Quick, what’s the fifth biggest city in the U.S.? Right, Phoenix. And it’s in Arizona’s Maricopa County, which today signed an agreement with the Renault-Nissan Alliance and EV leader ECOtality for a network of electric car charging stations. ECOtality had already signed such a deal with Tucson, and now it wants to link the two cities with fast-charging all along the I-10 corridor.

Why Nissan? The automaker is rolling out a 2010 electric car this fall. In fact, Nissan is in Phoenix today giving the mayor and the press rides in an early version, shoehorned into the Nissan Cube. (The actual test vehicle will be a sedan.) The car was earlier shown in Los Angeles’ Dodgers Stadium, where according to EV fan Paul Scott (in an email) it earned a B+ for performance. The actual car will be 200 pounds lighter, so it should do better.

I spoke to ECOtality’s CEO, Jonathan Read, and he says the company’s game plan is to work with Nissan getting into cities with charging stations before the cars roll out. Phoenix is to get at least 1,000 Nissan EVs. Read says consumers need 2.8 chargers to have a “rich environment” (at home, at work and then a fractional one at some place they visit frequently).

The latter includes big-box retailers, from Home Depot to Wal-Mart, which are a natural for 15-minute fast charging. “I defy anyone to spend less than 15 minutes picking up a Starbucks latte,” Read said. “The typical shopping experience takes at least that long.”

Mark Perry, director of product planning for Nissan North America, was at the Phoenix airport when I talked to him. “We’re getting involved in infrastructure because it’s the key enabler for markets to get plug-in ready,” he said. “At the end of the day, the infrastructure has to be in the ground. It would be perfect if it was ready when we roll out, but that may be asking too much.”

Nissan's cute Cube EV on the road, in Japan (I think):


Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.