Courier Herald column for the week of June 4th
May was yet another good month for Georgia’s Economic Development team, especially those focused on solidifying Georgia as the capital of the battery belt. Georgia’s leadership position in the electric vehicle supply chain was enhanced by Anovion Technologies locating in Bainbridge. They plan to create 400 new jobs as the result of an $800 Million investment to produce components for EV batteries.
That kind of news would be big for any area of the state. In the deepest parts of Southwest Georgia, it has the potential to be transformational.
Meanwhile, at the Savannah area Hyundai complex that will build new EV’s beginning about 18 months from now, a partner has been announced for their on-site battery manufacturer. LG will be Hyundai’s joint venture partner in the battery plant, representing $4.3 billion in investment and represent 3,000 of the 8,100 employees expected in Bryan County.
Hyundai also has a joint venture with SK On to build a $5 Billion battery plant in Bartow County. SK Battery America has a separate plant in Jackson County Georgia that builds EV batteries, currently suppling Ford and Volkswagen.
The supply chain infrastructure is clearly falling into place. The current infrastructure to charge these future vehicles remains woefully inadequate.
Auto manufactures are aware of this issue, as are the policy makers that are incentivizing a transition to EV’s. They just don’t like to talk about it. They like to quote stats of total charging plugs available, but most are the slowest Level 1 and Level 2 chargers, and are concentrated in urban areas.
Americans outside of big cities rely heavily on their cars for longer trips, and road trips are part of the automobile’s allure – even for those who rarely take them. Finding the fastest Level 3 chargers in sufficient numbers to provide motorists the confidence to take a long drive is a real barrier to EV adoption at the moment.
The federal government is working to address this shortage over the next five years with up to $7.5 Billion investments in Level 3 EV charging stations, with a focus on long distance travel corridors. Georgia has already been awarded approximately $135 million for the first tranche of this National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) funding. The goal is to have at least four high-speed chargers within 1 mile of an interstate or major highway corridor every 50 miles by 2030.
If you look at the map for Tesla’s company owned charging network, they mostly meet these criteria but, other than a handful of locations, currently serve Tesla’s exclusively. Rivian plans a similar network that will be open to other makes, but most other companies are relying on outside charging companies.
The largest non-Tesla network currently belongs to Electrify America, which is a company formed and funded by Volkswagen’s settlement related to their diesel engine emissions. They plan on partnering with TravelCenters of America to add 1,000 chargers at 200 of their truck stop/travel centers. Similarly, General Motors has partnered with charging network EvGo and gas retailer Pilot/Flying J for 2,000 chargers at 500 stations.
Consumers and manufacturers have grown impatient not only with the relatively slow progress of this buildout, but of the reliability of the non-Tesla charging networks. Frustration is routinely expressed by reviews in car magazines and on YouTube with enough real world anecdotes that match the available data.
A recent post by InsideEVs.com, a site very much in favor of EV adoption, noted that in 2022 almost two out of every five visits to superchargers were unsuccessful last year. Imagine your confidence of taking a road trip in your current vehicle if 2 out of every five gas stations wouldn’t pump gas.
When you consider that Tesla has a charging success rate above 90%, the rest of the field – who combined have less superchargers than Tesla has – have to have a failure rate that has now ingrained real doubt among early adopters.
How do we know this is material? Because last week, Ford Motor Company changed its charging strategy, and announced its new EV’s would be designed to work on Tesla’s network. Current Ford EV’s will soon be able to access Tesla’s network using adapters.
The assessment of this Ford-Tesla tie up from Car & Driver is that there is currently no incentive for the EV charging companies to focus on reliability. They’re losing money on charging and focused on the “land grab” to lock up sites for future charging customers when demand finally arrives. The Telsa deal changes that, letting the charging companies know that manufacturers will form alliances with companies that enable their customers to use their cars to their full potential.
It remains to be seen if other manufacturers blink and join the Tesla network, or if the charging companies are willing to step up their game and quickly improve their reputation. Georgians in all corners of the state now have billions riding on the answer to this question.
A note since this column was published: GM and Rivian have announced they will be joining the Tesla charging network, with published reports indicating that Stelantis (Fiat/Chrysler’s new parent) will announce the same soon.