Seven major automakers announced a plan on Wednesday to nearly double the number of fast chargers in the United States in an effort to address one of the main reasons that people hesitate to buy electric cars.
The carmakers — BMW Group, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz Group and Stellantis — will initially invest at least $1 billion in a joint venture that will build 30,000 charging ports on major highways and other locations in the United States and Canada.
The United States and Canada have about 36,000 fast chargers — those that can replenish a drained battery in 10 to 30 minutes. In some sparsely populated areas, such chargers can be hundreds of miles apart. Surveys show that fear about not being able to find a charger during longer journeys is a major reason that some car buyers are reluctant to buy electric vehicles.
Sales of electric vehicles have risen quickly in the United States, but there are signs that demand is softening. As a result, Tesla, Ford and other carmakers have cut prices in recent months and are offering incentives. Popular models that had long waiting lists last year are now available in a few days or weeks.
Major carmakers are investing billions of dollars to manufacture electric vehicles and batteries and to establish supplier networks. Having staked their futures on the technology, they have a strong incentive to ensure that electric vehicles catch on with car buyers.
The chargers installed by the joint venture will have plugs designed for the connections used by most carmakers other than Tesla, as well as the standard developed by Tesla that Ford, G.M. and other companies have said they intend to switch to in 2025.
“The better experience people have, the faster E.V. adoption will grow,” Mary T. Barra, the chief executive of General Motors, said in a statement.
The seven automakers plan to formalize the joint venture and announce its name by the end of the year, Chris Martin, a Honda spokesman, said. The first chargers will begin operating around the middle of 2024, he said, with all 30,000 in place by the end of the decade.
The joint venture is opened to adding other partners, he said. Among major automakers, Ford was a notable absence from the announcement on Wednesday.
The partnership also does not include Volkswagen. The company is a majority shareholder of Electrify America, one of the largest fast-charging providers.
Tesla accounts for more than half the fast chargers in the United States and has said it will open its networks to other car brands, though, so far, it has only made fewer than 100 ports available. Owners of Ford and G.M. vehicles, among others, will be able to connect to 12,000 Tesla fast chargers using an adapter beginning next year. In 2025, Ford and G.M. plan to make models designed to take the Tesla plug without an adapter.
The chargers being built by the joint venture will be concentrated in urban areas and along major highways, especially those used most heavily by vacationers and other travelers, the companies said in a joint statement. Charging stations will be close to restrooms, restaurants and other amenities. The partners said they would try to take advantage of federal and state funds available for charging infrastructure.
Most electric vehicle owners charge at home and rarely need to use public chargers. But fast chargers are important for longer trips. Fear of not being able to find one is a major psychological impediment for many would-be electric car buyers. A related problem is that many charging companies have been reluctant to build too many stations in places where few people own electric cars.
The best way to promote electric vehicle ownership, said Shay Natarajan, a partner at Mobility Impact Partners, a private equity firm in New York that focuses on transportation, would be to install chargers in states in the West, Midwest or Southeast where there aren’t many, rather than in California or Eastern states that already have extensive charging networks.
Studies have found that in Norway, where almost all new cars sold are battery-powered, sales of electric cars increased steeply when fast chargers became available, Ms. Natarajan said. But the impact diminished as chargers became more commonplace.
“In states where E.V. adoption is the lowest, that is where it would make sense to build chargers,” she said. “That is where you are going to have the most impact.”
But even California could use more charging stations, said Cathy Zoi, the chief executive of EVgo, which already has a partnership with G.M. to build fast-charging stations.
“The most mature market is California, and we’re not saturated in California yet,” Ms. Zoi said. “Potential buyers of E.V.’s are still feeling they need to see more charging stations.”
An Energy Department database that maps the location of chargers highlights the gaping holes in current networks. In Minnesota, for example, fast chargers are sprinkled across the bustling Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. But in the state’s northern city Duluth, home to nearly 90,000 people, there are just five fast-charging ports, four of which can charge only Tesla cars.