ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Electric vehicles sales are growing at a faster clip than the broader U.S. car business, reports the Wall Street Journal. Still a sliver of the overall market, sales of plug-in vehicles more than doubled in the first half of 2021 compared with 2020, with a 78% sale boost through June this year, according to research firm Motor Intelligence.
Collectively, auto companies are spending $330 billion over the next five years to bring more plug-in models to showrooms, according to consulting firm AlixPartners LLP. Longer driving ranges and a wider variety of body styles and price points have helped generate interest in plug-in cars, but hurdles remain, including higher sticker prices and a shortage of places to recharge.
Recently, auto executives have said that they believe consumer interest is on the rise and should help speed the transition. The U.S. market lags Europe and China in EV adoption, but executives are encouraged by the Biden administration’s plans to invest in charging station infrastructure and incentivize consumers to purchase EVs.
Meanwhile, utilities and startups are racing to build fast EV-charging networks throughout the United States. The Journal reports that more fast-charging stations, which repower a battery in about 30 minutes instead of several hours, could enable an electric version of the American road trip and alleviate range anxiety among drivers.
The refueling experience of an EV should mimic as closely as possible the convenience of a stop at the gas station, Jeffrey Lyash, chief executive of the Tennessee Valley Authority, told the Journal. “It’s going to be in a well-lit, secure place with amenities where you can get a cup of coffee, catch up on your emails, charge your vehicle and move on,” he said.
While utilities potentially stand to make money from selling more electricity, fast-charging stations present new stress points for power grids too. U.S. investor-owned utilities outside California have approved $1.49 billion in EV programs and have another $672 million pending approval at utility commissions, according to Atlas Public Policy, a Washington, D.C., research firm that tracks the EV market. That includes plans for more than 9,100 fast chargers, 245,000 other chargers and programs such as transit buses and associated charging.
“Those are big numbers, but they’re nothing compared to what the need is,” said Nick Nigro, founder of Atlas Public Policy. Nearly $90 billion in investment would be required this decade to move the U.S. to 100% electric-passenger vehicles and light trucks by 2035, he said.
IHS Markit tracked 16,700 new chargers installed in the U.S. in 2020. Of those, only 3,700 were fast chargers. “Widespread fast charging in the U.S. is a decade-plus off, even using the most enthusiastic forecasts,” said Peter Gardett of IHS Markit.
Around 80% of charging happens at home, and the earliest wave of EV buyers have been homeowners who can plug in overnight, said Robert Barrosa, senior director of sales, business development and marketing at the charging provider Electrify America. Utilities and charging-station companies expect ownership patterns to grow to include more apartment and condo dwellers, who will need access to public charging. But even gung-ho early adopters have found the current charging landscape difficult.
“It’s clear that the convenience industry is the best place not only for drivers to get the fuel they need for their vehicles today, but also for them to get the energy they need in the future,” said Doug Kantor, general counsel, NACS. “Public policy needs to ensure there is a competitive private market for electric-vehicle charging and other future fuels so that convenience retailers can invest in those options and build the infrastructure we need in the future. That is the only way drivers will purchase those vehicles with confidence that they know they will always have a convenient place to get what they need while on the road.”
For retailers considering diversifying into EV charging, a report from the Fuels Institute Electric Vehicle Council, “EV Consumer Behavior,” provides invaluable insights into the EV market. The report includes information about the habits and practices of current EV owners and how those might change over time.
To learn more about the future of EVs and EV charging, read “The Future of Mobility Includes Electric” in NACS Magazine to see how you can take advantage of the accelerating technology to drive traffic to your convenience store.