Share this article

print logo

Charging up efficiently in N. Tonawanda; Firm has a new 'angle' for electric car stations

Audubon Machinery Corp. sees a bright future for electric cars and wants to tap into the business of recharging them.

The North Tonawanda-based manufacturer is making electric vehicle charging stations that draw their power from solar and wind energy produced on-site.

"That's really our angle," said Joseph M. McMahon, Audubon's president. "There are other manufacturers out there that are offering just a charging station that plugs into the grid. Our angle is to tie the renewable energy-producing gear to the charging stations."

Audubon's systems, which come in 120- and 240-volt versions, are not designed for use in homes. "Our target market is going to be other businesses, other factories, other companies that would like to make an environmental impact and provide similar stations either for their employees or their customers," McMahon said.

The company has two charging stations at parking spaces at its plant on Wurlitzer Drive, with power supplied by a wind turbine and a solar array on the roof. Any Audubon employee who buys an electric vehicle can charge it for free during working hours.

Audubon showcased its technology Monday with help from Joe Basil Chevrolet in Depew, which brought in three Chevy Volt extended-range electric vehicles for display and test drives.

James D. Basil, the dealership's president, predicted that charging stations will become more commonplace as electric vehicles gain acceptance. "You're going to see those in malls, theaters, schools, businesses."

Electric-powered vehicles such as the Volt and the Nissan Leaf are trying to win favor in the U.S. market. Both the Volt and the Leaf have recorded modest sales so far. Nissan reported selling 1,362 Leafs in August. GM sold 302 Volts, with sales hampered by a temporary plant shutdown. But both manufacturers are pledging to step up output, as they expand the sales territory for their vehicles.

David A. Kostick, a sales engineer for IMT Solar, a division of Audubon, said charging stations can help electric cars catch on. "Electric cars are like any other new technology. Without infrastructure, they'll never take off," he said.

Kostick said Audubon's employee charging stations grew out of a demonstration project for its technology. Power generated from renewable sources is stored in batteries and used for applications such as illuminating its flagpoles. But Audubon found that it still had power left over and decided to make charging stations available to employees as a perk.

McMahon said the systems made by Audubon will cost $5,000 to $10,000 per charging station, depending on the system a customer chooses. "We certainly have a lot of opportunity and a lot of people calling us," he said.

The Audubon president said one of the "knocks" against electric vehicles is that the carbon dioxide emissions saved by a more efficient propulsion system are merely pushed "upstream" to the site of a power-generating plant.

"With a [recharging] system like this, you eliminate the CO2 generation altogether, because what we're doing is creating the energy that goes into the vehicles from renewable sources," McMahon said.

Audubon is a "green" story in itself. Its plant was built on a cleaned-up industrial dump site, and in 2007 became the first manufacturing facility in New York State to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, or LEED, from the U.S. Green Building Council. One of its divisions is focused on the renewable energy industry, and the company plans to start producing micro wind turbines at the plant next spring.

Erie County Executive Chris Collins is part owner of Audubon, with three other partners. He noted that almost half of Audubon's sales are exports, much of them to Asia.

"There are jobs here competing worldwide, winning worldwide, which just shows you manufacturing is not dead in America," Collins said. "You need the right niche of products, you need to be productive, you need the kind of skilled workers we have here."

Audubon has 52 employees and expects sales of $12 million to $13 million this year. Its plan, McMahon said, is to double its sales volume in the next two years.