L.A. to Vegas and Back by Electric Car: 8 Hours Driving; 5 More Plugged In

Much is riding on that prospect.

Tesla, the company that turned electric cars into status symbols, has raised billions of dollars from investors, including more than $2 billion in May, to build cars and charging stations. Volkswagen recently said it would invest more than 30 billion euros (over $34 billion) by 2023 in electrifying its car lineup; the company is also spending $2 billion on a network of charging stations called Electrify America. EVgo, which claims to have the largest fast-charging network in the United States, expects to secure more than $2 billion in grants from state governments and environmental programs and raise an undisclosed amount from venture capital firms. And big oil companies like BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron have invested in charging stations.

Most of the companies are losing money on these efforts, largely because of the upfront costs. To turn a profit, they will need many more people to buy electric cars and the electricity that powers them.

Charging on average costs $10 for about 200 miles, depending on the car, or about half the typical cost of gasoline for that distance, according to AAA. Our experience was not as economical: We spent about $67 on electricity, perhaps $10 less than we might have on gas.

Charging stations typically receive their power from the electric grid, for which they pay local utilities, though some supplement that with energy from solar panels and batteries. And electricity rates fluctuate less than gas prices because they are subject to state regulation.

Tesla concluded that it would need to build its own charging stations to convince car buyers that they could “go anywhere,” said Drew Baglino, the automaker’s vice president for technology. Initially, the company offered free charging to Tesla owners, a perk no longer available to most buyers.

All told, the United States has about 24,000 public charging stations, with an average of fewer than three charging posts. By comparison, there are about 150,000 gas stations, some with dozens of pumps.

In addition to building more charging stations, auto and energy companies say, they are working to speed up charging.

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