Livonia company places its first electric vehicle charging stations in 13 states, including Michigan

Posted on May 13, 2011

PEP Stations LLC, the state’s only developer of electric vehicle charging stations, hopes to give its business a jolt by including entertainment venues among the first recipients of its units in Michigan and across the country.

The 2-year-old Livonia-based company has started sending the first of 30 self-pay charging stations to clients in 13 states, including five locations in Michigan. The sites from Massachusetts to California include theme parks, casinos and theaters such as Hershey Park in Hershey, Pa., and Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

Among the Michigan locations are the Emagine Theater in Royal Oak that opens Friday, office buildings in Troy and Livonia, a conference center in Waterford and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers training center in Warren.

PEP Stations is targeting “any place you’re going to spend more than an hour” and avoiding places where people spend only a few minutes such as fast-food outlets or Starbucks, said PEP Stations founder and local architect James Blain.

Demand is expected to surge for the units, which cost $7,990 each and include two charging posts, Blain said. The extended-range Chevy Volt and all-electric Nissan Leaf have garnered a small following since debuting in December.

The ambitious plan comes as gas tops $4 a gallon in 12 states including Michigan, according to AAA, and sits at $3.96 nationwide. Dozens more businesses, from the city of Philadelphia to the state of Massachusetts to Rent-A-Car, have shown interest in PEP Stations’ charging unit, Blain said.

But automotive analysts don’t see big demand yet for commercial charging stations. Nissan Motor Co. and General Motors Co. plan sales of about 10,000 Volts and Leafs each this year.

But it’s wise for a company such as PEP Stations to position itself as a market leader early on, said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with Lexington, Mass.,-based IHS Automotive.

“There are so few electric vehicles on the road that it’s hard to anticipate demand, but we need to start somewhere,” Lindland said. “This is certainly a chicken-and-egg thing. People won’t buy electric vehicles because there are no charging stations and vice versa.”

Electric vehicles and gasoline-electric hybrids are expected to comprise less than 10 percent of the U.S. new car market through 2016, J.D. Power and Associates said last month in its 2011 U.S. Green Automotive Study.

Nearly every major automaker plans to introduce electric vehicles during the next year or so, but consumers are concerned about their cost and function, the report said.

PEP — an acronym for “Plug in Electric Power” — developed out of a 2009 project Blain designed for a client of his architecture firm, James Blain & Associates. The client asked Blain to create a charging station where he could power his Volt.

Blain saw an opportunity to meet a need for well-designed charging stations and sought help from three retired Ford Motor Co. executives with backgrounds in product development, manufacturing and information technology.

He strived to design a station that’s easy to use, inexpensive, recognizable and able to withstand frequent use.

Blain said he is aware of only a handful of companies working on similar projects, including Coulomb Technologies Inc. in Campbell, Calif., and ECOtality Inc. in San Francisco.

PEP Stations might use its early rollout as a gateway for bigger contracts with automakers, dealerships or a conglomerate such as General Electric Co., which wants to dominate the commercial charging business, said Jim Hall, managing director at 2953 Analytics in Birmingham.

Blain hopes the company’s Metro Detroit base will be an asset as Michigan strives to become a leader in electric vehicle technology.

Local companies should set the standards for electric vehicle infrastructure, he said.

By Jaclyn Tropp, Detroit News