pete buttigieg, the u.s. secretary of transportation, clearly has a strong vision of an ev-friendly america, but he is well aware there's a bit of mental adjustment people will need to do first. buttigieg told car and driver on wednesday how much he liked the ford mustang mach-e ev his security detail was just issued, and noted that, along with the keys, they were handed a gas card—standard issue for a government vehicle. "i love the fact that we’re never going to have to use that gas card," he said. "unlike with gas, we can fill it up right here in the basement at dot headquarters."
we spoke with buttigieg in conjunction with the department of transportation's announcement today that it will make available nearly $5 billion to states to expand the ev charging network along the country's interstate highways. buttigieg answered some of our questions, adding important details to the dot announcement of the program. for instance, will all that money go just to build out charging stations, or will some be earmarked to ensure reliable operation of those stations once they're in place? the secretary clarified that states can use some of these funds for maintenance and operations and added, "clearly the trajectory here has to be toward a very high standard of reliability."
the feds are looking to ensure that all 50 states, plus the district of columbia and puerto rico, are made up of "corridors fully connected to each other where you have all of the alternative fueling that you need," as buttigieg described it to c/d. "right now it’s patchy—some places where you wouldn't have a problem, other places where you would. we need to make [ev charging] universal." the goal, he said, is to have enough charging stations that range anxiety becomes a thing of the past. "success looks like a world where you never have to think twice about whether you’ll be able to get to where you're going based on whether there are chargers there," as buttigieg described it.
we had a few questions: what kind of charging technology is envisioned, and will they work for every ev? buttigieg stated a preference to have such a network, mainly set up along major highways, to have "efficient fast chargers" but was light on details, saying "we're going to look at all of this. i think we're more interested in the standard than we are in picking and choosing technologies . . . it feels a bit like we're living through the days when you still have vhs and beta out there, and obviously over time that needs to be resolved."
how about flexibility for evs + a trailer?
with a slew of electric pickup trucks due to hit the market, we inquired if there were plans to create pull-through chargers that could accommodate trailers. we had found in our recent test of the rivian r1t that the current nature of most chargers, situated at the edge of parking lots, requires decoupling the trailer before plugging in. "these are the kinds of questions that i think [a newly formed joint office of energy and transportation] will take up," buttigieg responded. "i think we're still as a country maybe a little bit too likely to assume [ev charging stations] are all the same as gas stations—just electrons instead of gas. the truth is that the profile for charging may look quite different." that would seem to leave open the possibility that areas that see more commercial or recreational vehicles may get charging stations better suited for them to use.
secretary buttigieg also stressed that outreach still needs to be made to make sure consumers understand what life will be like with an ev. "if you’ve never needed to charge up an ev, you don't think about or notice all of the ev infrastructure out there," he said. "there’s a lot more out there now than people realize, but we need to raise the visibility of it."
how about a single payment method?
we pointed out that one issue is the payment structure with evs. c/d editors tend to have five or six ev charging apps on their phones to make sure that when we find a charging station, it will accept one. "we're taking a good look at this," buttigieg acknowledged. "part of this program is going to be a shared standard. if we're going to use taxpayers' dollars to help private actors put in charging stations, then of course we need to make sure the citizen is getting good value out of it. there may be any number of network benefits through loyalty programs. that's fine," he said, "but we've got to make sure . . . everybody can benefit."
plug it in to the wall: it's a start
buttigieg was also keen to point out that despite all this spending on public charging stations, charging an electric vehicle at home is still a thing, and it will continue to be a thing. in fact, pointing that out will be a major part of the push to expand rural charging, buttigieg explained, saying that "the very areas where people stand to gain a lot from evs because they’re spending a lot on gas because they drive more" are also the areas with more single-family homes where they can plug in their car using household current. this may presume that people in those homes are very, very patient, since charging from a wall outlet takes a lot longer, but as the dot explained in its announcement today, spending plans include a strong focus on underserved and rural areas. so public charging is coming to the countryside, albeit perhaps a bit more slowly. meanwhile, "the biggest thing [people] don't know about charging infrastructure is they already have it: it's the outlet on your wall."