Why the auto industry is torn over EV infrastructure

Mark LaNeve is the president of Charge Enterprises, a company specializing in EV infrastructure solutions, and a former executive at automakers GM and Ford. He has professional knowledge of the inner workings of automotive corporations and remains an expert on the benefits of EVs and the difficulties they present. One of the chief obstacles to EV adoption is the lack of electric infrastructure in the U.S. Inside Automotive anchor Jim Fitzpatrick sits down with LaNeve to discuss what businesses are doing to combat the issue.

Many social and corporate entities are anxious to fully transition to EVs as quickly as possible. While it seems widespread adoption is inevitable (within the next 15 years according to LaNeve), a consumer habit called “range anxiety” continues to impede efforts to hasten its arrival. EVs can only drive so far before needing to be plugged in, and the more budget-friendly the model, the shorter the distance it can travel. The limitations make them ill-advised for long-distance trips, primarily through areas where charging stations are few and far between. Due to a lack of EV infrastructure in many areas, many consumers are hesitant to ditch their internal combustion engines. To coax hesitant buyers, energy infrastructure will have to outpace consumer demand, a task requiring effort from all sections of the auto industry.

State and federal politicians, looking to alleviate pressure on automakers, are using taxpayer money to fund charging solutions. Biden’s administration has dedicated roughly $24 billion towards EV infrastructure, intending to install 500,000 charging stations across the country. Despite this, contention is rife among the automotive community, as it remains unclear how retailers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) should share the remaining burden.

Automakers are increasingly requiring their dealers to install charging stations on their lots at their own expense. Some, like Ford, have promised to revoke non-compliant dealers’ franchise privileges. While this aggressive stance will certainly grow EV infrastructure, with little investment required from OEMs, it remains to be seen what impact this will have to local economies. Many dealers feel these policies require substantial upfront investment with little promise of return, and that the onus for developing charging solutions should rest on automotive corporations. Yet LaNeve believes that dealerships should be interested in supporting energy infrastructure, regardless of the demands of their respective manufacturers. EVs stand to be profitable sooner than expected, and business owners could fall behind their competition by failing to accommodate consumer needs for reliable charging. He notes there are also resources available to dealerships to lower costs, such as Charge Enterprises’s charge station services and tax incentives for eco-friendly dealers.

Meanwhile, some OEM executives have privately blamed dealerships for cooling consumer enthusiasm. Some retailers have taken advantage of low EV supply to charge thousands of dollars over MSRP, alienating consumers searching for gas alternatives while souring perceptions of the brands they represent. However, LaNeve notes that this is a rare occurrence. “That kind of behavior does happen, but it is a very tiny percentage, on a very tiny percentage of cars.” Dealers are, after all, incentivized to be fair to their customers, even if it means selling the cars at a loss due to high inventory.

EVs present opportunities for consumers, corporations and small businesses. However, the benefits will only become available once “range anxiety” is reduced and drivers can make long-distance travel with ease. Making EV infrastructure more reliable is the best way to relieve this hesitancy, and while federal and state governments have made significant investments to increase charging station availability, growth will require cohesion between all sectors of the auto industry.