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Charging is Carving the Path to EV Adoption

June 24, 2024
A new study suggests the closer you live to EV chargers, the more likely you are to buy an EV.

It’s hard to say which is the greater need for the electric-vehicle transition: More vehicles or more chargers? The last few years have been a relative sweet spot in terms of sentiment for EV manufacturers, with companies like Rivian and Lucid making their public debuts. More recently, though, EV charging has taken more of a spotlight.

The nation’s biggest public charging network, ChargePoint Holdings, is partnering with LG Electronics for newer, better chargers that will be a competitive choice for public infrastructure projects. In May, ChargePoint also announced a partnership with Airbnb to allow hosts to purchase and install chargers at their listings and allow guests access to the larger network during their stay. The company is also breaking into heavy-duty charging with its recent announcement of its own Megawatt Charging System (MCS),  the technology used to charge commercial electric trucks.

On a similar growth note, EV charging network operator Flo recently secured $136 million in long-term capital, an investment that will not only help Flo advance the rollout of its ultrafast and next-gen home chargers, but also fund new charging solutions and aid in Flo’s network expansion. Despite more than a decade in the EV charging sector, Flo owns and operates less than 1% of the 100,000+ chargers and stations it has manufactured. Now, the company intends to change that over the next three years by raising that number to 25%.

Blink Charging, meanwhile, seems to be the leading the way in bringing government agencies to the EV side by pursuing FedRAMP accreditation. That would give Blink the security authorization to partner with the federal government for cloud charging solutions, alongside becoming an official charging provider for New York.

The push by charging companies is indicative of the larger trend to get chargers in the ground across the United Sates. Earlier this month, the Biden-Harris Administration announced a new $1.3 billion funding opportunity as it aims to build a national network of 500,000 public EV charging stations and cut national greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.

According to a new Pew Research study, over 60% of Americans now live within 2 miles of a public charger. While the vast majority of charging occurs at home, the perception of easier access can go a long a way in improving opinions of EVs themselves: The study also found that those living less than a mile from a public charger were most likely to seriously consider an EV purchase.

That insight isn’t exactly new: In a 2023 study by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 80% of the public blamed “the lack of charging infrastructure” as a primary reason for not buying an EV.

That’s not to say there haven’t been significant strides made. In December 2020, there were 29,000 public charging stations across the country, and as of February 2024, that number had more than doubled to 61,000. By comparison, there are roughly 145,000 fueling stations in the country.

But range anxiety isn’t the only obstacle when it comes to adoption. There’s also a lack of choice. Rivian Founder and CEO RJ Scaringe explained the problem during a recent fireside chat, saying that EVs—which now have about 8% market share—aren’t competing against each other but with the 92% of customers who haven’t switched to electric.

“There’s a true lack of choice. There may be EVs in price points that are similar but they’re not compelling enough,” he said. “There isn’t the right combination of features or attributes that really warrant someone making a switch from an ICE vehicle to an EV.”

Scaringe praised Tesla, calling the Model Y, which is the best-selling EV in the country, a “highly compelling product,” but added that there are certain things a consumer has to accept, such as its design as a car-like SUV.

“We think there’s some realistic limit to how many customers are going to have design preference elasticity to go from a Model Y to something else,” he said.

Tesla’s success has also inspired a flurry of similar designs, which Rivian’s upcoming R2 SUV aimed to avoid.

“We think the market needs more variety and diversity in terms of features, content, form factor, design and brand presentation. In order to get from 8% electrified to 100% electrified, we don’t believe every customer is going to want to be in the same thing.”

Charger Reliability

This problem extends to chargers as well. Officially, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration generally requires chargers to have an uptime greater than 97%, translating roughly to a maximum of 10 days’ worth of downtime a year. In Q1 2023, however, nearly 21% of EV drivers at public charging stations experienced a charging failure, with “station connectivity issues” topping the list of reasons.  

Blink CEO Brendan Jones highlighted how much the industry must progress at a recent J.D. Power conference:

“You still need to get a depth and breadth of DC chargers in the ground before you hit critical mass. We also have to be more realistic about the time it takes to build a station like that. It’s not as simple as some people think. The NEVI program is moving right along […] but building a fueling station that can support multiple manufacturers’ vehicles and meet all the safety standards, it takes time.”

Last year, Tesla’s charger architecture, the North American Charging Standard (NACS), essentially won the port wars and has been mass adopted by other companies, including big-name manufacturers like Ford Motor and General Motors as well as fellow EV makers, including Rivian

Now it’s time for various players in the sector—OEMs, charger makers, government agencies and others—to step on the gas and work away what remains of range anxiety. But until then, it’s possible EV companies will continue to see slower growth rates and even, as in the recent case for Fisker Inc., face potential failure.

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