What Kind of Charging Network Can GM and Bechtel Build with $0 Down?
It was with great anticipation, then, that Chevy Bolt EV drivers learned of a collaboration between GM and construction project firm Bechtel to build new charging stations across North America...until they read the fine print, that is.
New Charging Network, No Money Down!
Buried beneath the headlines proclaiming thousands of chargers and the creation of a new company to oversee the proposed network's build-out, a not insignificant detail needs to be highlighted: neither GM nor Bechtel will put any money into this project.
How do you build out a nationwide EV charging network with no money down?
It certainly seems like a tall order when you consider that Electrify America, Volkswagen Auto Group's court-mandated atonement for Dieselgate, is tasked with spending $2 billion to achieve a similar objective.
In fairness, Electrify America's plan requires significantly broader coverage, while also including expenses for education and advertising to improve awareness about electric vehicles. GM and Bechtel will focus only on infrastructure, but that still requires substantial capital investment.
In their initial announcement, the companies revealed few details about the partnership but did make it clear that they expect to attract investors quickly. With reports suggesting that some charge locations could be online before the end of 2019, it seems reasonable to assume that a chunk of that money is already in place.
Still, the question remains: if neither company is investing cold hard cash in this initiative, what will they bring to the table?
Expertise, Authority and a Treasure Trove of Data
First and foremost, the size and stature of these organizations should not be overlooked.
For context, Bechtel is a significant presence in the world of engineering and construction, with roots dating back to the early 20th Century and extensive expertise with projects related to power generation. That they were part of the consortium selected to build the Hoover Dam in 1931 should give some sense of just how much experience we're talking about here.
General Motors, of course, is more of a known quantity.
While the automaker's commitment to electric vehicles has been questioned time and again, GM was first to market with a 200+ mile EV back in 2016 and plans to bring 20 new electric models to its showrooms over the next five years.
Even without a comprehensive plan for charging infrastructure to date, GM brings a vast trove of data to this new initiative. Using the company’s anonymously submitted data from OnStar customers provides a substantial base of driver data to inform the planning process, including appropriate locations for charge sites and how far apart these stations should be placed.
More broadly, every new GM vehicle, ICE or EV, includes hardware that potentially offers other key data points, from location and mileage to driving habits and dwell time in specific places. All of this information is valuable to planning a charging network.
Viewed in this light, the development of a charging network catalyzed by two experienced players in key sectors might just have legs.
In the words of the Bechtel's president Keith Hennessey: "leveraging GM and Bechtel's scale, flexibility and proprietary data [will serve] to provide chargers in locations convenient to EV customers."
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What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
When it comes down to it, this partnership can only be seen as positive news for EV drivers. Even if it fails to meet the lofty goal of charging stations in their thousands, any development in underserved areas - or even charger redundancy in well-developed regions - is a welcome addition.
Availability of charging equipment is always high on the list of barriers to EV adoption. An annual survey conducted by AAA found that although the number is coming down, 58% of those who are unlikely to buy an electric vehicle cite a lack of places to charge as their primary worry.
For that reason alone, any initiative that sets its sights on removing this concern is worth applauding. If it brings together two major players in industries that can inform the process and provide the expertise to speed up installation, so much the better.