Car dealers don’t put gasoline pumps on their premises for public use. So why are electric-vehicle charging stations popping up at dealerships?
There are three reasons:
One, it’s good for customer relations.
Two, it shows a dealer “gets” EVs as those vehicles grow in popularity.
Three, many automakers require their dealers to install chargers at their stores if they want to sell battery-electric vehicles.
“We’re definitely preparing for the expansion of EVs,” says Andrew DiFeo (pictured, below, left), dealer principal at Hyundai of St. Augustine (FL).
His business is investing about $18 million in a new, 35,000-sq.-ft. (3,251-sq.-m) dealership that initially will include three fast-working Level 3 chargers and four Level 2 chargers.
The new facility’s enhanced electrical wiring system can accommodate an additional five Level 3 chargers that require more voltage lest they blow fuses.
DiFeo notes that virtually any dealership selling EVs needs chargers if only to prepare the vehicles for delivery. “We have to charge them when they come in,” he tells Wards.
Beyond that, offering chargers aids in the customer-satisfaction cause.
“The Level 3 chargers are for our customers first; we’re not going to advertise that we have them,” DiFeo says. “We’re not providing them to the community. At least not for now.”
The EV charging network is growing in the U.S. in various ways and places, says Karl Brauer, executive analyst at iSeeCars, a data-driven automotive research and search-engine company that helps shoppers find car deals.
Sources of that infrastructure growth should include dealers, he says. “They could provide a major boost to the EV infrastructure if charging stations became a standard feature on dealer lots.”
He adds: “And given the reduction in maintenance needs for electric vehicles, these chargers would be a way to maintain showroom traffic even as service appointments inevitably drop.”
If EVs become 30%-50% of the new-car market share over the next six years, as predicted, the U.S. will need a level of EV charging convenience on par with current gas-station access.
“Dealers and dealer lots can, and should, play a primary role in making this happen,” Brauer tells Wards.
Depending on the power level of chargers, it can take a while for an EV to “fill up.”
A Level 2 charger takes about an hour to give an EV about 20 miles (32 km) of range. A Level 3 charger offers up to the same range in about a minute, depending on the vehicle type.
Brauer says dealers could offer diversions to people waiting for their EVs to charge up.
“I could see a range of associated businesses established at dealerships to enhance the charging process: cafes, coffee shops, internet bars, etc.,” he says. “It seems like a smart move for dealers, helping them evolve as the industry evolves.”
Meanwhile, Brauer keeps an eye on EV maker Tesla’s decision to open part of its Supercharger network to non-Tesla vehicles.
This move is tied to government incentives of billions of federal dollars to create a nationwide network of at least 500,000 chargers by 2030.
The current number now stands at about 150,000.
“While less than 10% of the non-Tesla charging network is made up of Level 3 chargers, 57.6% (17,711) of Tesla’s Supercharger network is Level 3,” says Brauer.
Tesla’s fast-charging 250-kw Superchargers could more than double the Level3 count, but the automaker is offering only 3,500 chargers in its network for full public access.
Some Tesla owners have expressed unhappiness with opening up even part of the company’s exclusive charging network.
In the past, Tesla has balked at giving non-Tesla vehicles access to its network. But the new government incentives “are too powerful to ignore,” says Brauer, who’s not a fan of such government subsidies.
“The gasoline-station network is all driven by demand,” he says. “For the government to incentivize charging stations creates a ‘push’ rather than a ‘pull’ market situation.”
But he adds: “If Tesla opened its entire network up to non-Tesla vehicles, it would immediately and substantially improve the EV infrastructure.”
Would Tesla CEO Elon Musk be OK with that? “I don’t know what’s in Elon’s heart,” Brauer says.