Mark Reuss, president of General Motors North America, is no stranger to plugging in an electric vehicle. But when a Chevrolet Volt took the place of the Power Wheels electric Cadillac Escalade in his garage this September, Reuss made the switch from 120-volt to 240-volt charging. While all electric vehicles will charge from a standard household outlet, a 240-volt supply significantly reduces charging time. In the case of Chevy’s Volt, a full recharge drops from eleven hours to four hours. There’s no telling how many plug-in buyers will opt for the higher voltage equipment, but for the early adopters and the fanatical electric-drive enthusiasts, we expect a 240-volt installation will be a rite of passage.
Reuss currently drives a Volt from GM’s captured test fleet but also has a car reserved for when Michigan deliveries begin later this year. The 240-volt installation at his suburban Detroit home, though, was more than a perk of the job. It was an early test of the same process that many Volt buyers will go through come December.
While plug-in owners have the option to use aftermarket 240-volt charging equipment and a local electrician, SPX (the Volt’s exclusive retailer and installer of the Voltec 240-volt equipment) and Chevrolet are aiming to create an easy, one-stop shopping experience. Customers will upload photos of their garage and electric service panel through www.homecharging.spx.com/volt as part of an online survey. SPX will then conduct an on-site survey, provide a quote, secure the necessary permit, perform the installation, and assist with the inspection. With SPX installation, the equipment also includes a three-year warranty.
SPX estimates the typical installation will cost $1475. The 240-volt cord set will cost $490. Nissan’s charging partner, Aerovironment, provides a similar service to Leaf drivers and says its typical installation is about $235 more at $2200 including the hardware. Both companies acknowledge, though, that every installation is different and many customers will pay more or less than their average. The installation at Reuss’s suburban Detroit home was atypically straightforward, requiring only one hour instead of the usual two to three hours. With a breaker panel in the garage, SPX’s contracted electrician simply had to run a few feet of conduit and wire and mount the device to the wall. The cost? About $800, plus the $490 Voltec unit.
With the installation complete, Reuss jokes about removing the “Gasoline Alley” sign hanging on the garage wall. He grabs the connector from the wall for the first time. Its shape mimics a gas nozzle, but the experience is still new. He plugs it in and a green charge indicator light on the dash flicks on. “This is so neat”, he says. “It’s not intuitive.” But for thousands of Americans — whether they own a plug-in hybrid or battery-electric vehicle — the process of plugging in will soon be as familiar as filling up at the gas station.