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Major sticking point to buying an electric vehicle is the lack of public chargers


More than half of all Americans say they're at least thinking about an electric vehicle for their next car purchase.


But they want to know, where will they plug them in? A big sticking point is the lack of public EV chargers.

SCHMITZ: NPR's Camila Domonoske thinks about this problem a lot, even on a road trip she took last week with the secretary of energy. Camila is back from that and with us now. Hello.


SCHMITZ: How important is the availability of fast chargers that people can find on the road?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah, it's funny because the vast majority of electric vehicle charging actually happens at people's homes or maybe their work. But psychologically, chargers on the road are really important. Americans love a road trip. Studies actually show this is the No. 1 barrier keeping people from buying electric vehicles, even ahead of sticker price.

SCHMITZ: So what's the state of America's EV charging infrastructure then?

DOMONOSKE: It's not great. So last week, like you mentioned, the secretary of energy, Jennifer Granholm, went on this road trip through the South, and I was tagging along. We were traveling in electric vehicles. And I want to play you some tape from one charging stop that the secretary took in Tennessee. This is Secretary Granholm.


JENNIFER GRANHOLM: Clearly, we need more high-speed chargers.

DOMONOSKE: We were sitting in the back seat of an electric Cadillac Lyriq and went on to talk about this federal push to incentivize chargers and green manufacturing.


GRANHOLM: It has been a blockbuster.

DOMONOSKE: But then Granholm gestured at her press secretary, fanning herself, asking for some air conditioning here 'cause it is hot. Her staff had actually turned off the AC to try to make the car charge faster. This was one of several charging stops where charging went much slower than it should have.


GRANHOLM: Seriously, though.

DOMONOSKE: So, yeah, it's really hot.

GRANHOLM: Way hot.

DOMONOSKE: Can you open the door?

So we actually interrupted the interview at this point to step outside the vehicle.

SCHMITZ: Oh, man. OK, so that's - that doesn't sound great. And this was during a big heat wave, though, right? I mean, we covered that - a reminder of what's at stake here.

DOMONOSKE: Right. Ultimately, this is about climate change. Getting people to adopt EVs is a big part of the push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. You do need people to be on board, right?


DOMONOSKE: And people are buying EVs increasingly, people like Holmesetta Green. She's from Louisville, Ky., and she was waiting in the shade by that electric vehicle charger while her Volkswagen ID.4 was charging. And she loves that car, but...

HOLMESETTA GREEN: It is kind of slow charging it up. Other than that, I wouldn't take $100,000 for this car.

DOMONOSKE: She wouldn't sell it for $100,000...


DOMONOSKE: ...She says. But she also says there just aren't enough chargers. And this is really the situation right now, right? The chargers aren't fast enough. They aren't reliable enough, and there simply are not enough of them.

SCHMITZ: Lots of problems. What's being done about this?

DOMONOSKE: Well, on the tech front, there are two fast-charging standards - Tesla's and everyone else's. Tesla's chargers - this is not just my opinion here, Rob. This is data.


DOMONOSKE: They are better. They're more reliable. Other companies are now embracing Tesla's charging standard, which is a brand-new, very interesting development. But the biggest thing that's happening is that there's just a push to build more of them. The federal government is spending billions of dollars on it.

SCHMITZ: Is that going to be enough?

DOMONOSKE: It really depends on who you ask, right? Car companies are going electric. The federal government could potentially speed that up. There are proposed standards that could mean two-thirds of new vehicles are electric by 2032. The big traditional automakers - their lobbying group is currently saying that's simply not feasible, that the need for more chargers is one reason why they say they need more time. Environmental groups, all electric automakers - they say the speed is doable, and they point to things like all the money that's going into chargers. Now, these federal rules are being hammered out to - so to a certain extent, this is all negotiating positions. But one thing everyone agrees on is that we're going to need more of the things.

SCHMITZ: NPR's Camila Domonoske, thank you.


(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.