TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.—The EV revolution is closer than it appears, with auto makers rapidly developing a slew of new vehicles that will wow consumers. But anxiety around charging and range is likely to hold buyers back until private and public stakeholders ramp up infrastructure, according to panelists at an automotive forum Thursday.
Within a few short years, auto makers and suppliers will improve battery technology, and range could eventually become a non-issue as ultrafast chargers add 500 miles worth of electrons in minutes. But current conditions are not yet ideal for broad electric vehicle ownership, said speakers at the Management Briefing Seminars.
"The way we look at that is: If you are going to make the transition from internal combustion to EV, it comes without compromise," said Mark Hanchett, CEO of EV startup Atlis Motor Vehicles. Standing in the way is charge time, range, the impact of towing on EV driving distance, and charging infrastructure, he said.
"Overcoming these challenges and pushing things forward so there is no leap backward and a massive leap forward is what's going to push things forward when we talk about transitioning from internal combustion vehicles to electric vehicles," Hanchett said.
Auto makers do have a powerful tool to win consumers over—bold product that's right around the corner.
One example of that is GMC's coming Hummer EV pickup, said Tim Grewe, director of electrification strategy at General Motors.
The Hummer, for instance, will have off-road abilities not currently available in internal combustion vehicles, including four-wheel steering that GM calls "crab mode." While truck owners may miss the sound of their big engines, the Hummer will replace it with a combination of haptics and special sounds coming through the stereo.
And the Hummer is just the beginning of a new wave of EVs from GM and other auto makers, Grewe said, that will draw consumers in. "You'll see some pretty exciting products sooner then you thought," he said, referring to dozens of vehicles that GM has in development from its various brands.
Panel moderator John McElroy, president of Autoline, said he often hears consumers say they don't see charging stations in their communities. Highway signs pointing drivers to off-ramps where they can find gas stations are ubiquitous, but charging stations remain hidden to many drivers.
"We do need help," said Denise Gray, president of LG Energy Solution Michigan. "Charging station infrastructure is one of the enablers to allow people to be comfortable that they'll be able to go from their family house in Michigan to their family house in Florida or Georgia," she said.
"We do need some public charger support," Gray added. "And I think through some of the work that's happening in Washington, D.C., today—with the infrastructure bill—they're willing to add some support."
Gray also said that as auto makers bring out awesome new electric vehicles, consumer interest will rise and so will interest by the private sector to increase the number of chargers to support those consumers. That could include business owners who would like to draw more consumers to their establishments.
On Aug. 5, President Biden, flanked outside the White House by executives from Detroit's major auto makers, announced a national goal of having half of all vehicles sold in the U.S. be emissions-free by the end of the decade.
"The future of the American auto industry is electric," Biden said. "It is electric; there's no turning back."