For electric cars to take off, they’ll need place to charge

By DEE-ANN DURBIN

AP Auto Writer

DETROIT — Around the world, support is growing for electric cars. Automakers are delivering more electric models with longer range and lower prices, such as the Chevrolet Bolt and the Tesla Model 3. China has set aggressive targets for electric vehicle sales to curb pollution; some European countries aim to be all-electric by 2040 or sooner.

Those lofty ambitions face numerous challenges, including one practical consideration for consumers: If they buy electric cars, where will they charge them?

The distribution of public charging stations is wildly uneven around the globe. Places with lots of support from governments or utilities, like China, the Netherlands and California, have thousands of public charging outlets.

Buyers of Tesla’s luxury models have access to a company-funded Supercharger network. But in many places, public charging remains scarce.

That’s a problem for people who need to drive further than the 200 miles or so that most electric cars can travel. It’s also a barrier for the millions of people who don’t have a garage to plug in their cars overnight.

“Do we have what we need? The answer at the moment is, ‘No,'” says Graham Evans, an analyst with IHS Markit.

Take Norway, which has publicly funded charging and generous incentives for electric car buyers. Architect Nils Henningstad drives past 20 to 30 charging stations each day on his 22-mile commute to Oslo. He works for the city and can charge his Nissan Leaf at work; his fiancee charges her Tesla SUV at home or at one of the world’s largest Tesla Supercharger stations, 20 miles away.

It’s a very different landscape in New Berlin, Wisconsin, where Jeff Solie relies on the charging system he rigged up in his garage to charge two Tesla sedans and a Volt. Solie and his wife don’t have chargers at their offices, and the nearest Tesla Superchargers are 45 miles away.

Pasquale Romano, the CEO of ChargePoint, one of the largest charging station providers in North America and Europe, says there’s no exact ratio of the number of chargers needed per car. But he says workplaces should have one charger for every 2.5 electric cars and retail stores need one for every 20 electric cars. Highways need one every 50 to 75 miles, he says.

Automakers and governments are pushing to fill them. The number of publicly available, global charging spots grew 72 percent to more than 322,000 last year, the International Energy Agency said.

Tesla Inc. — which figured out years ago that people wouldn’t buy its cars without roadside charging — is doubling its global network of Supercharger stations to 10,000 this year. BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen and Ford are building 400 fast-charging stations in Europe. Volkswagen is building hundreds of stations across the U.S. as part of its settlement for selling polluting diesel engines.

But there are pitfalls. There are different types of charging stations, and no one knows the exact mix drivers will eventually need.

Without government support, plans for charging stations can falter. In Michigan, a utility’s $15 million plan to install 800 public charging stations was scrapped in April after state officials and ChargePoint objected.

Solie, the electric car owner in Wisconsin, said governments should set bold targets for electric car sales and let the private sector meet the need.

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