When it comes to the emerging electric vehicle market, "range anxiety" is evolving into "charger anxiety."
Most EVs now being pumped into the future product pipeline have hundreds of miles of rated range, more than enough for daily driving. But extended or extensive use demands ample and widespread availability of charging.
Research firm Guidehouse Insights estimates there are 1.1 million battery-electric vehicles on the road in North America and 1.7 million chargers. It says there still will be more chargers than BEVs in North America in 10 years. By this standard, there isn't much for consumers to worry about on the charging front.
But there's a catch: Most of the chargers cited by Guidehouse are home chargers.
For suburban homeowners with access to a garage and a plug, it is simple to own an EV for regular use since it can easily be charged overnight.
But for those doing highway driving for a road trip or long-haul business excursion, as well as those in multifamily housing without a garage or plug, public chargers—and in particular, fast chargers—need to be more accessible.
"Infrastructure work is ongoing now," said Nick Nigro, founder of EV research group Atlas Public Policy. But "we'll likely need to accelerate that investment in anticipation of these vehicle models coming up that the auto industry is hopeful to sell in the tens of thousands per month."
Anticipation it is. There has been a steady stream of EV announcements from auto makers in recent months, even during the pandemic.
General Motors now holds partnerships with companies such as Honda Motor Co. and LG Chem as part of its bullish commitment to the future of electrification.
Ford Motor Co.'s Mustang Mach-E crossover has sped up the auto maker's once-lagging EV ambitions, and production of the F-150 EV is set to start in 2022.
Volkswagen Group said in 2018 that it would spend $52 billion through 2023 as part of a push for what is now more than 50 electric models by 2025.
Outside the traditional auto realm, ride-hailing giant Uber has pledged that every vehicle on its platform across the globe will be electric by 2040. Rival Lyft has pledged to do the same by 2030.
"It's not a question of if we are going to electrify our transportation sector, it's a question of when," said Ben Prochazka, vice president of the Electrification Coalition, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that supports EV adoption.
For many in the industry, stricter vehicle emissions targets abroad, as well as in some states, have sparked these ambitions.
Just last month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state plans to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered passenger vehicles starting in 2035 and that it will require the sale of nothing but zero-emission vehicles starting that year.
Still, EV makers targeting the U.S. have some work to do.
The low cost of oil in the U.S. is a large incentive for Americans to stick with internal combustion engines; at the same time, questions remain about the charging infrastructure needed to accommodate EVs.
Since concerns about range often take precedence over the environmental benefits of an EV, a surefire way to get consumers interested is to assure them they have access to charging.
"It's not chicken and egg; it's peanut butter and jelly," said Jonathan Levy, vice president of business development at charging network EVgo.
EVgo builds its chargers just ahead of the market in order to accommodate existing demand, while making sure not to build too many so they go unused or aren't located effectively.
"We need both," Levy argued. "We need more chargers to accommodate the growth of vehicles."
In the U.S., various stakeholders, including industry leaders, policymakers, cities and advocacy organizations, have launched regional and national initiatives to address consumer charging concerns.
DTE Energy and Consumers Energy announced recently that they would join four other energy companies across the Midwest to establish an interstate network of fast charging stations stretching from Michigan to Kansas.
EVgo will add more than 2,700 fast chargers to cities and suburbs starting next year, the company announced in July with GM, which is partnering with it on the effort.