April 15, 2021 at 09:00AM

There’s hardly a day that goes by without major developments in the electric vehicle (EV) industry.

Even without Tesla and its CEO, Elon Musk, the business dynamics around EVs’ development are fierce. As an example, take one somewhat random day (Wednesday, April 14). New introductions and development came fast and furious, including new models from Audi, Ford, Mazda and Xpeng Motors (China’s Tesla competitor). Even revered investment manager Cathie Wood puts EVs at the top of her most disruptive technologies list.

Investors, car companies and even the federal government have placed high priorities on EVs. But there’s one area that has been overlooked: infrastructure. There’s an entire economy built around automotive mobility that goes beyond the cars themselves. Ask 7-Eleven how important its fuel sales are, not to mention the purchases generated from the customers who stop in after they fill up. Ask grocery chains all over the country who use fuel as part of their loyalty programs.

Put simply: How are all these EVs that are expected to hit the road going to top their batteries? Where will they stop for fuel and a coffee? It’s a problem that Tesla has considered and addressed with 908 charging stations in the U.S. so far. It’s also an opportunity for a company that embraces the new world of auto fuel. EVgo would like to be that company.

EVgo has reached 800 charging stations in more than 65 metro areas across the country, all connected to partners like midwestern supermarket chain Meijer, which was announced in March. The company is hoping to tap into the momentum surrounding EVs as well as the $174 billion earmarked in the current version of the President Joe Biden administration’s infrastructure spending bill. Part of that cash is meant to be used to create 500,000 new EV charging stations across the country, although approval of the bill along with regulatory oversight may delay the expansion.

EVgo CEO Cathy Zoi is no stranger to working amid government frameworks in the energy sector. She was the founding partner of the Alliance for Climate Protection, which was founded by then U.S. Vice President Al Gore; she was chief of staff for Environmental Policy in the President Bill Clinton White House; and she worked for the President Barack Obama administration as acting under secretary and assistant secretary of Energy.

Zoi said she made her transition to EVgo in late 2017 after she had seen a shift in 2016. That was the year when greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector were less than the transportation sector. Feeling that the power sector was at least moving in the right direction, she accepted the invitation to helm EVgo to apply her expertise to EVs.

“During the last economic crisis, I presided over a multi-billion-dollar investment of government money into the clean energy sector,” she told PYMNTS in an interview. “We were able to accelerate the uptake of a whole bunch of things because of that public investment. What we didn’t do is nationalize industries. We didn’t have a government go off and do things by itself. We worked in partnership with the private sector so that we could take advantage of the innovation and the agility of the private sector to just bring things forward more quickly.”

Getting Comfortable

Another key component of EV expansion is growing consumer exposure to and comfort with the cars themselves, said Zoi. Now that more of the cars are being parked in driveways across the country, and rideshare operators like Uber and Lyft are using them in their fleets, more people have either ridden in one or has a friend who owns one — and those owners seem to enjoy them.

Indeed, according to a J.D. Power survey, 82 percent of early adopters who own an EV said they “definitely will” consider purchasing another one in the future. That same survey also found that satisfaction with EVs has a lot to do with range, as well as with the availability of public charging stations, and that’s where EVgo comes in.

Zoi said that by the end of the year, the company will have 500 more stations deployed, which will make fast charging even more accessible to hundreds of customers. EVgo chargers use smart technology to deliver charges as quickly as possible to the cars that can take them.

“Right now, we’ve got 80 percent of Californians living within a 10-mile drive of an EV station, and we’ll have 41 percent of Americans in the same situation by the end of this year, but that number has to be higher,” she said with regard to the company’s continued growth and station deployment plan.

Part of this deployment plan has to do with the partnerships EVgo has forged in the last few years, including those with major grocery chains like Whole Foods, Kroger, Meijer and Safeway as well as smaller chains like Wawa, Sheetz and 7-Eleven.

“Our view is that we don’t want charging to be a special destination,” Zoi said. “We want the chargers to be where you’re going to be anyway.”

Vehicle Options

Still a third boost to the EV industry, said Zoi, is the sheer range of vehicles coming out, along with their increased range and lower price points. Just a few years ago, EVs could only go about 100 miles, and that made it a hard sell for dealers to carry the cars. Now, the average EV can get over 200 miles on a charge, and the average EV is much more affordable. Combined with tax credits, the prospect of owning one is even more appealing.

In terms of EV variety, Zoi pointed to the fact that in addition to the electric SUVs that are now available, as well as the electric trucks that are forthcoming, General Motors (GM) announced that its next EV offering after the enhanced Bolt will be the Hummer.

With the marketplace ripe for EV expansion and consumer demand increasing, the only potential hurdles may remain in the policy sphere, added EVgo Chief Technology Officer Ivo Steklac.

“I’d like to see us get past some of the some of the — I won’t call it a turmoil — but some of the indecision that we’re seeing around the emerging policies,” he told PYMNTS. “Hopefully by the end of the year, we’re well down the road, and they’re done and dusted and being effective and utilized. And the question will be basically, ‘Is this just the time that we’re talking about it, or is it really the time that we’re doing something?’ I’m hoping that we see ourselves past that transition, and that we’ve now all collectively decided we’re doing something about it.”

Charging Stations Connect EVs To Commerce …

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