Anxiety-free electric car journeys goal of $4.5B U.S. loan program

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The Obama administration plans to spend as much as $4.5 billion to build electric-car charging stations, creating a network stretching coast-to-coast to reduce “range anxiety” and potentially improve consumer acceptance of the lower-polluting vehicles.

The initiative will release the Energy Department loan guarantees to support a commercial-scale roll out of charging stations, with federal, state and local governments partnering with automakers like Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Tesla Motors Inc.

Automakers are betting big on electric cars, in part to meet aggressive U.S. fuel-economy standards that project the vehicle fleet will average more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025. Ford is investing $4.5 billion to add 13 new electrified vehicles by 2020. GM is rolling out the Bolt, billed as the first affordable long-range electric car, later this year.

More electric cars are sold in California than the Midwest, Northeast and South combined. Zero-emission vehicle mandates have been a fact of life in the Golden State for decades, and electric utilities have worked with the state to build charging stations. A climate ideal for batteries has also helped.

Fast-charging stations

The administration aims to complete a national network of fast-charging stations by 2020 to make “coast-to-coast, nationwide zero-emissions travel” a reality. State, county and local governments will be encouraged to buy electric cars for their fleets, lowering procurement costs while expanding the market for the cars.

Charging infrastructure has been “one of the obstacles” to widespread adoption of electric cars, said Lynn Orr, undersecretary for science and energy at the Energy Department.

Drivers routinely check fuel levels while getting to and from work, Orr said. “The kinds of things we’re talking about today make it possible to provide the same kind of service for electric vehicles.”

Electric utilities like Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co., Consolidated Edison Inc., Duke Energy Corp. and Southern California Edison Co. are also involved. SCE is already working on a customer-financed pilot project to install 1,500 charging stations in southern California.

Longer battery ranges will probably do more than building charging stations to boost electric-car numbers, said Karl Brauer, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book in Irvine, California.

“It takes 20 minutes to charge, even with a Tesla fast charger,” Brauer said. “It takes hours on a regular charger. Range anxiety is still a big issue.”

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