Sonic drive-in tests EV charging stations, solar panels


Retro drive-in restaurant chain Sonic (NYSE: SONC) has become the latest retailer to jump on the EV charging bandwagon, installing stations at locations in Boerne, Texas and Westminster, Colorado. Charging is free for customers.

Sonic VP of Facilities Wayne Brayton told the San Antonio Business Journal that the chargers are part of a pilot to see how well they are received by customers. “It seemed like a custom fit for us, so we’re excited to see what happens for us over the next few months.”

EVSE vendor Sun Country Highway conducted market research, and recommended the two sites because surrounding areas had a high percentage of EVs. It installed the charging stations for $6,000 per location, each of which has two 40-amp chargers.

Sonic’s drive-in design allows solar panels on the canopies above the auto stalls, and the company is exploring this with a pilot in San Antonio.

Fast food chains are arriving at the charging party a bit late. McDonald’s is the leader, with 46 charging stations nationwide, followed by Starbucks with 4.


Source: Nation’s Restaurant News, San Antonio Business Journal

  • Carlo Luri

    Someone explain to me how this makes sense. How much charge are you going to get from a 40A charger in the 20 minutes it takes you to gulp down some fast food? And the solar panels, while they might make sense to off-set the monthly electric bill are like an eye dropper filling a swimming pool when it comes to charging an eV. Unless they are willing to invest in DC fast chargers they might as well save their $6,000.

    • Brock Nanson

      That’s 10 miles of range you wouldn’t otherwise have had…

      • Vincent Wolf

        Depends on if your a slow eater–maybe 30 minutes you got 15 miles of juice. That’s worth a couple of bucks of gas.

      • dogphlap dogphlap

        Yes, my numbers say 16km at 200W/km (typical for a Tesla Model S) for a 20 minute stop, so as you say 10 miles. I can’t decide if it makes sense to spend on this or not. Still I would go out of my way to eat there simply because they are helping the move to EV’s even if this is more of a gesture than anything else. Such a level 2 source of charge can be a big help if you suddenly realise you aren’t going to make it to the next charging stop otherwise.

    • TonyWilliamsSanDiego

      There are plug-in hybrids that this might help. But, I agree, this is mostly expensive window dressing.

      I seriously doubt that many of these chain restaurants can see the short term value of a $50,000 to $100,000 installed DC charger at every location, so this is better than nothing.

      • Michael B

        Wasn’t one of the first truly public and free Chademo quick chargers installed right behind a Sonic Burger in Vallejo, CA? They also had a dozen or so level 2’s, “IIRC”. Sonic may have had nothing to do with it for I know, though. Plus, it broke and took forever to fix. I’d love to see more Sonic and others “do it right” though… like Aldi Sud in Germany (!! Aldi Sud’s “kin”, Aldi Nord, owns Trader Joes here. When is TJs going to see and share the (sun)light?!

        • TonyWilliamsSanDiego

          The first DC charger was installed in Vacaville, California in 2010. Here’s a quote:

          “Tom Dowling drove in his Rav4 EV about 50 miles from his home in Folsom to check out the DC quick charger… “This charger is an important milestone,” Dowling said. “This is what you could have on your travel corridors. It’s quite possible in California that we’ll see two or three dozen of these. It could be the wave of the future.””

          • Michael B

            Oh yeah, that’s what I meant, *Vacaville*. Everything else I said is right. It’s right behind a Sonic Burger, etc. Just mixed up my I-80 V-towns on the way to Sacramento, LOL.

            And apparently the charger was never fixed, is out of service and was removed from plugshare.

          • TonyWilliamsSanDiego

            That unit was built in Japan by TAKAOKA TOKO for Eaton.


            Two problems:

            1) It was never UL listed

            2) Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), as well as all California public utilities, is prohibited from operating end-user electric sales (after the meter). There have recently been exemptions (the camel with his nose under the tent), but I don’t expect utilities to be allowed to compete against private for-profit ventures in our state.

      • kotedo

        Nissans DC-Fast charging unit was $15k last time I checked. Not $50k or even $100k. Most utility companies are happy to drop a 480V transformer on premise at highly discounted rates, too.

        • TonyWilliamsSanDiego

          Awesome news!!! Heck, with depreciation of the charger and guaranteed free transformers from every utility (and free permits, free insurance, free labor, free comcrete, free land use, free maintenance), these things should be springing up like weeds !!!

          On a more somber note, Nissan / Sumitomo quit building those units that you mentioned a few years ago. I personally have two of them. The “typical” cost of just a ABB brand “real charger” with CHAdeMO and CCS is about $30,000 in the US.

          Plus all the other stuff that isn’t free.

          Nissan’s own data using THEIR chargers is $49,000 per install. I think NRG /eVgo is paying $200,000 per install with two DC charger and one L2.

          When you find all that free stuff, let me know…

    • Ramon A. Cardona

      I am happy to explain. Solar panels provide power no matter if the business is open or not. Depending on the business, panels can provide 25% or higher of the electric power. That adds up on a yearly basis. As to the chargers, electric car and plug-in hybrids owners patronize businesses with chargers. No matter 30 or 45 minutes of charge, this extends the range. My car get 18 miles per hour. Others 26 plus. Besides, the idea is to attract customers. It is like discount coupons. Agreed?

    • mark fitzpatrick

      That is the same thing I was thinking . They need the DC chargers to really
      Help not enough time to Mae 240 volt count.

    • HCB

      I’d be thrilled with it. That could be half of my day’s driving.

  • Jay

    If the plug-in car owner happens to like Sonic then this is an extra perk. They may get some new customers as well that would be enticed by the goodwill of having charging stations.
    I think fastfood joints may not be the best locations for L1 or L2 charging stations though. It would have to be places where people would spend more time, like shopping malls, sit-down restaurants, movie theaters, stadium/arenas holding concerts and sports events, libraries, parks, hotels, and the like.

    • kotedo

      Partially true. If more businesses provide “opportunity charging” spots, then the sum of them make up for a netzero experience driving and shopping in town.

  • Vincent Wolf

    Now PLEASE install one at the Sonic drive in located at

    7561 Shaffer Parkway, Littleton, CO 80127


  • kotedo

    Chattanooga, TN please

  • Lance Pickup

    This may help “short” range cars and attract a few owners of those vehicles, but the coming batch of 200+ mile cars that will likely make up the majority of the EV fleet will probably never need this type of opportunity charging for only a few miles of added range (the typical use model for those cars will be normally you will barely dip into the available range, except when you are on a long trip and will then require fast charging).

    I applaud their willingness to give it a shot, but really wish it were grocery stores and sit-down restaurants (Ruby Tuesday, etc.) that were doing this.

    • Robert Pogson

      A lot of small businesses are in high traffic areas with the plan that they will get business from some fraction of passersby. Putting in an EV charging station can add traffic from the class of folks who would not jump in the car to get a burger because the use of gasoline might cost more than the burger. If the cost of fuel is covered for the EV-driver, he/she may well make the trip. Also, there are tree-huggers and others amongst us who will visit a business simply because the business does something to be friendly to the environment. At the moment, there aren’t enough EVs to make this choice instantly profitable but growth is huge and every advantage over the competition matters. If the price of gasoline spiked, competitors may lose more business than the EV-friendly business. EV-chargers are a long term investment and a short term feel good thing. It’s all good for business. I’m sure as chargers become all the rage, the price of them will come down and businesses will include them from the beginning instead of making them an expensive add-on. A business that could definitely profit from EV-charging sooner are parking lots. They are often in congested parts of cities and they are usually all full. If the guy offering EV-charging can charge a bit more than competitors who don’t, the guy offering charging makes more money. At times when they aren’t full, the guy offering charging may get more customers.