In a recent press release, General Motors (GM, or, the new, more friendly and casual lower-case “gm”) announced that it is working with a large chain of truck stops to build a charging network with 2,000 charging stalls at up to 500 locations. In this article, I want to explore what GM is doing and why this is a great approach.
“GM and Pilot Company designed this program to combine private investments alongside intended government grant and utility programs to help reduce range anxiety and significantly close the gap in long-distance EV charger demand,” said Shameek Konar, Pilot Company Chief Executive Officer. “Our travel centers are well-equipped to accommodate EV charging with 24/7 amenities and convenient proximity to major roadways across the country. We look forward to collaborating with GM and the U.S. Department of Transportation to make convenient coast-to-coast EV travel a reality through our national network of travel centers.”
There’s a third partner in all of this that’s buried in the press release: EVgo, a company which already runs 850 charging stations in 30 US states. The charging stations will be branded GM/Ultium (its new battery-vehicle platform) and Pilot or Flying J (the two brands of truck stops Pilot runs).
The stations themselves are also going to be pretty decent. Their maximum output will be 350 kW, installed under canopies to make it a lot easier to avoid the rain and the sun during a charging station. When possible, the stations will be arranged in a “pull through” configuration so that EVs pulling trailers can effectively use the stations without having to unhitch. They won’t be built for electric eighteen wheelers, or “big rig” trucks, but they’ll be very pickup truck friendly.
“We are committed to an all-electric, zero-emissions future, and ensuring that the right charging infrastructure is in place is a key piece of the puzzle,” said Mary Barra, GM Chair and Chief Executive Officer. “With travel centers across North America, Pilot Company is an ideal collaborator to reach a broad audience of EV drivers.”
Where The Charging Stations Are Going To Be
It’s clear from the map that these stations are designed to work in concert with existing stations (mostly Electrify America at this point away from the coasts) and not against them in most cases.
Looking at the map and considering my knowledge of existing stations and highways, we can see that the plan focuses on popular east-west interstate corridors. But, before we say something like, “Hey, that’s smart!” we also need to consider that this is what truck stops focus on already. While trucks go everywhere, they spend a lot of time on interstate highways. Pilot and Flying J have been serving that market for decades, so working with them means getting on major highways.
This won’t make any new corridors open, but it will beef up redundancy and capacity along them. Interstate 10 in the south and southwest, Interstate 20 from Texas to Georgia, Interstate 40 from California to North Carolina, and Interstates 70 and 80 further north are all getting love here. The only reason Interstates 50 and 60 aren’t getting any stations is that there is no I-50 or I-60 (but that’s another story).
In other words, there’s nothing revolutionary happening here, but when you’re talking about infrastructure, you don’t want to keep having “hero” moments where someone saves the day from a complete lack of service. Building extra redundancy and capacity doesn’t make for exciting news stories, but it does make for transcontinental drives that aren’t nearly as problematic.
More About The EVgo Partnership
Working together on this project is obviously great for GM and for Pilot/Flying J (and I’ll get to that in more depth further down), but it’s also great for EVgo.
“EVgo, GM and Pilot Company share a commitment to building an electric fueling network that increases access and makes the shift to electrification as frictionless as possible for all. We look forward to this collaboration and ensuring the EVgo network provides nationwide coverage, including critical corridors for road trips,” said Cathy Zoi, CEO at EVgo. “Through EVgo eXtend, we are demonstrating yet another innovative pathway to help America electrify — and showcasing why EVgo’s technology and industry leadership make us the partner of choice to site hosts, automakers and drivers alike as we work together to deliver a cleaner future of transportation.”
The biggest thing for EVgo is that this puts the company well on its way to achieving its goal of 3,250 charging stalls by 2025. It also helps get a lot more people to sign up for an EVgo account, giving them a better chance of market share in the mature EV charging market that’s coming in 10-20 years.
Why Truck Stops Are A Great Choice
When EV charging stations first started popping up that weren’t Tesla Superchargers, they mostly came to dealers first. While getting dealers to put in a station (or at least host one) was easier than finding other partners, the limited hours a dealer’s lot is open and the limited services available at a dealer made them not as useful as other options.
The next crop of stations in 2019 (Electrify America) mostly showed up at Walmart stores unless a town was too small to have a Walmart. Back when Walmarts were 24-hour operations, this was great because you could always get into a bathroom, grab a drink and a snack, and get back on the road. So, that was a great choice, but the problem of not having Walmarts in small towns and rural areas leaves people pissing in bottles like an Amazon driver.
Truck stops are the obvious next thing to target for EV charging stations. Not only are they open 24/7 in most cases, but they have reliable access to bathrooms, restaurants, snacks, drinks, showers, and even little churches in some cases. More importantly, getting that level of service doesn’t take effort because truck stops are already doing that for the many, many truck drivers on the road, along with people driving passenger cars along the interstate.
So, I’d have to conclude that this is actually the best option for expanding EV charging along the highway. Whether you’re there for an hour in a Chevy Bolt or you’re there for 20 minutes in a Rivian, having access to those services makes the difference between suffering and getting refreshed for the road.
Featured image by GM.
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