Yesterday, a post by John Voelcker of Green Car Reports noted that General Motors has no intention to invest in building fast charging infrastructure. He had been able to attend a meeting between the press and GM at CES last week. Several GM executives agreed, no support by GM to improve fast charging infrastructure. This issue is one of the yardsticks we should use to measure an automaker’s seriosity to embracing electric cars. No matter how wonderful the Bolt appears to be, by this measure GM is failing to demonstrate serious intent.
A long range electric car – the Bolt is supposed to be certified for a 200+ mile range by the EPA – needs public fast charging support. With that much range available it’s going to be awfully tempting to take it on real road trips. Real road trips require fast charging. A sufficient fast charging network considerably increases the value of a long range electric car. When polled, prospective electric car buyers want longer range, faster charging, and no price premium. In other words, success with long range electric cars requires sufficient fast charging infrastructure.
The 200+ miles of range is way beyond what’s necessary for driving around an urban area. The primary utility of longer range is to take you on a trip beyond your urban area. That means fast charging along highways, with a 50 kiloWatt charging rate being the minimum acceptable.
Voelcker pointed out to GM executives that Audi, BMW, Nissan, and Volkswagen have all announced plans to fund fast charging infrastructure. (BMW, Volkswagen a year ago, BMW, Nissan in December) Kia also installed fast charging stations at every dealership which sells the Soul EV. Voelcker then asked if GM would also step up to the plate, and commit to building the infrastructure.
His report gives these two quotes as GM’s answer:
- From CEO Mary Barra: “We are not actively working on providing infrastructure [for the Bolt EV].”
- From electrification exec Pam Fletcher: “We believe all our customers should benefit from any infrastructure spending.”
That’s pretty clear, GM doesn’t want to help build the infrastructure which would make the Bolt more valuable to their customers. Therefore, is GM doing this solely for compliance car reasons? That is, to build an EV to meet environmental regulatory requirements?
It’s not that we, electric car buyers, need our automaker to give us free fuel. That’s ridiculous. It’s that the automakers who grok we’re in a transition from fossil fuels to electricity will demonstrate that understanding by funding the buildout of the infrastructure to replace fossil fuels.
Points to ponder
Let’s close this by pondering a couple points.
GM last week also announced a deal with Lyft to develop self driving cars for an autonomous taxi service. If the Bolt is destined for that service, then GM won’t see the need for fast charging infrastructure to support long range travel.
If the Bolt sells well, perhaps GM will change its tune. If the customers speak up and say we need fast charging, perhaps GM will change its tune.
Fast charging at dealerships is a suboptimal arrangement. The dealerships often put strange restrictions on charging station usage.
It’s possible that todays 50 kiloWatt Combo Charging System fast charging will be replaced with something faster. That GM doesn’t want to invest in 50 kW systems, but will change their tune once 150 kW systems are available.
There are existing Combo Charging System stations in the wild. Some of which are being funded by GM’s competitors.
In theory the automakers should not be building refueling infrastructure. That should be a natural consequence of market forces. However at this juncture some bootstrapping of the electric vehicle market is still required.
In theory the businesses already serving travelers along the highway corridors should install fast charging equipment. A restaurant would love to have a stream of patrons who’ll be sitting there for an hour while their car charge, yes? But there needs to be enough demand for that service in order to justify the expenditure on charging equipment. When faced with a chicken-versus-egg problem it is useful to go ahead and bootstrap the market.
At the end of all this we have to face a question – which automakers grok the possibility of long range travel using electricity as the fuel? GM doesn’t seem to get it.
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