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A Hat Tip To Costco…Lack Of Usage Prompts Costco To Forgo Electric Car Chargers And It Helps Taxpayers By Resisting The Lure Of Free Government Money

Costco should get an award. It is not going to accept free money from the government in a situation where it doesn’t think it will do any good.

It made an announcement covered in the online “Wheels” column of The New York Times — Citing a Lack of Usage, Costco Removes Electric Vehicle Chargers:

Costco, the membership warehouse-club chain, was an early leader in offering electric-vehicle charging to its customers, setting an example followed by other retailers, including Best Buy and Walgreen. By 2006, Costco had installed 90 chargers at 64 stores, mostly in California but also some in Arizona, New York and Georgia. Even after General Motors crushed its EV1 battery cars, the Costco chargers stayed in place.

Yet just as plug-in cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt enter the market, Costco is reversing course and pulling its chargers out of the ground, explaining that customers do not use them.

“We were early supporters of electric cars, going back as far as 15 years. But nobody ever uses them,” said Dennis Hoover, the general manager for Costco in northern California, in a telephone interview. “At our Folsom store, the manager said he hadn’t seen anybody using the E.V. charging in a full year. At our store in Vacaville, where we had six chargers, one person plugged in once a week.”

Mr. Hoover said that E.V. charging was “very inefficient and not productive” for the retailer. “The bottom line is that there are a lot of other ways to be green,” he said. “We have five million members in the region, and just a handful of people are using these devices.”

Whether it makes sense for Costco to offer free vehicle charging is really a marketing decision; with more electric vehicles on the road, the demand may increase. Whether the presence of vehicle charging stations leads consumers to shop at one store over another is something retailers will be studying for a long time.

Our own take is that shopping is mostly a fairly local experience, and consumers don’t spend that much time in a store.  Most electric vehicles are not going to be used to the max of their range. They don’t need to “top-off” with 20 minutes of power. It is nice to get free electricity from Costco, but it is not necessary.

If retailers want to “go green” by facilitating plug-in electric vehicles, the logical place to do it is with staff parking. Employees are at the store for much longer than consumers and could actually recharge their cars. Because a commute is predictable and a major consideration when purchasing a car, the availability of electric chargers for employees might encourage the purchase of electric plug-in vehicles as the employee would not need a vehicle with at least a round-trip capacity, and the availability of free electric from Costco or another retailer would mean that fuel would cost the employee nothing.

The current chargers are actually out of date but, contrary to common opinion, it turns out that California is so flush with money it can afford to pay to upgrade them at no cost to Costco. The article explains:

The Costco outlets are also outdated by current standards, but a state-supported program stands ready to upgrade them at no cost to Costco.

That was one impetus for a $2.3 million program supported by the California Energy Commission and overseen by the charging companies Clipper Creek and EV Connect, which would have 600 to 650 so-called legacy E.V. chargers upgraded. According to Will Barrett, a Clipper Creek program manager, 30 new chargers have been installed since the program began operations in July. Mr. Barrett said that Costco decided not to participate in the state program last March.

Mr. Hoover said the company was aware of the state-funded upgrade program, but did not see a compelling reason to take advantage of it.

“Why should we have anybody spend money on a program that nobody’s thought through?” he said.

Imagine that… an entity that is not going to just spend money because the government will pay the bill. If such an attitude catches on, the US might even get its Triple A credit rating back. 

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