GM to add 2,700 EVgo chargers in 5 years, a bet on fast-charging while shopping

Electric Cars

General Motors and EVgo announced today that they plan to add more than 2,700 new fast chargers at grocery stores, retail outlets, and entertainment centers in 40 metropolitan areas. The project, which will take five years to complete, is an effort to convince renters and condo dwellers that EVs are practical. The message is to fast-charge in a half-hour while you’re completing errands.

GM will make a financial investment and provide data that will help determine the locations. But the company did not give details on the amount of the investment. The new chargers will be open to all EV drivers.

Cathy Zoi, EVgo’s chief executive, explained in a media roundtable today that pricing for the new stations will not be discounted for owners of GM vehicles. She said:

Today, a typical EVgo session costs between $5 and $15. It will be the same thing going forward.

The first of the new chargers will come online in early 2021. The charging rate will be between 100 and 350 kilowatts.

A GM press release claims that the new EVgo chargers will “triple the size of the nation’s largest public fast” and “unlock new EV customer segments.” But Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst for e -Mobility at Guidehouse Insights, told me, “Compared to the Tesla Supercharger network, it’s still a relatively small amount.”

Precise numbers for chargers can be hard to pin down. Here’s Abuelsamid’s tally:

Tesla has over 8,200 chargers at 855 locations right now. There are currently 6,639 non-Tesla fast chargers at 3,028 locations, but most of those are limited to about 50kW. Of those, 1,769 are from Electrify America at 441 locations.

Adding another 2,700 chargers with 100+ kW capability will absolutely help and make fast charging far more convenient.

Guidehouse Insights projects there will be 66,000 DC fast chargers in North America by 2025 and 144,000 by 2030.

EVgo will continue to launch new charging locations outside of the GM collaboration. The company says that it currently has more than 800 fast-charging locations in 34 states.

In the roundtable session, Zoi explained the rationale for focusing on fast-charging at local shopping centers:

We’ve identified approximately 40 metropolitan areas. The focus of this program is on metropolitan areas. It’s not on corridors and it’s not on rural areas.  Why are doing that? Because we’re seeing an increase in purchases of EVs by folks like me who live in apartments who don’t have access to charging in our buildings. We need to rely on public charging.

We also have seen an increase in the use of EVs by rideshare drivers. A personal vehicle driver might need to charge once a week. A rideshare driver needs to charge every day and they need convenient, fast charging because every moment of their day spent charging, they’re not actually driving people around or delivering food in this pandemic world.

So what we’re looking at as part of this program is to increase that comfort in existing, new, and emerging areas of EV uptick.

The underlying concept of the GM-EVgo tie-up is that General Motors wants to market its electric vehicles, like the GMC Hummer EV and Cadillac Lyriq, to people who rely on street parking. If that strategy works, it will represent a significant gain in the number of EV drivers who primarily rely on regular (even daily) fast charging.

Abuelsamid said that GM is preparing for this shift by designing the thermal management and chemistry of its future EVs to mitigate the damage from daily quick charging. He told me:

GM got a lot of useful data from the Bolts used in Maven Gig about the battery performance when fast charging and incorporated that into the design of the Ultium batteries.

This move to offer local fast-charging one part of a GM’s broader strategy for charging infrastructure. In March 2020, GM announced plans to expand employee workplace charging with 3,500 new plugs at GM facilities in the US and Canada.

Electrek’s Take

This announcement reveals GM’s desire to market its EVs to a broad demographic, including people who won’t have a plug at home. That makes sense. Apartment dwellers shouldn’t be neglected.

However, when you look at GM’s first new EV offerings — large, expensive models like the Hummer and Lyriq — it’s hard to imagine those buyers will be parking their cars on the street. At the same time, we wonder generally about luxury buyers rushing to a local grocery store and hanging out for 30 minutes while a charge completes.

Yes, next-best solutions to home charging need to be launched for apartment and condo dwellers. But would this effort and investment be better placed on even more workplace charging, as well as load-balancing solutions for multi-family dwellings?

Unfortunately, relying on public charging undermines two of the most significant benefits of owning an EV. Home charging is incredibly convenient and cheap. It only takes about a minute to plug in every night, and the cost is a fraction of what people pay at the pumps.

Today’s announcement would have had more significance if GM had promised discounted or even free charging at the new locations. As it stands now, you can expect the price of public EV charging to be a lot closer (or about the same) as buying gas for an ICE car.

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