New Hope for the Electric Car Industry Comes with Eaton Corp. Grant

Department of Energy grant will help develop smart charging technology to increase efficiency and bring down costs.

Eaton Corp. has been awarded a $1.84 million grant from the Department of Energy for the development of more efficient commercial electric vehicle (EV) chargers. The Cleveland-based producer of electrical equipment and appliances said it will use the funds to promote smart charging technology that will better manage the efficiency, availability and reliability of power.

This announcement comes at a critical time for the EV industry, just days after General Motors announced a five-week production suspension of its electric Volt to help bring down inventory.

"The fact that GM is now facing an oversupply of Volts suggests that consumer demand is just not that strong for these vehicles," explained Lacey Plache, chief economist at Edmunds.com. "The price premium on the Volt just doesn't make economic sense for the average consumer when there are so many fuel-efficient gasoline-powered cars available, typically for thousands of dollars less."

The purpose of this DoE grant is to address these issues by helping to develop new advances in smart energy, said John Wirtz, business unit manager for Eaton's Electrical Transportation Infrastructure.

"Smart charging technology will provide more options to consumers and strengthen the charging infrastructure and the electric grid," he said. "By providing real-time monitoring and reporting, Eaton's participation in this project will help EV fleet managers, businesses and power companies to increase system uptime, reduce energy costs and maximize the reliability of the chargers."

The U.S. Market

Even in the wake of the Volt announcement, these technological advancements -- or at least the promise of them -- are enough to keep hope alive for EV companies trying to build up their U.S. markets.

This includes Mitsubishi Motors, which has teamed up with Eaton and AeroVironment to provide home charging stations for its 2012 Mitsubishi i. EV.

"Having additional suppliers for EV home charging stations like AeroVironment and Eaton will give selection to the customers who are considering purchasing our 2012 Mitsubishi i. electric vehicles," said Roger Yasukawa, product communications manager at Mitsubishi Motors.

"Installing a home charging station also adds convenience by shortening the charge time and offering the customer greater mobility," he said.

Mitsubishi is counting on this added convenience to help pull customers in from the growing number of efficient traditional combustion engines that have so far stymied Volt.

And of course the recent gas price increases haven't gone unnoticed -- "We believe that customer interest level will grow as we see increases in fuel prices," said Yasukawa.

As these companies race to develop their U.S. market, this, along with the advancements in smart energy stations, might make all the difference.

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