As Electric Vehicles Become More Common, Infrastructure Must Keep Pace
Electric vehicles (EVs) are no longer a novelty, and seeing them on the road is no longer a rare event.
The EV market continues to grow and is expected to expand to more than $800 billion worldwide by 2027. While much of this growth will come from companies that only produce EVs, such as Tesla and Rivian, traditional auto manufacturers are also expanding their EV offerings. The Ford F-150 Lightning (fully electric) and Jeep Wrangler 4xe – a hybrid model – are two examples of vehicle expansions within this evolving market. Manufacturers are offering a wider range of electrification options, from hybrids that are recharged not from a plug, but by an internal combustion engine (ICE), to fully electric engines that continue to expand their range on a single charge.
Spurred by government investments and consumer demand, manufacturers are making massive investments in battery plants and charging stations. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 created an expanded tax credit for consumer and commercial EVs and provided funding for infrastructure to support growth in the EV market. President Biden also announced a goal to have EVs account for half of all domestic vehicles sales by 2030.
But as the market grows, so does the demand—specifically, the demand for batteries, charging stations, and other infrastructure needed to support EVs. While it’s easy to drive from Boston to Los Angeles and find abundant options for gas stations along your route, the same trip in an EV can pose serious logistical challenges.
The first step to putting more EVs on the road is manufacturing more batteries to power them. A number of manufacturers—automotive and non-automotive—are currently building or have announced projects for new battery plants to help meet consumer demand. One of the largest such investors is Ford, which launched its BlueOval project to invest in carbon-neutral manufacturing to meet the company’s EV production and sustainability goals.
Ford’s investment in electric vehicles is most noteworthy because of one vehicle: the F-150 Lightning. While other companies have been producing electric sedans, SUVs, and even pickup trucks of their own, the iconic F-150 has been the most popular pickup truck in America for decades, a staple of farmers, contractors, trade workers, and more casual weekend warriors.
Given the F-150’s ubiquity, an all-electric version has the potential to be a key piece of a rapid transformation of the American vehicle market. But as with any other electric vehicle — including Ford’s other offerings — the necessary infrastructure and battery capability must be available.
To help meet those needs and improve the performance of next-generation electric pickups, Ford is building BlueOval City, an EV and battery manufacturing center in Tennessee, and BlueOval SK, a battery park in Kentucky with two production plants. The three facilities will produce 43 GWh of capacity each when they come online in 2025, and the total investment is more than $11 billion, with $7 billion coming directly from Ford.
In addition to their battery capacity output, the facilities are focused on sustainability in their construction and operation, with goals of carbon neutrality and zero waste to landfill. They will be largely powered by renewable energy, part of the company’s investment in renewables that includes an agreement to purchase enough renewable energy to meet all its energy needs for its vehicle manufacturing in Michigan.
“A goal isn’t really anything unless there’s a plan,” Ford President and CEO Jim Farley said in the announcement of the renewable energy agreement. “Today is an example of what it looks like to get off our butts, do something about it, and take action.”
In addition to Ford, several other major auto manufacturers have announced their own battery facility projects: GM in Ohio and Tennessee, Toyota in North Carolina, and Volkswagen in Tennessee. In addition, manufacturers such as LG Energy Solution, Stellantis, and SK Battery America have announced projects either in conjunction with manufacturers or as stand-alone plants that will supply automotive batteries.
Batteries are a critical component of the EV transformation, but charging infrastructure is needed as well. While gas stations abound throughout the country, charging stations—while rapidly becoming more common—are still harder to find.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Jeff King, head of climate, energy, and air programs at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, pointed out that consumers have been waiting for EVs to offer sufficient range to meet their needs before fully embracing the technology.
“A couple of years ago, it made sense that consumers didn’t want to get into the EV business because the cars could only go 80 miles,” said King. “And it took essentially a day to recharge them. Things are different now. Some of these cars can go 300 or 400 miles. There are high-capacity charging systems that can charge your car in nearly 10 minutes. So, it’s getting to the point of being just like filling up the gas tank.”
Companies such as Tesla and Ford are investing in the creation of an EV charging network as expansive as gas stations are for ICE vehicles. Tesla has more than 45,000 Superchargers in its network, which can add up to 200 miles of range in 15 minutes. Ford’s BlueOval charging network is even larger, with more than 75,000 chargers available. And, of course, consumers can install their own chargers at home, allowing for overnight charging to ensure daily driving demands are met.
Investments in a robust charging network and improved battery capacity and technology development prove one thing: EVs are here to stay, and the market for them will only continue to grow. As vehicles such as the F-150 Lightning become more mainstream, there will be options available for all consumer needs, ranging from daily driving to hauling and towing. The amount of money and engineering expertise being invested in electric vehicles makes their future nearly limitless and all but guarantees that the automotive market of 2035 will look entirely different from that of a few years ago and even today.
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