By on August 21, 2011

The New York Times is outraged:

“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.”

Why in the world?

Costco was an early leader in setting up charging station, also in setting an example for other retailers, such as Best Buys and Walgreen. By 2006, Costco had 90 chargers at 64 stores. It didn’t matter that next to nobody had an EV.  Even after GM ditched the EV1, Costco kept the chargers.

Now as EVs are finally showing up in (small) numbers, Costco is pulling the plug-in poles.

“Nobody ever uses them,” said Dennis Hoover, the general manager for Costco in northern California, to the Times. “At our Folsom store, the manager said he hadn’t seen anybody using the E.V. charging in a full year.”

Plug In America, a California-based E.V. advocacy group, is mounting a spirited save-the-chargers campaign:

“Costco’s charging stations have supported the pioneering owners who purchased electric vehicles in the 1990s and early 2000s. As documented in Who Killed the Electric Car, most of these cars were taken back by the automakers and crushed. Fortunately, hundreds of these vehicles were saved by the electric vehicle activists who founded Plug In America. The owners still depend on these cars, many of which still perform just as well today as when new. These cars are a testament to the longevity and reliability of electric vehicles.”

The Costco outlets are outdated by current standards and most likely only fit those pioneering cars from the last millennium. A state-supported program would let Costco upgrade them at no cost.

Hoover is aware of the state-funded upgrade program, but does not want to use it: “Why should we have anybody spend money on a program that nobody’s thought through?”

Or maybe Costco is afraid of the electric bill, now that EVs possibly will show up en-masse?

You never know.

 

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44 Comments on “Boycott Costco! Save The Chargers!...”


  • avatar
    Darth Lefty

    That’s funny. I live in Folsom. Someone at the Intel plant just got a Leaf. I’ve seen it around town.

  • avatar
    acuraandy

    I would agree with the electric bill point.

    Through EPA regs, several coal-fired (p.s., the most cost effective, albeit ‘most polluting’ way to produce electricity) power plants are set to close shortly. Therefore, with lower output, electric companies will have no choice but to raise rates precipitously.

    Costco is simply trying to watch their bottom line when customers driving Volts/Leafs (who a couple generations ago drove first-gen VW Bugs) start expecting free ‘juice’ when they come in to buy bulk mayonnaise and cheese puffs.

    There is a chain of gas stations here in the Upper Midwestern US that I noticed had a charging station. Talk about counter-intuitive. It’s like, yeah, buy our gas, unless you have an EV, then you get fuel for free. Doesn’t sound like a good business model. Costco has obviously realized this error, and is taking action, despite subsidies from the state (in California’s case).

    As a result of this, and being a bourgeoisie Capitalist, Costco will continue to get my business, and indeed more of it. :)

    • 0 avatar
      thehomelessguy

      Actually EV charging “gas” stations are a sound business model. Ask anyone who owns a gas station what they actually make money on. It is not gas. At best they break about even. It’s the candy, soda, snacks, and food with which they make a profit.

      With that in mind an EV charger is a good idea. At best an EV takes 15-30 minutes to charge. With that amount of time a customer is likely to want to eat a full meal. It costs about 3 bucks to fully charge an EV. So likely some type of paid meter would be needed as that is a bit too much to give away for free. However most gas station owners would be willing to sell the electricity at cost/slight loss) if it means that a customer goes in, eats a sub and gets a drink/ a bag of chips. Gas stations with a large emphasis on food (like Sheetz) should be all over electric vehicle meters once electric vehicles are rolled out.

      BTW, most of the current GE/other new plugin stations are metered. As would be the ones Costco could get for free under the state program.

      • 0 avatar
        RedStapler

        +1

        The BP/ARCO stations in Northern CA * NV have this same business model right now. They sell the fuel with slim margins while making their money on the Beer, Cigarettes and other C-Store Staples.

        Throw in a Starbucks or similar with free wi-fi, some sort of fast food franchise and you’ll do just fine.

      • 0 avatar
        MrGreenMan

        Recouping the cost of renting your electric plug is a hard thing for a small business like an independent corner gas station. Lots of states have electrical monopoly protections that would prevent that sort of paid meter. You would have to have either a change in law (which your public utility commission would probably scream about, since it would allow somebody else to make more profit off electricity than they are allowed by law) or you would have to get quasi-governmental monopolies to co-locate the facilities (and then scream about needing a bond issue to purchase a giant number of these charging stations, and want to take the whole fee with them). $3 is probably way outside of the available margin on most purchases at gas stations and convenience stores.

      • 0 avatar
        jpolicke

        Gas stations and convenience stores have limited parking. Their business model is intended to get you in, sell you some stuff that you walk back to your car with and leave. They don’t make enough to have you hanging around for an hour or more. One or two charging stations isn’t going to provide any payback for the business.

        Starbucks sells a profitable product and if you hang around for a while you may purchase another drink. They already have the wifi service for that, and the setup costs are a fraction of putting in charging stations.

      • 0 avatar
        56BelAire

        I would think any business installing a plugin station would expect to make a profit on the “fuel” it is dispensing. I don’t believe using free electricity as a loss leader is a sound business model. Electricity costs and rates are high now and are going to escalate rapidly as coal plants are closed.

        As far a charging stations being “free” under a state program…..my Dad taught me at a very young age, “Nothing in life is free, someone had to pay for it”. In the case of “free” government programs and grants, it is of course the taxpayers who pay.

      • 0 avatar
        thehomelessguy

        To the people saying that the electric company won’t let you resell electricity, my understanding is that they get around this by having you rent the parking space. It’s just that, as long as you are renting the parking space, you get to fill up with “free” electricity. Parking meters are not illegal and neither are parking meters that let you recharge your car.

    • 0 avatar
      kowsnofskia

      This depends on the gas station. Ever seen a Sheetz or Wawa? They have pretty large parking lots (and big food sections inside). The average Wawa could probably hold 15-20 chargers.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The cost of maintenance probably isn’t worth it. For the facilities manager, it’s just another headache that isn’t worth the bother.

    The electricity costs are negligible, especially since no one is using them.

  • avatar
    Birddog

    I don’t blame Costco one bit. If it’s not being used it shouldn’t be there. The same thing would apply to any product or service. Costco wouldn’t keep shelves stocked with institutional size Sparkly Cracko Pops for a year or more if they weren’t selling. They’d dump them and do something else with the space..

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I wouldn’t spend four hours in Costco, so I don’t see why I’d bother plugging in my EV (if I had one). If I can’t get to Costco and a few other stores, then back home w/o charging along the way, I probably shouldn’t choose an EV.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      I wouldn’t spend four hours in Costco, so I don’t see why I’d bother plugging in my EV (if I had one).

      They’re probably some of the best-located parking spaces on the lot (and judging from the sound of things, those spaces are usually empty.)

      • 0 avatar
        Acd

        I’ve never understood why it is so important to get a “good” parking space to walk through a 100,000 square foot store. What’s a few extra steps?

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        I’ve never understood why it is so important to get a “good” parking space to walk through a 100,000 square foot store.

        My reaction is similar to those who can’t be bothered to walk the additional ten feet to the passenger side of the car when refueling it.

        Then again, I’m one of those who tries to park miles away from the entrance and away from other cars, in an effort to avoid dings and scratches.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      It depends on the charger they have and the car. As noted in the article it appears that the chargers they currently have are the old inductive paddle style. The new 480v charging port optional on base 11 Leafs and standard on the premium level 11 and all 12 Leafs will charge it to 80% from fully depleted in ~30 min. Pretty darn hard to get in and out of Costco in 30min or less. The coming Focus EV is also supposed to have that SAE standardized 480v quick charge port. Even if it was done with the old inductive chargers with the slower charge time, if it’s free and a prime parking space why wouldn’t you plug it in even if it’s only going to get maybe a 10% boost in charge level in the time you are n the store.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    The thinking behind these stations was probably influenced by the idea that EVs could be sold at big box stores and the stations were to be marketing tools more than anything. Since franchising law-bound manufacturers appear poised to dominate this segment come what may, there’s no point in giving away the occasional razor blade when someone other than Costco is selling every razor.

  • avatar
    detlump

    Even though gas stations supposedly make only slim margins on gas, it’s all I buy there. I swipe or speedpass my fuel and am gone as soon as possible. I hate waiting behind a group of customers who are buying smokes or beef jerky with pocket change and lint.

    I like hearing from friends in Ontario who think it is odd to buy alcohol at a gas station, to them it is like buying ammunition at a bank. (Ontario sells booze only thru govt run stores – huge monopoly there, big money maker).

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      It’s slightly missing the point, but Ontario’s got two separate outlets for alcohol – the gov’t run-LCBO, and the privatized The Beer Store (Molson-Coors and Labatts-Anheuser Busch each own 49%, with Sleeman-Sapporo representing the last two percent).

  • avatar
    dwford

    So in a greenie/electric car utopia, Costco’s parking lot would be filled with electric car chargers providng free electricity to their patrons. What happens if I park my gas car in the electric car spot? Do I get towed? Are electric car owners the new handicapped? And for Costco, a simple paved parking lot turns into a hugely expensive electrical grid. None of these issues have been thought through. So for now, business’s may install one or two chargers for image reasons knowing that they will probably never be used. This all sounds sooo much better than the current system.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Wait a second… Doesn’t Costco also sell gasolina?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Pg5K4Jx6FM

    Hmmm…

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      LOL.

      This raises the question, why are fuel filler doors on one side one some cars, and the other on other cars?

      IMO the filler ought always be on the driver’s side.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Putting the filler on the driver’s side is just plain common sense but give me the least popular filler side so I’ll have the advantage when there’s only one ‘open’ pump and other cars buzzing around the gas station.

      • 0 avatar
        ExPatBrit

        25% of the world drives on the left, including Japan where many of our vehicles are designed and manufactured.

        So drivers side doesn’t really mean anything .

        My recent German cars have all had fillers on the passenger side, our Lexus and Ford have it on the drivers side.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        For safety’s sake, it would be preferable for the fuel filler to be on the passenger side of the car, away from traffic.

      • 0 avatar
        Dynamic88

        @ExPat

        In any country there is a driver’s side, and not all cars are exported. Even our Japanese designed, UK (union) assembled CR-V has the filler on the driver’s side (e.g. on the left).

        You have a point though, most manufacturers outside the US plan on exporting, so inevitably the filler will end up on the wrong side.

        A vehicle such as the CR-V, which is produced in various places (US, UK, India, Pakistan, Mexico, Japan, Indonesia, China) could easily have the filler on the driver’s side, in any market.

      • 0 avatar
        Roberto Esponja

        +1 on having the fuel filler on the driver’s side.
        My wife’s truck has it on the passenger’s side, and I hate it.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Agreed on the location of the fuel door.

        It plays no role in vehicle safety; otherwise, we would have data showing as much and govt mandates on its location.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        It plays no role in vehicle safety

        If I had to service my car at the side of a busy roadway, I would prefer to be on the side of the vehicle that is away from traffic, rather than stand on or next to the road.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      There was a study done some years ago to determine the best “side” for the fuel filler. It was determined that there was a statistical increase in the driver avoiding a collision on the driver’s side – so damage to the filler would be slightly smaller if it were located on the driver’s side. As pointed out, for some countries, the driver’s side is different. But my recollection was that the difference of “safety” between passenger-side and driver-side fillers was not large. I do wish all auto makers would mark the side of the filler at the gauge (many do, but not every one).

      • 0 avatar
        ExPatBrit

        Actually having drivers approach the pump from different directions is more problematic, leading to gas purchaser having to back out on occasions.

        Every Costco I have ever purchased gas at has the cars entering only from one direction, the local Safeway Gas stations are also like it.

        If the fillers were only on one side it would certainly slow things down at Costco.

      • 0 avatar
        thehomelessguy

        Actually at (my) Costco it does not matter which side when you pull up to the pump. The pumps have long enough hoses that are on special reels so that you can direct the hose to the side it needs to be. It’s actually quite well done. Filling up at Costco is a very fast, safe endevour as anyone can use any lane and everyone is traveling in the same direction.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    I’ve been boycotting Costco since they put the chargers in. Now I can go back. Result!

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Shopping center, sports venue, theater maybe, but Costco where you don’t spend that much time there makes no sense, unless they put in the ultra-fast and ultra expensive quickie chargers.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      I may only need to ‘fill’ my EV with 10 more miles to make home. At 240 volts I may only need to be in Costco for 25 minutes or so. If I need to be there for 4 hours, I should’ve drove something that takes gasoline.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    EV charging is a conflict of interest as far as the oil companies (that supply Costco their gasoline) are concerned. They’re the ones the had Costco pull the plug.

  • avatar
    acuraandy

    See, that’s the wierd thing. I don’t think they charged for it.

  • avatar
    eldard

    I say good riddance.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    “As documented in Who Killed the Electric Car, most of these cars were taken back by the automakers and crushed. Fortunately, hundreds of these vehicles were saved by the electric vehicle activists who founded Plug In America.”

    That sounds like there are hundreds of rescued EV1′s tooling around and recharging at their friendly neighboorhood Costco. While I would love for that to be true, it’s not possible (is it?). So what are they referring to? RAV4′s?

  • avatar
    don1967

    “Nobody ever uses them”

    Free markets: 1

    Frustrated social engineers who enjoy playing with other people’s money: 0

  • avatar
    MarkD

    Would that article be written by Tom Friedman? The Times columnist with the Al Gore sized mansion and matching ego?

    I’m sure he rides the subway to work.

    Sarcasm aside, I just wish Costco would build some stores upstate. They don’t even need chargers.

  • avatar
    amca

    It’s unconscionable that they would remove charges no one was using. They have offended the gods of the electric car. Cosmic reprisal will meet Costco’s blasphemy.


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