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Monday, August 6, 2012, 6:20 am

Tesla plans Marin electric car service center

Also: Novato fuel-cell developer files Chapter 7; Zap in legal dispute with landlord

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    Fast-growing electric vehicle maker Tesla Motors Inc. (teslamotors.com) plans to open a service center in Marin County. It’s part of a plan by the Palo Alto-based company to double the number of repair facilities — currently 18 worldwide, including a large new one at the Fremont factory — by year-end, according to the company’s July 25 report on its second fiscal quarter.

    Tesla Motors Model S

    Tesla Motors is rapidly expanding its network of service centers as the Series S starts rolling out to customers this summer.

    This push for opening service centers coincides with the startup car maker’s start of deliveries in June of its Model S sedan, retailing for $50,000 to $100,000, depending on options and before clean-energy rebates. The company had 12,200 Model S reservations by late July and plans to deliver 5,000 this year, ramping up to 20,000 a year eventually. Tesla had sold more than 2,350 $100,000-plus Roadster sports cars between 2008 and late last month.

    The startup car maker leased 8,000 square feet of industrial space at 470 DuBois St. in San Rafael from D.R. Stephens, which acquired the six-building complex earlier this year. Tesla’s service center will be in similar company in the complex, also home to a Ferrari and Maserati repair center, according to Haden Ongaro, who brokered the lease for the owner with fellow Cornish & Carey Commercial Newmark Knight Frank agents Jeff Traynor and Mark Carrington.

    Tesla had several job postings for the San Rafael facility on its website last week. However, a company  spokeswoman declined to provide details on that location, saying more information could be coming later in August.

    As an all-electric vehicle, these vehicles don’t need oil changes, emissions inspections, exhaust system adjustments or replacement spark plugs, belts, rings or pistons. Yet the company does recommend owners have what moving parts there are and the intricate electrical systems be checked at least every 12,000 miles. Tesla also offers mobile repair visits — called Tesla Rangers — for $100 plus $1 a mile for longer round-trip house calls.

    ***

    Novato-based fuel-cell electric plant developer G3 Power Systems (g3powersystems.com) launched like lightning in 2010 with significant projects but now is seeking U.S. Bankruptcy Court protection as it liquidates.

    G3 garnered media attention in August 2010 with a plan to each week transform into electricity more than 1 million pounds of manure from about 600,000 chickens at Oliviera Egg Ranch near Stockton. Anaerobic bacteria in partner GHD’s biodigester would turn the feces to fuel — methane aka natural gas — to supply a 1.4 megawatt FuelCell Energy molten carbonate fuel cell, which would make electricity as well as heat that would further help the digestion process.

    Then federal and state incentive programs for renewable energy projects started to dramatically change, shift priorities and periodically exhaust available funds, according to Joe Wisniewski, in charge of G3′s business development. In particular, the Californian Public Utilities Commission in September of last year significantly changed eligibility requirements for its Self-Generation Incentive Program, or SGIP, limiting funds to alternative energy projects that emit fewer greenhouse gases afterward. Combined with a 30 percent federal investment tax credit, up to half the project cost could be offset.

    “With the change in the regulations, we had a backlog of two large power plants and another seven or eight power plants in the $15 million to $30 million range that could not be financed,” Mr. Wisniewski said. “We were not able to get the project moving with changing government incentives.” 

    G3 had obtained entitlements and permits to build the projects and had the $3 million to $12 million FuelCell Energy plants on order, when the paucity of incentives dried up financing and the projects were shelved, he said. 

    On July 2, G3 Power Systems filed for chapter 7 liquidation in the Santa Rosa bankruptcy court. In its filing, G3 listed $650,000 in secured creditor claims, a loan of that amount from Long Beach-based energy products investor Casey Co., and $364,000 in assets, namely a $317,000 refund from FuelCell on a project in Capitol City. Casey Co. previously lent $350,000 to the venture, according to court documents.

    ***

    Santa Rosa-based electric vehicle maker Zap Inc. is in a legal tussle with the owner of the building where the company had been assembling and distributing vehicles that arrived from manufacturing plants in China. Railroad Square Village LLC, owner of a warehouse at 806 Donohue St. in the Railroad Square district of Santa Rosa, filed an unlawful-detainer complaint in Sonoma County Superior Court on July 10.

    The building owner on June 27 served Zap with a standard three-day notice to settle accounts or move out, claiming $73,779 in past-due rent, according to the document. The company started leasing space there in October 2006, expanded in April of last year then scaled back the space in February of this year to a rate of $11,500 a month, the filing said.

    Zap attorney in this action, William Hill of Donohue Gallagher Woods in Oakland, filed a response July 23, disputing facts in the complaint. Zap explained unpaid rent by alleging the building had habitability problems and the company didn’t get credit for making repairs. Zap also alleges the landlord waived, changed or cancelled its move-out notice and filed the complaint in retaliation.

    The rent dispute is set to be heard before Judge Rene Chouteau the morning of Aug. 7.

    At one time, Zap occupied 70,000 square feet of the warehouse at West Ninth and Donohue streets. In April, Railroad Square Village managing member Rick Deringer worked with Zap Jonway’s parent company, Jonway Group of China, to acquire the Aptera electric vehicle intellectual property and move it into vacated Zap space in the building. The Aptera 2e three-wheeled vehicle was displayed alongside Zap Jonway vehicles at a major Beijing auto show.

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    Send items for this column to jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or call 707-521-4256.

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    Comments

    2 Comments

    1. September 12, 2012, 9:58 pm

      by ivy adams

      What will be the difference between this electric car service centers with the ordinary one? I am not really familiar with this one. But I think this is great. Maybe I should try to visit this said service center.


    2. September 13, 2012, 9:36 am

      by Jeff Quackenbush, Business Journal Staff Reporter

      This service center is similar to an automotive repair shop, except that work on the powertrain requires expertise with some significantly different components, such as electric motors instead of a fuel-fed engine.


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