How automakers are leaning on dealerships in electric vehicle charging race

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General Motors announced this week it is expanding its nationwide charging network for electric vehicles, setting up a race with rival Ford as U.S. auto giants compete for their share of the EV market.

Both companies are leaning on their dealerships across the country to build out battery-charging infrastructure that will be open to the public — helping to get EV ownership in general off the ground.

GM on Wednesday installed the first two community charging stations at dealerships in Wisconsin and Michigan, according to the company.

“Nearly 90 percent of the U.S. population lives within 10 miles of a GM dealership,” Hoss Hassani, vice president of GM EV Ecosystem, said in a statement. 

GM dealers are “well positioned to determine locations that expand access to EV charging, including at small businesses, entertainment venues, schools, and other popular destinations,” he added.

The program aims to build 40,000 charging networks across the country — a major boost to the around 50,000 charging stations already in the U.S., according to the Department of Energy.

The effort will begin with Chevrolet dealers, but Buick, Cadillac and GMC dealers will be able to apply starting in January, the company says.

Canadian EV charging manufacturer Flo will supply the GM dealers, the companies announced this week.

Jeep parent company Stellantis will also begin requiring its dealerships to offer EV charging by the beginning of 2024, Detroit News reported.

Dealers who want to sell EVs “will need to make the necessary infrastructure modifications in their dealerships to sell those vehicles,” spokeswoman Diane Morgan told the newspaper.

Nearly 70 percent of Stellantis dealers are considering adding charging capacity to sell the company’s forthcoming 25 EV models, news site Electrive reported.

The dealership plans come amid a broader push for national charging networks. In September, the Department of Transportation announced the release of $5 billion in funding to build EV chargers across 35 states and 53,000 miles of highway over the next five years.

This funding is allocated to states — meaning companies and dealerships can’t apply to it directly, financial news site The Street noted.

GM’s network remains substantially smaller than Ford’s. About 1,000 GM dealers — a quarter of the total — have signed up for the program since it was announced in 2021, according to the company.

That’s roughly half the 1,920 Ford dealers that have signed up for that company’s Model e Program, according to Automotive News.

Around two-thirds of all Ford dealers have signed up for its EV program, which will cost each dealer $500,000 to $1.2 million to become “EV-certified,” the Detroit Free Press reported.

By 2024, Ford Model e dealerships will offer at least one fast-charging DC port, with two plugs — both open to the public, according to the Free Press. Dealerships will also need the certification to sell Ford EVs starting that year.

About 86 percent of Ford dealers that have joined the program have opted for a higher tier, which requires them to offer two fast-chargers, according to cleantech news site Electrek.

Dealerships opting for this pricier “elite” tier will be able to sell more types of Ford EVs, as well as more units as a whole, Ford Authority reported.

Ford is betting on its independently owned dealership model to help it compete against Tesla, CEO Jim Farley told the Automotive News World Congress this week, according to auto news site Detroit Bureau.

But unlike GM, it will still allow dealers who opt out of EVs to continue selling its fossil fuel–powered cars, Detroit Bureau reported.

“We’re betting on the franchise system. Now the largest luxury brand in the United States didn’t,” Farley said, in a reference to Tesla’s direct-to-consumer model. 

“And we’re betting on the dealer council process,” Farley added.

Unlike Tesla, that will require Ford to get consensus from thousands of independent dealers.

“We are very excited about electrification,” one Alabama-based Ford dealer told the Free Press.

Not all dealers are so happy. Dozens of Ford dealers in Arkansas, New York and Illinois are suing Ford over the new system, Inside EVs reported.

The dealers are incensed that agreeing to sell Ford EVs will require them to work within Ford’s new rules, the outlet reported.

In addition to the expensive upgrades, these include committing to fixed, no-haggle prices, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Dealers should have “a right to every Ford vehicle manufactured with that nameplate on it, to include the newest EVs,” one attorney told Automotive News, warning against dealers getting “pigeonholed.”


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