Hyundai, Tesla exchange barbs over refueling networks – one of them has a point
Say whatever you like about any automaker, just don’t associate them with government money or they will get very upset. The issue takes on added significance when it comes to alternative fuel technologies.
Case in point: a Hyundai executive insinuating (incorrectly) that Tesla built its Supercharger network with taxpayer dollars, and Tesla firing back about the source of funding for hydrogen refueling stations.
What was said
It all started when Hyundai’s head of U.S. product planning, Michael O’Brien, curiously stated that Tesla funded its Supercharger network with “money that has come from grants and loans from the government.”
Of course Tesla, as virtually anyone paying attention to the auto industry at the time might remember, paid off its $465 million loan from the Department of Energy nearly a decade ahead of schedule. In effect, the company actually funds the Supercharger network through the price of its 85-kWh Model S and the Supercharger option for the 60-kWh version.
Never one to take ill-aimed criticism lying down, Tesla VP of business development Diarmuid O’Connell fired back at Hyundai in comments to Green Car Reports.
"I am furious at any allegation that any public money was spent on the Supercharger network," O’Connell said. "Those sites have been paid for entirely by Tesla Motors – which continues to spend money in expanding the network."
Cue more verbal sparring between EVs and hydrogen
Of course, O’Connell didn’t stop there. He took a shot at Hyundai’s fuel cell program and the tall task facing manufacturers of hydrogen-powered vehicles of providing adequate refueling infrastructure, saying that Hyundai “[has no] manufacturing presence in California but expects the state’s taxpayers to spend up to $200 million to set up hydrogen stations.”
Ever since GM and Chrysler were forced to accept federal government bailout money to stay afloat, and companies like Fisker have died while on the taxpayer payroll, automakers have been wary of association with government funding.
The issue is especially relevant, though, when it comes to alternative fuel technologies like EVs and fuel cell vehicles: both need government assistance to get off the ground, particularly to establish refueling networks, but one requires more taxpayer aid than the other.
Considering there are currently 11 hydrogen refueling stations in the United States (10 in California and 1 in South Carolina) and each costs upward of $1 million to build, it would be interesting to hear Hyundai’s plan for building out infrastructure to support a nationwide fleet of hydrogen vehicles.
No doubt quite a lot of public money would be involved; already, California has indeed committed $200 million to establishing a network of refueling stations.
The immense head start of EV infrastructure
Electric vehicles, in contrast, are plugged into tens of thousands of residential charging stations and wall outlets every night. Obviously electric cars charge more slowly and don’t travel as far on a “tank” as hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, but that is changing quickly and will continue to do so.
There is also the fact that the Department of Energy’s already-outdated count puts the number of public charging stations nationwide at 20,587, and each station ranges from $5,000-$10,000 installed for a Level II charger to $30,000- $100,000 for DC fast charging stations. The leading provider, ChargePoint, boasts more stations than there are both Starbucks and McDonald’s in the United States. Public charging stations are no longer a rarity, but have become quite common.
The king of the electric vehicle chargers, Tesla’s Supercharger stations are capable of adding 170 miles of range in a half hour and cost anywhere from $35,000 for a portable 120-kW unit to $150,000 for multi-unit stations without solar power. Adding solar capability ups the price to $300,000, and future stations will be equipped with batteries for storing the sun’s energy. Tesla currently has 102 strategically placed Supercharger locations in the U.S. and is expanding the network aggressively.
To be fair to Hyundai, the Korean automaker has never accepted direct funds from any U.S. government agencies to support its hydrogen R&D. And as Green Car Reports observes, it is possible that O’Brien’s comments were referring to the fact that the Supercharger network was born while Tesla still had government money in its pocket.
It is certainly true that government funding is partially responsible for the existing nationwide network of public electric vehicle chargers, such as the Blink Network (formerly of Ecotality, now in the hands of the CarCharging Group). Given this, it is possible that the Hyundai exec misspoke and was referring to this network of Level II public charging stations not actually associated with Tesla. We certainly hope one of the above is the case, otherwise Mr. O’Brien may rightfully be called the intellectual equivalent of Sara Palin.