Toyota to launch home electric car charger, jumping into a crowded market

Wed Feb 23, 2011 2:21pm EST

Toyota, maker of the hybrid Prius and upcoming plug-in version of it, will launch its own home electric car charger, jumping into what is shaping up to be a crowded market.

Major companies and startups alike have surged into the electric car charging segment. GE launched the WattStation last year, and building energy management giant Schneider Electric launched its own residential charger last week, in part of an overall move to expand its offerings to the growing residential market for smart grid products. Others looking to get a piece of the electric car charger action  include Siemens, NRG Energy, Silver Spring Networks, Clipper Creek, Ecotality, Coulomb, Better Place (pictured), AeroVironment, Eaton, Leviton and GridBot, which was a finalist at GreenBeat 2010.

Toyota’s chargers will be compatible with non-Toyota cars, according to Reuters, and the company is looking to sell 50,000 of its plug-in Prius a year, starting in 2012. Details aren’t clear on Toyota’s offering, but likely it’s looking for a way to make some extra cash off folks who are buying the plug-in Prius — it’s not clear if the company would try to market the charger to others.

Tens of thousands of electric car chargers will be manufactured for the U.S. this year, and the crowding of the market likely means there will be future acquisitions of the smaller players, says John Gartner, Pike Research analyst. Several partnerships have already happened, like NRG-AeroVironment, Siemens-Coulomb, Leviton-Coulomb. Swiss electronics giant ABB recently invested $10 million into Ecotality. Not all companies in the mix are making electric car chargers of their own; some are looking to integrate their smart grid technology into others’ chargers, such as the Silver Spring-Clipper Creek solution for the Toyota Prius and the Cisco-Ecotality partnership.

“It will be a challenge for the smaller players to compete with the likes of GE and Siemens, which have extensive experience in reducing manufacturing costs as well as understanding of relationships in the building power market,” Gartner said.

The crowding is, of course, a good thing if you’re in the market for a charger — more players means prices will go down. Electric car charging supply equipment can run from $700 to $1,200, and there can also be installation costs.

Most industry watchers say customers will charge at home and during off-peak hours, though the Department of Energy has awarded millions to Ecotality and Coulomb to build out public charging stations across the U.S. Most residential chargers will be installed in garages, and how those who live in condos or apartments can charge at home is an evolving question — some opt to install special chargers in apartment garages. AeroVironment is installing chargers in multi-family communities in Houston.

President Obama has said he wants the country to have one million electric cars on the road by 2015, and one Department of Energy report forecasts that there will be 1.2 million in supply by that time. Pike Research is more conservative in its estimate. It predicts the country will get to 841,000 electric cars by that time.

Major automakers and startups are gearing up to launch electric cars. Some are already on the market, like the Tesla Roadster (a high-performance sports car), the Nisssan Leaf (hatchback) and the Chevrolet Volt (a five-passenger range extender that can go up to 50 miles on battery before switching over to gas). The Ford Focus Electric and startup Coda’s electric sedan are slated for launch this year. Tesla’s all-electric Model S and Toyota’s Prius Plug-In will launch in 2012. BMW just launched a sub-brand of electric and hybrid cars. Honda, Volkswagen, Hyundai and others have electric cars in the works as well.

Tags: car charging, electric car charging, electric cars, electric vehicles

Companies: AeroVironment, Better Place, Cisco, Clipper Creek, Coulomb, Eaton, ECOtality, GE, Gridbot, Leviton, NRG Energy, siemens, Silver Spring Networks, Toyota

People: John Gartner

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