DETROIT — Just blocks from the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, Electrify America has opened an indoor charging station that allows drivers to relax in a lounge while their electric vehicle’s batteries are being topped off.
The 20-outlet DC fast-charging station, which opened Friday near downtown San Francisco, is part of a trend toward more attractive neighborhood stations designed to serve electric vehicle owners who cannot recharge at home, as well as travelers or commuters who are running out of juice.
It is also designed to allay potential electric vehicle buyers’ fears that charging stations are too scarce or that they will have no safe place to wait while their vehicle charges, spending far more time than necessary to do so. refueling. Growth in electric vehicle sales in the United States is slowing, largely because of similar concerns from potential buyers.
On Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, Tesla is building a drive-thru restaurant, a movie theater and a charging station. Mercedes has built an outdoor station with an indoor lounge at the automaker’s U.S. headquarters near Atlanta. The company plans to build at least 400 more as part of a billion-dollar investment to deploy 2,500 charging outlets, mostly on coasts, by the end of the decade. Some resorts will offer lounges. Others will be partnerships with shopping malls or travel centers.
Electrify America’s indoor station is intended to attract people who might be hesitant to buy an electric vehicle, particularly apartment dwellers in the nearby South Market neighborhood, said Robert Barrosa, the company’s CEO.
“It’s that great, high-end interior experience that makes you want to say, ‘Hey, I can do this,’” Barrosa said.
Several convenience store chains have installed charging stations outside their businesses and offer food, restrooms and 24-hour service to electric vehicle owners.
But Barrosa said stations with nicer interior space, including Wi-Fi and comfortable seating, are intended for a longer stay than a typical fill-up of gas. The San Francisco station, he said, will have an agent 24 hours a day to provide security, manage lines and answer questions from owners.
At a minimum, it normally takes about 20 minutes with a fast charger to replenish a battery from 10% to 80% charge, electric vehicle owners say. This compares to just a few minutes to fill up a car at a gas station.
“We call it a 30-minute retail as opposed to a two-minute retail,” said Rick Wilmer, CEO of ChargePoint, a company that builds and maintains charging stations for restaurants, stores and apartment buildings that use them to attract customers.
Convenience stores, Barrosa said, often only have space for a few charging outlets, meaning there could be lines and longer waits for electric vehicle owners. Having 20 350-kilowatt fast-charging outlets inside gives homeowners confidence, especially if they’re in the neighborhood.
“People want power, people want speed,” Barrosa said. “People want technology.”
The indoor stations will also help make charging easier in poor weather conditions, a problem that emerged recently when temperatures fell below freezing in the Midwest.
Yet among the skeptics is Bruce Westlake, president of the Eastern Michigan Electric Vehicle Association, who owns two Teslas. He added that he doesn’t necessarily think charging stations with more amenities will become a big attraction for most electric vehicle owners.
Similarly, another Tesla owner, Kevin Smith of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, said of the new stations: “It’s a pretty cool new thing, but I don’t see them going mainstream.” »
When traveling, Smith often uses convenience stores to charge his electric vehicle.
“People just want a snack and a toilet,” he said.
Smith said he would prefer if Electrify America, the nation’s largest fast-charging network open to all electric vehicles, simply built more stations and made them more reliable.
There are more than 61,000 charging stations with more than 163,000 outlets in the United States. Most are lower speed chargers that require hours to fill vehicles.
Tesla, with more than 2,100 stations and more than 24,000 outlets, has the most extensive fast charging network. But it’s not open to all electric vehicles, at least not yet. Electrify America has 900 stations and more than 4,000 charging outlets.
President Joe Biden has set a goal of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations nationwide, aided by $5 billion from the Infrastructure Act of 2021 to install or upgrade chargers along 75,000 miles (120,000 kilometers) of highway.
Westlake said that when he travels, he normally plans his charging stops so that they are near restaurants and other businesses. If he charges locally, he will do his shopping while charging.
But he sees larger “destination” charging stations in neighborhoods as a huge benefit for apartment dwellers who don’t have the option to charge at home.
“I would be nervous about buying an electric vehicle if I didn’t have a garage to charge it,” Westlake said. “This first step when purchasing an electric vehicle is daunting to say the least. »
Having 24-hour service is also important to him, especially when charging at night. Sometimes businesses near charging stations are closed and there is nowhere to go to charge.
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