Electrify America to Juice Up Electric Cars

Volkswagen Unit to Deploy 2,000 Fast Chargers by End of 2019

A lack of public charging stations in the US is seen as a major barrier to mass adoption of electric vehicles in the country. Although supporting infrastructure has improved, so-called “range anxiety” continues to be a hindrance to wide-scale adoption of these cars.

Volkswagen’s Electrify America unit recently announced an ambitious plan to partner with major retailers and developers, with the aim of bringing fast charging for electric vehicles to more locations in the US.

Electrify America announced that it will install 2,000 fast-charging stations at 484 areas in the country. As part of the deployment, it also announced a partnership with Walmart for locating 100 of those stations at its stores. Walmart already has chargers at many of its stores in the US, and the investment is expected to double this infrastructure. Electrify America has chosen four companies — ABB, BTC Power, Efacec and Signet — that are proven hardware suppliers for existing electric-car charging networks.

There’s some irony in the fact that Electrify America is a direct offshoot of a settlement between the US Environmental Protection Agency and Volkswagen to spend $2 billion over 10 years to build a nationwide charging network for electric vehicles. The agency had found that Volkswagen intentionally programmed turbocharged direct injection diesel engines to activate their emission controls only during laboratory emissions testing.

The settlement stipulated that the chargers be compatible with and accessible to electric cars manufactured by any automaker. However, it appears that Electrify America has unsurprisingly prioritised cars that are compatible with the Combined Charging System — a protocol supported by most electric vehicles including Volkswagen — over vehicles that adopt the CHAdeMO standard, which is mainly used by Nissan, one of the first movers in the electric-vehicle space. The need for a single standard is something CCS Insight has covered previously (see Electric Cars Need a Plug Standard).

The chargers will range from 50 kilowatt-hours (kWh) in urban areas to swift 350 kWh charging at highway locations. Customers will be able to pay for with a credit card, just like when buying petrol. The roll-out will involve three types of installation: charging points along highways, Metro Stations located within cities and Metro Hubs on the outskirts of 17 major metropolitan areas.

Many large retailers have petrol stations either attached to their stores or located nearby. Now electric-car chargers will also become a regular staple of store car parks. As California is at the forefront of adoption of clean cars, Volkswagen will spend $800 million in the state and a total of $2 billion nationwide.

This is an encouraging development to grow the fleet of electric cars in the US, but there’s undoubtedly a challenge in consumer behaviour. US motorists have a deep-seated affinity for combustion engines. Compare the 2,000 electric charging stations with the existing 115,000 petrol stations in the country. Despite evidence that electric cars are more sustainable than cars with internal combustion engines, it will take an even greater push for electric vehicles to reach critical mass, and we expect it will involve bigger government incentives.

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