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What good is an EV if you can't charge it? Here's the plan to build more chargers

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Lots of people have thought about getting an electric vehicle, but most car shoppers by a wide margin are sticking with gasoline. J.D. Power, the automobile data giant, says that worries about public chargers are the No. 1 reason. So is the charger situation getting any better? NPR's Camila Domonoske has some answers.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Shelley Hayworth in Seattle wants to get an EV for her next car, but she's also heard a lot about how hard it can be to find a charging station.

SHELLEY HAYWORTH: I'm a fan of taking road trips, so I'm a little bit nervous about that piece.

DOMONOSKE: NPR's podcast The Sunday Story asked listeners to send in questions about EVs, and Hayworth was not alone in this concern. New EVs typically go 250 miles or more on a single charge. And most drivers charge at home most of the time. Teslas, meanwhile, have always had access to speedy, reliable superchargers. But for non-Tesla drivers, road trip anxiety is real. I called up Nick Nigro of the research firm Atlas Public Policy to ask, what's happening with chargers?

NICK NIGRO: Well, it's getting better every day, but we do have a ways to go, that's for sure.

DOMONOSKE: According to government estimates, the U.S. has about two-thirds the fast chargers it needs for the EVs on the road today. And the number of EVs is growing. There are lots of plans to fix this charger shortage. Seven automakers have teamed up to launch a brand-new charger network. And the federal government is spending billions of dollars on chargers. But in most states, that money hasn't translated into fast chargers on the ground yet.

NIGRO: It's hard to understand how long it can take sometimes for the government to put money out there into the marketplace. But all these processes and box checking is there for a reason. It's to make sure that the money is spent well, the right people are getting the money and the equipment that's being installed is reliable.

DOMONOSKE: He says while it might not be visible to drivers yet, this government money will ultimately double or triple the number of chargers available today. And it's not just the number of chargers that matters, it's where they are, if there aren't enough in rural areas or low-income communities. It matters how fast they are. And like Nigro mentions, reliability matters. These things need to work.

Last week my family took a road trip in our EV to see the eclipse. It was very cool. And on our way home...

First stop we made was at a beautiful Shell Recharge with 11 chargers lined up. And none of them were working. Next, we came to a Hyundai dealership with two fast chargers, but only one of them works, and that one is occupied. So now we're going to get back on the freeway. We're going to hope we can go 45 miles.

We could, but the four chargers we were headed for went down for maintenance as we approached. The next charger worked but was kind of slow. Finally, we made it to the promised land, a Tesla Supercharger, 16 ports, plenty of them open, working and fast. A year ago, it would have been no help to my non-Tesla, but now at this particular station, I could charge. That's a sign of a huge shakeup in the world of EV chargers. Tesla's network is starting to open to other drivers thanks to deals Tesla struck with the White House and with rival automakers like Ford.

So the charger situation is getting better. Gradually, billions are going into building more chargers. And the best chargers on the road are opening up to more drivers. But are we there yet? Classic road trip question. And the answer is no, not yet. Camila Domonoske, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.

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