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Encore: To get more people to drive electric cars, more charging stations are needed


There's a nightmare that haunts electric vehicle drivers - getting stuck in the middle of nowhere without any battery left. NPR's Brittany Cronin reports that building a network of chargers is a critical part of getting more Americans to go electric.

BRITTANY CRONIN, BYLINE: Phil Torres and his wife were thinking about buying an electric car for a while. They go on a lot of road trips with their kids, and one of the main things they thought about was whether they'd be able to charge on those trips.

PHIL TORRES: We spent a lot of time, like, literally doing the calculations of, can we get from here to there and back without getting stuck on the side of the road?

CRONIN: They decided, let's just try it. And they bought an electric sedan - a Polestar 2. A couple weeks later, Torres set off on a six-week road trip with his son to look at colleges from Chicago to Maine down into the mountains of West Virginia.

TORRES: Everybody's just like, weren't you worried? You went on that long trip. You weren't scared? I was totally nervous. I mean, we had to be places. And if we missed it, it would not have been good.

CRONIN: And this fear of running out of juice - it's a huge reason why people are hesitant to buy electric vehicles. The Biden administration says they have a solution, announced in this spiffy video by Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on his way to pick up Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm...


PETE BUTTIGIEG: There she is.

CRONIN: ...In, of course, an electric vehicle.


BUTTIGIEG: Hey. Hop on in. I can't believe they let me drive this thing.


CRONIN: They were there to present the administration's plan - $5 billion to build 500,000 chargers. But Britta Gross at energy consulting firm RMI says it could take eight times that to get there, so this announcement is just a start.

BRITTA GROSS: But it's such an important start because that could be the confidence-inspiring trigger that says, hey, private investment, pick up now where the federal government has now stepped aside, and now it's time for the free market to take this thing into scale.

CRONIN: In fact, the private sector is already getting involved. There's Tesla, of course, and also a company called Electrify America. It's funded by a $2 billion investment from Volkswagen as part of a settlement from an emissions scandal a few years back. They're building ultrafast charging stations across the country.

MATTHEW NELSON: The typical Electrify America station can charge a car for five minutes and adds 100 miles. It's not quite as fast as a gas station, but it's pretty darn close.

CRONIN: That's Matthew Nelson with Electrify America. Big picture, the country has about 46,000 charging stations right now. Most of them are not fast-charging. They could take more like five hours to charge a vehicle. Nelson says Electrify America is building several fast charging stations a week, but it's still not enough.

NELSON: We're really sprinting a marathon, and we need to keep that mentality in order to reach our goals.

CRONIN: And this is a marathon with some major roadblocks. There's a huge upfront cost. It can cost anywhere from 30,000 to $140,000 to buy a fast charger. Plus, there's all this red tape for things like planning and permitting. But if the U.S. can pull it off, this could be a game changer for electric vehicles. Phil Torres still remembers the stress of watching his battery icon drain on his trip with his son.

TORRES: All along the way, you're really holding your breath. Am I going to make it? - 'cause you could just, like, see you go from, like, 4% to 3%.

CRONIN: In the end, they made it to all his son's college visits. But he's excited about all these new chargers. He says he wouldn't have to plan his route so meticulously. He could just trust that a charger will be there when he needs it.

Brittany Cronin, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Brittany Cronin
Brittany Cronin covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business desk.
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