Can Startups Weather Entry of GE, Siemens and Toyota to Electric Car Charging Market?

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Global sales of electric car charging stations was just $69 million in 2010, but analysts predict the EV charging industry to swell to $1.1 billion by 2013 — and even though they won’t have any plug-in vehicles ready until 2012, the world’s largest automaker wants a piece of it.

Toyota and a growing number of electrical heavyweights including Siemens and GE are jumping into an industry of many small and medium-sized companies. And because of the sheer size, brand recognition and distribution networks that these new players bring to the table, the cottage industry surrounding electric car chargers is about to get a serious shock to its system.

“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,” says John Gartner of cleantech research firm Pike Research in The Wall St. Journal.

Toyota’s electric car-charger, which will reportedly cost about two thousand dollars installed, won’t be available until 2012, when the plug-in hybrid Prius and a small all-electric car hit Japanese and U.S. markets. But with companies like GE planning to deliver its first charger, the WattStation (pictured above) this summer, and Siemens readying to launch their residential electric car charging solution, the Siemens Charge, later this year, a cramped market ecosystem consisting of start-ups and relative unknowns is about to get even more cramped, which is all good news for consumers as competition should drive charger prices down.

In the short term, the hope is that all these new chargers, networks and platforms — from companies like Ecotality, Coulomb, Better Place, NRG Energy, GridBot, Clipper Creek and Silver Spring Networks, along with those produced by larger companies like AeroVironment, makers of those nifty rooftop wind turbines and most of the U.S. military’s unmanned drone aircraft, Eaton, Leviton, and Schneider Electric, which just launched its own residential charger last week — will bring the price of residential chargers down into the $700 range. But in the longer term, not only will all that competition in an uncertain market drive charger price down, analysts also predict there will be an active merger and acquisition environment.

“Some of those companies that are early movers are going to find it difficult to survive. We think there will be some interesting merger and acquisition activity at the end of this year,” says Pike Research’s Gartner.

And with some big-time names now positioning themselves in the charging sector, it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out and which big names in electronics, energy management, electric utilities and vehicle manufacturing get into the charging business.

Article by Timothy B. Hurst, appearing courtesy Earth & Industry.

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