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Will Volkswagen’s Charger Network Increase the Demand for Electric Cars?

When it comes to buying electric vehicles, most environmentally-conscious consumers are unaware that they exist or shy away from them in favor of the hybrids where a gasoline-powered engine will kick in once the charge has depleted on the electric motor. Others shy away from fully electric vehicles because of the cost, prompted in part by the high-end models produced by Tesla. Thus, most drivers who own electric vehicles only use them for commuting or for other local excursions.

Drivers taking their electric vehicles are often fraught with “range anxiety,” a real psychological condition prompted by the fear that one’s vehicle will run out of a charge before finding a charging station. Such resistance and worries may become a thing of the past if initiatives from Electrify America are successful.

The Positive Facet of Volkswagen Dieselgate
Remember the controversy from a few years ago when German manufacturer Volkswagen was found guilty of cheating on emissions figures for is diesel vehicles? The company paid $4.3 billion in fines and penalties after pleading guilty and then offered to buy back over 300,000 cars from affected owners. The settlement that the automaker reached with the American government also involved an agreement to spend $15 billion to promote next-generation propulsion technology for consumer vehicles. While some of that money has been earmarked for development of clean engine technology, the first phase of the settlement involves the construction of a network of non-proprietary electric vehicle (EV) charging stations developed by Volkswagen’s subsidiary, Electrify America.

EV Charging Network to Cover 39 States
Volkswagen is about to implement the first phase of its settlement agreement with Electrify American investing $300 million into a national network of 450 non-proprietary electric car charging stations. Work on the network, which will cover 11 major metropolitan areas and heavily traveled highways in 39 states, is slated to begin during the second quarter of 2017 with completion expected in 2019.

Electrify America has promised that the network will incorporate the most advanced charging technology every deployed. Plans call for 240 chargers of either 150kW or 320kW, with each station offering between four and 10 chargers. Locations will be spaced between 66 and 120 miles apart on highways. Charging time is estimated at 15 to 20 minutes for an EV, based on 320-kW power output. In addition, the company will build 50-to150-kW chargers in urban parking garages and lots in large markets such as Chicago, New York, Raleigh, Boston, Washington, D.C., Denver, Miami, Philadelphia, Portland and Seattle. Because the chargers are not exclusive to VW vehicles, anyone who has an electric or hybrid vehicle can use these stations to give their vehicle batteries a boost.

Construction of the charging stations is the first stage of a $2 billion deployment to bolster electric vehicle infrastructure and awareness. Of that figure, $1.2 billion has been set aside for education programs and infrastructure in most of the United States. The Golden State is in a class by itself as it will receive $800 million has been earmarked solely for California.

This investment in zero-emissions infrastructure and awareness is the largest of its kind and can be expected to have implications, as a whole, on driving in the United States. When combined with other networks, it could signal the beginning of non-proprietary EV charging stations becoming commonplace in urban and suburban areas. Tesla also recently announced that it plans to nearly double the number of its charging stations to 10,000 worldwide, however, these stations are propriety, meaning you must have a Tesla vehicle to use them.

Recent Growth in Charging Infrastructure
More than 39,000 charging ports are now available in North America with more than 7,000 of these coming online between August 2015 and August 2016. The largest gains came in California where there is an obvious need to reduce emissions and where about half of the electric vehicles in the United States are registered.

On the East Coast, the challenge is to have enough charging stations on major highways to those that own electric vehicles as their main car don’t have to rent gas vehicles for road trips. The Express Charging Corridors Initiative, a collaboration between BMW of North American and Volkswagen along with ChargePoint, the world’s largest EV charging network, went a long way with its installations last fall by installing charging stations along Interstate 95. Electrify America’s efforts will improve the network further. However, until electric cars gain more range capabilities and become viable as the primary family vehicle, along with further applications into more rural areas, widespread use of electric cars may remain a pipe dream.

Electric Cars With the Best Range
In the electric vehicle business, the catch phrase is, “There is Tesla and then everyone else.” That’s certainly true when it comes to price, as Tesla’s cars are in the $90,000-plus range. More affordable electric cars under $40,000 with the best range on a full charge include the Chevrolet Bolt, 238 miles; the Volkswagen e-Golf, 119 miles; Hyundai Ioniq, 124 miles; Ford Focus Electric, 115 miles; BMW i3, 118 miles; and the Nissan Leaf, 124 miles for highway driving.

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