The driver of an electric vehicle (EV) in Georgia earlier this summer called the police on U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s team when a gas-powered vehicle in her official fleet parked at a public EV charger to save the space for the approaching secretary, who would need to plug in.
Granholm, according to a National Public Radio report, was on a road trip with an NPR reporter, staff and secret service, for a story to show the increasing accessibility, necessary planning and lingering challenges to EV charging. The secretary, a former governor of auto-stronghold Michigan, is promoting EV migration as part of the Biden administration’s spending to grow the charging network, all part of a transition away from gas-powered cars, trucks and SUVs.
Granholm’s summer struggle, which was just reported in recent days, mirrored in part the same frustration that Ford Motor Co.
CEO Jim Farley encountered in August when he took his own company’s all-electric F-150 Lightning pickup on a demonstration ride from California to Nevada. He, too, found that charging brought a few snags, including missing out on a full charge.
Already, the federal government has announced $7.5 billion in funding to advance the EV charging infrastructure in the U.S., mostly via grants. Private-sector money is also flowing into the space. The Department of Energy estimates that private-public spending combined has reached $24 billion.
Biden has set a target for 50% of all vehicle sales to be electric by 2030, which is part of the energy transition from Earth-warming fossil fuels
Biden has set a goal of at least 500,000 chargers, including a presence in all states, by at least 2030. The International Energy Agency estimates there are just over 15,000 active charging ports in the U.S. right now.
No doubt, the switch to EVs is coming, even if it’s not yet clear how fast it will materialize or how easily American drivers will get over range anxiety and other hurdles, although select tax incentives are meant to soften growing pains. The IEA projects U.S. electric vehicles sales could grow this year by more than 60% to 1.6 million, up from an estimated 990,000 in 2022.
Charging ‘norms’ vary
According to the NPR reporter, the family in Georgia who “was boxed out — on a sweltering day, with a baby in the vehicle — was so upset they decided to get the authorities involved: They called the police.” Read or listen to the whole story.
There actually was little authorities could do. As NPR reported, it’s not illegal for a non-EV to claim a charging spot in Georgia, although some states and cities have ordinances against the practice.
The report also said that Energy Department staff did take action to try to smooth over the situation, in part by sending other EVs in their group to slower chargers, until both the frustrated family and the secretary had room to charge. The road trip story featured a Cadillac Lyriq
an F-150 Lightning and a Chevy Bolt.
Granholm, according to the report, has been a longtime driver of her own EV — her family recently switched from the Chevy Bolt to the Ford Mustang Mach-E — so she’s likely familiar with the need to plan for an EV trip, usually with a wi-fi internet connection to detect distances between available chargers on a trip.
The Georgia stop for the Energy Department convoy traveling between Charlotte, N.C., and Memphis, Tenn., was at an Electrify America station, intended to let non-Teslas
charge, in Grovetown, a suburb of Augusta. The stop included one charger that was not working, while other customers were using viable chargers, the NPR report said.
A Department of Energy spokesperson would not comment to MarketWatch directly on the NPR story’s charging incident, but did offer a statement, which read in part: “For over a decade, while our global competitors geared up for the clean energy transition, America lagged behind. Now, with President Biden’s historic Investing in America agenda we have over $7 billion to build out convenient and reliable EV charging infrastructure, a portion of which is already awarded to every state, D.C. and Puerto Rico.”
Fred Lambert, writing for Electrek, said his own long-haul test of EV charging capability driving a Mustang Mach-E and the Electrify America network revealed an uneven network. Some parts of the U.S. feature more charger options, and reliably working hookups, than other regions do. The southern U.S., the writer said, has weak spots in its network, although he was never stranded on his trip.
Ford CEO Jim Farley, meanwhile, embarked on his promotional field trip last month, driving the F-150 Lightning for 1,100 miles between California and Nevada.
As part of the trip, Farley stopped at Monterey Car Week, where he told Ryan Levenson of The Kilowatts, an EV rental concern, that what he experienced was now considered “charging anxiety” not “range anxiety.”
“The Tesla people were in their cars. They weren’t talking to each other. It was 110 degrees outside. They’re streaming content. And then there’s the rest of us, Ford and Kia
We’re all talking to each other,” Foley said in the interview. “There’s maybe one 350 kW charger, the rest are slow-speed. A lot of people haven’t done this before, they’re on their first long trip. And we’re in a social club, trying to figure this out.”
Charging is opening up, but perhaps not fast enough
Farley, who also spoke via a shared video made from his trip, at one point charged his Lightning at a Level 2 charger. He spent 40 minutes charging the vehicle and was only able to get up to a 40% charge, which would give him about 90-130 miles of range. Farley called it a “reality check.”
Chargers vary by speed and voltage, with some suited for overnight home use and others more fitting for a public charging space, similar to gas-station fill-ups although taking more time than a gas pump. Tesla, for its part, had long cornered proprietary superchargers, which charge its vehicles faster, although its brand-specific chargers are also changing.
In recent months, Tesla, was pushed to open its charging network to other users in order to receive federal funding, which it agreed to.
Read more on Level 1, Level 2 and direct-current fast-charging.
Ford has partnered with Tesla to allow Ford drivers access to more than12,000 superchargers as of 2024. And, EV-certified dealers are installing fast chargers at their Ford dealerships, available to all Ford customers, Farley has said.
Read: Biden adds more EV charging across U.S., with pledges from Uber, Walmart, PG&E and others
In July, seven global automakers — BMW Group, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz Group, and Jeep and Chrysler parent Stellantis NV
—announced that they will create a new EV charging network joint venture that will install 30,000 EV charging stations and expand access to high-powered EV charging infrastructure across North America to support long-distance travel, across makes and models.