Automakers know electric vehicle sales won't take off until drivers have access to a convenient network of chargers. But none, besides Tesla, were eager to spend the billions to build the infrastructure.
Now, Volkswagen is working to make it happen — not because it wants to, but as punishment.
Volkswagen subsidiary Electrify America will pour $2 billion over the next decade into developing a nationwide web of fast chargers accessible to all brands. The investment is a result of Volkswagen's settlement with federal regulators after it admitted installing software in diesel-powered vehicles to cheat on emissions tests.
Electrify America's mandate is ambitious: Build the infrastructure necessary to drive zero-emission vehicle adoption.
This is "an opportunity to build a sustainable infrastructure model that can live beyond the consent decree," Electrify America COO Brendan Jones told Automotive News.
If Electrify America can achieve its goals, it could become the auto industry's answer to Tesla's formidable and proprietary fast-charger network. Tesla's global footprint of more than 11,200 Superchargers has given it a big advantage over other EV makers, helping it to triple deliveries this year through September from the same period in 2017, according to Tesla.
But Electrify America's nonproprietary charger network ultimately could do more than Tesla to fuel EV acceptance by better addressing infrastructure.
People used to talk about EVs creating "range anxiety," said Matt DeLorenzo, managing editor at Kelley Blue Book.
"The next big thing is going to be charger anxiety," DeLorenzo said. "Can I find an open charger, and do I have to wait for it?"
The urgency is clear. Full electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles will account for 12 percent of light passenger vehicles in North America by 2025, according to IHS Markit.
Developing the equivalent of a gas-station network, in availability and charging-time convenience, is critical for battery EVs to expand beyond roughly 1 percent of U.S. sales this year through August.
"The key is to make electric vehicles no different than other cars on the road," DeLorenzo said. "A robust charging infrastructure is one way to do that."