Hyatt will install Tesla recharging stations at three hotels, stretching in an arc from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe. The two companies announced the agreement Wednesday at Hyatt’s Fisherman’s Wharf hotel, where a handful of surprised tourists watched Mayor Gavin Newsom take one of the gleaming, all-electric sports cars for a spin.
Granted, installing chargers at three hotels may not seem like much of a business alliance.
But the agreement between Tesla, one of Silicon Valley’s growing crop of green tech startups, and Hyatt, a global corporation with 753 hotels, shows just how much has changed in the way the world looks at electric cars. Namely, they’re now considered sexy.
Hyatt chose to work with Tesla because the roadster will probably attract the same customers that the hotel chain wants – affluent people who don’t mind spending money for high-end anything. Despite the sizable price, Tesla has already received nearly 600 orders for its sleek and low-slung cars, the first of which will be shipped this fall.
“The kind of customer who would buy a Tesla and stay at a Hyatt is one and the same,” said Jordan Meisner, senior vice president of field operations for Hyatt.
That kind of customer apparently includes Newsom, who has placed an order for one of the cars (with his own money, he said – not the city’s). He used to lease an EV1, an earlier generation of electric car from General Motors, and said he briefly considered stealing it when GM recalled the vehicles.
“Some people thought they were ugly looking cars and you looked foolish in them,” Newsom said. “Now you have a world-class car that looks like a world-class car.”
By placing rechargers at Hyatts at Fisherman’s Wharf, Sacramento and Incline Village on Tahoe’s North Shore, a Tesla owner could drive from San Francisco to the lake without fear of running out of juice. Tesla has already driven one of the roadsters from Tahoe back to the company’s San Carlos headquarters without recharging, but that was downhill, said Diarmuid O’Connell, Tesla’s director of corporate marketing.
The agreement between Hyatt and Tesla underscores a primary issue for electric cars – coming up with a standardized way to recharge the things.
All Tesla owners will have two options. They can plug the roadster into a standard wall socket and wait six or seven hours to juice up. Or they can use a recharging station designed by Tesla, one that an electrician must install in the garage. Those are the stations that Hyatt will use at its three hotels, and they take three to four hours to recharge the roadster.
The method of recharging electric cars is a bigger issue than it may appear. During the era of the EV1, automakers battled over two different, incompatible recharging technologies.
One, backed by GM and Toyota, passed current through a flat, plastic-covered disc with a handle at one end. Drivers would insert the disc into a port on the car, and energy would be transferred via an electromagnetic field. The other technology, favored by Ford and Honda, worked more like a standard power plug, with power passing through connected pieces of metal. California regulators eventually weighed in, deciding in 2001 that they preferred Ford and Honda’s approach.
“That was a big controversy, a Beta versus VHS kind of debate,” said Roland Hwang, vehicles policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We need to make it as easy as possible for the consumer to make a clean-energy choice. You don’t want them to be confused.”
Tesla received a grant from the California Air Resources Board to design a recharging station that could be used by multiple makers of electric cars. Tesla is still devising ways to weatherproof the station, but the basic model uses what looks like a beefed-up extension cord with a circular plug. It attaches to the car on the rear post of the driver’s side.
Tesla hopes to persuade other automakers to use the same system.
“In some respects, we’ve done a lot of their work for them,” O’Connell said.
Other companies may not want to follow Tesla’s lead. GM, for example, is developing a car called the Volt that will function mostly on electricity, although it will have a small, gas-powered motor to recharge the battery once the car has gone more than 40 miles on a trip. GM spokesman Dave Barthmuss said the Volt will just use a standard power plug, not a special recharging station.
“We have to make it as consumer-friendly as possible,” he said.