A persistent EV challenge looms over NY Auto Show: Charging

Amid flashy new electric models on display at one of the nation’s top car events, experts worried that EVs will struggle to go mainstream without a lot more places to plug in.
By Maria Gallucci

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A white electric sedan is parked next to an electric-vehicle charging station with neon green lights
(New York Power Authority)

NEW YORK — Car buyers in the market for something shiny, new and electric are seeing their options grow. Nearly three dozen battery-powered models are now on display at the New York International Auto Show, including Ram’s hulking 1500 Rev pickup and Hyundai’s award-winning Ioniq 6 sedan. Even a city bus and utility bucket truck parked on the plush carpet can run on electricity.

Yet the wider variety of EV models doesn’t mean the long-standing question of how to charge them all has been resolved. Drivers still have relatively slim pickings when it comes to finding places to plug in beyond their own garages — assuming they have one to begin with.

The auto show, which is one of the biggest in North America, is taking place in New York City now through April 16. On the event’s first day, industry experts stressed the need for installing drastically more public charging infrastructure along highway corridors, in parking lots and near rural areas to accelerate the electrification of cars and trucks.

Their emphasis underscores the challenges still facing the rapidly growing vehicle segment, even as momentum is building at the state and federal levels to deploy more public charging infrastructure.

Public charging is the No. 1 barrier to EV adoption,” said Elizabeth Krear, vice president of the electric vehicle practice at J.D. Power, a consumer data analysis firm. (She spoke during an April 5 press conference entitled Express Lane to EVs,” an indoor event that was briefly interrupted by the sound — and smell — of a nearby gas car’s revving engine.)

The number of public chargers isn’t the only issue. EV owners said they were less satisfied with public Level 2 chargers in 2022 than they were in 2021, primarily because they felt the existing infrastructure was inadequate and plagued with non-functioning stations,” J.D. Power found in a 2022 survey. Such concerns have spurred non-EV drivers to reject making the switch themselves, the firm said.

Level 2 chargers typically take about five hours to fully recharge an EV battery. Another type of equipment, direct-current fast chargers, is capable of recharging vehicles in 15 to 45 minutes, though these are far less common in public places because they require a larger grid connection. J.D. Power found that customer satisfaction with fast chargers held flat last year, neither improving nor declining.

Consumers want the confidence to know that charging is going to be there in the public where they need it, when they need it, at the speed [they need it],” Krear later told Yahoo! Finance from inside the cavernous Javits Center.

A large diesel engine is on a display case near blue and white electric vehicles.
A Duramax turbo-diesel engine is on display near Chevrolet's latest electric models. (Maria Gallucci/Canary Media)

The view from the auto show floor

When possible, most EV drivers prefer the convenience of plugging in their vehicles at home, which is where 80 percent of EV charging happens. But that remaining 20 percent poses a significant hurdle to mainstream EV adoption, and not just because EV drivers want to take road trips. People who live in multifamily housing usually don’t have the option to charge at home; in order for them to switch to EVs, reliable public options need to exist.

Of vehicle shoppers who said they’re unlikely to buy an electric car, about one-third cited a lack of charging capabilities at home or at work, J.D. Power found in a separate 2022 survey. The problem is more prevalent among renters than homeowners.

Over a year ago, the Biden administration committed to building a nationwide network of 500,000 public EV chargers by 2030. That’s up from roughly 130,000 such chargers today. In February, the administration finalized the standards to disburse $7.5 billion toward that effort, including an initiative to open up thousands of Tesla’s Supercharger stations to anybody driving a battery-powered car.

At the auto show, near the winding EV test track, two major electric utilities with blue-hued booths were touting New York’s own efforts to expand EV charging infrastructure.

Con Edison, New York City’s electricity provider, offers financial incentives to developers to build EV charging stations across the city and neighboring Westchester County. More than 2,500 Level 2 plugs and nearly 140 fast-charging plugs supported by the utility’s PowerReady program have been installed since 2020. The utility says it aims to help build 19,000 EV chargers by 2025 to help meet rising EV demand in a city with more than 2 million registered cars.

New York Power Authority (NYPA), the state’s largest public electric utility, is installing fast chargers throughout the state of 20 million people. The network is rolling out as New York, like California, moves to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles starting in 2035.

Two men sitting on stools talk in front of a white electric sedan and a electric-car charging station with neon green lights
NYPA's John Markowitz, right, talks with InsideEVs editor Tom Moloughney on April 5, 2023. (Maria Gallucci/Canary Media)

The state has very aggressive climate goals, and in order to achieve those, we really [need] to have a fast-charger network to enable people…to make an EV their main car,” John Markowitz, senior director of mobility for NYPA, said during a Q&A.

NYPA’s EVolve network includes 122 fast chargers installed at 32 sites, though the utility is working to have 400 chargers installed or in construction by the end of 2025. For this year, NYPA aims to place chargers every 50 miles along major roadways, in keeping with the federal guidance for the Biden administration’s highway-focused funding. The idea is to allow drivers to charge their batteries while they stop to use the restroom or grab a meal.

Markowitz said the $250 million state-funded program hit some speed bumps after launching in 2019. Signing real-estate contracts with store owners took longer than expected, as did securing necessary site permits and bringing additional electricity to the charging locations.

There were a whole bunch of steps we thought would be a lot easier than they ended up being,” he said, noting that program leaders have since learned from those early experiences. For instance, when NYPA signs contracts with charging-station vendors and operators today, the companies are required to have local, trained technicians available and spare parts on hand to ensure faulty stations are quickly repaired.

A blue pickup truck is parked on soft green carpet
AAA's mobile EV charging unit glimmers from the green carpet. (Maria Gallucci/Canary Media)

And for would-be EV drivers worried about finding themselves stranded and desperate on the side of the road, Greg Brannon of the American Automobile Association (AAA) offered some reassurances.

He stood in front of a hefty blue pickup truck with Mobile Electric Vehicle Charging” written across the side. The auto club offers an emergency EV charging service in 22 markets nationwide. Pointing at the truck bed, Brannon said the unit’s large gasoline generator can give a battery 20 miles of range after 30 minutes of charging.

Still, of the roughly 100,000 electric cars AAA has serviced in recent years, only a small percentage” have needed to boost their lithium-ion batteries, he said. Most of the time, EV drivers call because they’ve been in a crash, have driven off the road, damaged a tire or locked their keys in their car — problems that drivers of any vehicle can relate to.


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Maria Gallucci is a senior reporter at Canary Media. She covers emerging clean energy technologies and efforts to electrify transportation and decarbonize heavy industry.