" and plans to install another 750 to 1,000, said Colin Read, ECOtality's vice president for corporate development.
"This project is critical to lay the foundation to make the transition to this alternative mode of transportation," Read said. "The goal is to figure out how to make (the electric-vehicle industry) commercially viable."
Currently, the market offers only two plug-in electric cars, the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt, but more models are expected from Toyota, Mitsubishi, Ford and BMW. Taxpayer money has been used to boost alternative fuel vehicles.
"It's like the old chicken-or-egg question," said Nashville lawyer Phil Cramer, 36, who bought a Leaf in June and drives it each day between Oak Hill and downtown. He said more chargers might help gain a wider public acceptance of electric vehicles.
"The only public charger I've used so far is the one at Nissan headquarters," Cramer said. "I drive about seven miles a day in each direction, and charging at home works great for me."
He likened electric cars to cellphones 20 years ago. He said not many people used them because they were expensive and didn't work everywhere, but that changed after networks were put in place that allowed cell phones to be used almost anywhere.
"I understand the taxpayer argument, but the flip side is that we subsidize oil and gasoline in a lot of ways," he said. "It would seem to me that if you added up the money we spend to support the gas-powered automobile, all that dwarfs what we're spending to get an alternative to that."
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