A few years ago, electric vehicle charging stations were a hot topic in the region as businesses started to unveil plans for these stations on-site.
Today, there are dozens of electric vehicle charging locations throughout eastern Pennsylvania, and companies in the industry plan to significantly expand their network of EV stations and roll out more electric-powered vehicles worldwide.
Area businesses that have installed electric charging stations or invested in electric-powered vehicles say the stations draw in more traffic, increase customer activity and help them to stand out among competing nearby businesses. While their electric vehicles charge in the parking lot, motorists visit the business to browse and buy.
Also, people who do not drive electric vehicles will stop to look if one is charging on-site. They, too, could very well wander inside or into neighboring establishments to make purchases.
“It has been really surprising how many cars are charging there …,” Victor Kelly of Larken Associates said of the supercharging station at his firm’s Tilghman Square Shopping Center in South Whitehall Township. “While the vehicle is charging, people are coming in to eat and shop.”
LOYAL TO THE CAUSE
Ed Graefe, owner of My Dad’s Flooring America in Douglassville, bought a Tesla electric car for his business last January. He then spent a few thousand dollars to have a Tesla car-charging station installed at his store.
He also decorated the car with the company name as a marketing tactic.
“I believe that in the next 10 to 20 years, everyone will have an electric-powered vehicle,” Graefe said. “We got a lot more benefit from [the car] than anticipated. … One thing I was really surprised about since I got the car are the new customers that buy from the store because of it. Tesla electric car drivers are a loyal bunch.”
‘THE THING TO DO’
Graefe said people come in to buy flooring just because he is an electric car owner. Sometimes they use the charging station, but more often than not Graefe will offer that they take his Tesla car for a spin around the block.
He said he primarily bought the car for the green aspect.
He said he has always been environmentally conscious and has been selling green flooring for decades, before it became “the thing to do.”
EIGHT CHARGING STATIONS
Larken Associates, based in Branchburg, N.J., allowed Tesla to install the supercharging station at its Tilghman Square Shopping Center.
Funded and managed by Tesla, the electric vehicle station was placed in the Tilghman Square parking lot near Red Robin restaurant. The station has eight charging stations for Tesla owners.
“It has really put us on the map,” said Kelly, executive vice president of Larken’s commercial division.
Kelly said Larken Associates believes the station is a distinguishing feature that sets it apart from surrounding retail options in that area near Allentown.
Tesla also supplied two charging stations to Sayre Mansion in Bethlehem in 2015 via a promotion, according to Carrie Ohlandt, proprietor of Sayre Mansion.
“One is a Tesla-specific model, and the other is a generic one. Our customers use it, and then we charge $10 for a parking fee to people who are not our customers,” Ohlandt said. “We put them in because we noticed more and more guests needed one.”
As one of the first businesses in the Greater Lehigh Valley to get an EV charging station, Sayre initially got a consistent flow of motorists to use the charging unit. Now, superchargers are starting to multiply in the Lehigh Valley, and there are more choices and locations available for electric car drivers, Ohlandt acknowledged.
“People can download an app called PlugShare and find a charging station,” she said, adding that she never regretted the decision to put in the charging stations. “The timing was good, the promotion was there, and it was free to us.”
This year, Tesla announced its intent to increase the number of superchargers by 150 percent in North America. Tesla said it started 2017 with 5,000 superchargers worldwide and wants to hit 10,000 by the end of the year.
While Tesla is one of the most recognizable names among electric vehicle manufacturers, it is not the only automaker that is seeking to expand its network of EV stations.
Car manufacturers that also announced plans to continue adding electric vehicle stations worldwide this year include a joint initiative by BMW, Daimler, Ford, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicted that by 2040 half of all new cars will be electric vehicles.
And a recent Department of Energy study found it would take about 8,500 fast-charge stations that have an average of three plugs each to provide the minimum level of coverage nationally for 7 million electric vehicles. The stations would have to be placed in designated areas to meet that goal.
‘MORE FUN TO DRIVE’
Kurt Kelechava, vice president of Bethlehem Ford in Bethlehem, said the dealership has an electric car charger on-site and sees a future with plenty of electric vehicles on the road.
“People use the charging station, just not to a large degree yet,” Kelechava said, noting that Ford will release more electric vehicles in the coming years.
Graefe at My Dad’s Flooring said that driving an electric car has ruined it for him with respect to a traditional vehicle.
“It is so much more fun to drive, has a lot of zip to it,” he said of his Tesla. “It gets a lot of attention on the road. People see it and give the thumbs up or blow their horn.”