Simon Unveils Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

Mall REIT Simon Property Group, Inc. (NYSE: SPG) is taking the lead in offering its customers electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. The Florida Mall in Orlando unveiled a station on April 5, making it the first retail property in the country to offer self-service vehicle chargers.

Customers can pull up, plug in and leave their vehicles at the charging station while shopping. There is one "Level 2" charger, which is capable of fully or partially charging a customer's electric vehicle depending on whether it is charges 60 or 120 minutes. Eventually, Simon Property will charge customers a nominal fee charging up.

The charging stations near the mall's food court entrance have been a hit with electric vehicle owners and curious passersby, according to George Caraghiaur, Simon Property's senior vice president of energy and procurement.

"We have had an outstanding response from customers about the charging station at The Florida Mall," he said. "The funniest one was from an elderly gentleman who was tickled to learn that he could charge his mobility chair with it."

Simon Property has been working on offering charging stations at its properties for about two years.

"We first approached utilities and organizations such as the Edison Electric Institute over two years ago to start working on concepts and have been in contact with manufacturers of EV car charging stations for over a year," he said.

During this initial rollout, Simon Property is partnering with Car Charging Inc., a Miami-based company that offers charging stations in public places, including parking garages, multi-family residential developments and commercial properties.

Simon Property had already fielded inquiries about the availability of an EV car charging station at The Florida Mall, a popular property. That made it a logical place to start the program, according to Caraghiaur.

In the face of rising gas prices and greater awareness of energy efficiency, consumers are turning to electric cars. Based on production numbers from electric vehicle automakers here will be about 1 million of them on the road by 2015 and possibly 27 million by 2020, which would be 10 percent of all U.S. vehicles, according to Simon Property.

With the expected rise in consumers driving electric cars, Simon Property is looking to cater to the growing market of EV drivers, according to Caraghiaur: "We believe that a well-developed EV charging infrastructure is going to be key to the success of EVs," said Caraghiaur.

Simon Property already plans to expand on the program. In late April, Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, Calif., will have its own car charging station situated in the property's parking deck.

Steven Heller, partner with the real estate and business law firm of Gilchrist & Rutter in California, said the stations are more than just conversation pieces.

"Commercial properties that invest in EV charging stations will not only create an additional revenue stream, but they will also attract tenants, and customers who can expect to re-charge their vehicles hassle-free," said Heller, adding that California is predicted to have the largest number of electric vehicles in the country.

"Our plan is to meet the needs of our shoppers as demand grows for this service," said Caraghiaur.