Don’t blame President Obama for the slow roll-out of electric vehicles in the Northeast and other parts of the United States. Back in 2011, he got behind the Department of Energy’s “aspirational” goal of 1 million EVs on the road by 2016. Earlier this year, the President was in Detroit kicking the tires on Chevy Bolt, the industry’s first affordable long-range option, which is due in late fall.
But with a $4.5 billion investment announced July 21, our first plug-in president may have saved his best move for last. According to the White House release, the massive funding commitment includes loan guarantees for a “commercial-scale deployment of innovative electric vehicle charging facilities.” With a vast public-private partnership that includes 50 organizations, governments, utilities, and for-profit companies, the infrastructure should see its biggest bump yet.
The group will identify zero-emissions corridors around the country in hopes of establishing a robust charging and alt-fueling network by 2020. Meanwhile, the government will greatly accelerate outreach by publishing guides to charging, installing stations, and accessing discounts available to governments and other agencies for deploying plug-in vehicles in their fleets.
Automakers like Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, and Ford are in; so are the California Air Resources Board, Pacific Gas & Electric, and many other utilities; while charging station providers EVGo and Chargepoint are on board. Every segment of the electric car ecosystem is represented. For this reason, EV enthusiasts should have confidence real change is possible in the coming years.
This $4.5 billion commitment is the second windfall for zero-emissions vehicles in the space of a few months.
The Dieselgate settlement from June included $2 billion in funding for the development of EVs and the necessary infrastructure. A large chunk of that money was earmarked for California, which already has the most extensive network of charging stations and the most plug-in vehicles of any U.S. state.
Maybe the most welcome sight in the new federal EV plan is the inclusion of the East Coast. New York State, which passed an electric vehicle incentive for the first time in 2016, is on the list of participators along with Con Edison, Georgia Power, Connecticut Green Bank, and Duke Energy. Were the eastern seaboard to catch up with the West Coast, electric cars could finally begin having their moment there.
Of course, part of this plan’s success will hinge on the ability of automakers to deliver quality 200-mile EVs for less than $35,000. Once GM starts production of the Chevy Bolt EV in October, the wheels will begin moving in a meaningful way. In 2017, the Tesla Model 3 should accelerate interest and adoption in the segment.
As the auto industry continues bringing out new offerings, the public will look to local charging options to see if purchases make sense. Hopefully, this huge investment in infrastructure and outreach can answer that question in the coming years. It has the makings of a winning formula.