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Why Walmart parking lots are perfect for electric vehicle chargers

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Most Americans make at least one trip to Walmart per year

chargers at Walmart
Electrify America’s EV chargers at Walmart—exactly where the U.S. needs them.

In a move that could make it easier for tens of millions of Americans to own and operate electric cars, Walmart is filling in some major gaps in electric charging infrastructure that will add over 300 new charging stations by the end of the year, mostly in the South and Midwest.

As announced last week, Walmart is doubling down on the number of EV charging stations in its parking lots as part of Electrify America’s $2 billion initiative funded by Volkswagen’s “dieselgate” emissions-cheating settlement that’s being used to increase electric vehicle adoption.

In addition to the over 120 sites already installed at Walmarts, at least 180 more locations will be added before the end of the year, with every installation site equipped with regular 150 kW stations as well as ultra-fast 350 kW stations that can charge vehicles at a rate of 20 miles per minute.

The installations are being strategically rolled out to form new EV charging networks. Since Walmarts are located near highways, drivers of electric vehicles can now exclusively use Walmart’s charging infrastructure along several well-traveled corridors, like Houston to Chicago and San Antonio to St. Louis.

This is good news for owners of electric vehicles who want to embark on cross-country road trips this summer—but it’s also good news for people outside of cities who are interested in buying an electric vehicle.

Right now, most electric charging infrastructure—and most electric vehicles—are located on the coasts. Walmart’s charging stations, meanwhile, are mostly located in states with low EV adoption rates. That might appear to be counterintuitive, but Walmart’s charging stations are serving a dual purpose in that they’re also intended to create landmarks that can change driving culture.

Electric vehicles only make up about 1 percent of cars on U.S. roads, although sales are increasing at a faster rate as technological advances like more efficient batteries help drive down prices. Proposals like the recently proposed federal bill to eliminate the sales of gas-powered cars by 2040 can help push consumers towards zero-emission choices—but they must be aligned with other efforts like Electrify America’s to help introduce Americans to electric vehicles and demystify aspects of EV operation.

EV purchasers receive tax credits, spend less on maintenance, and, of course, don’t have to buy gas. But a lack of charging stations is often cited by car owners as a reason for not going electric. Not knowing where charging stations are available or not having access to a place to charge at home is a deterrent to drivers who worry about being stranded with a low battery, also known as “range anxiety.”

While cities and states have made big promises about incentivizing EVs, adding charging spots, and prioritizing cleaner vehicles on roads, government entities are often slower to implement changes on city streets. Tesla’s also building its own network of superchargers—but they’re only available to Tesla owners.

Walmart, on the other hand, can install electric vehicle chargers that are accessible to anyone in its parking lots tomorrow. And customers might consider changing the cars they drive when they know that a charging station is available—for free—in the parking lot of a place they’re already going to get groceries. (The retailer also has a policy that allows people in vehicles to sleep in its parking lots overnight.)

By most definitions, Walmart is not only the biggest retail company in the U.S., with $500 billion in annual sales and over 5,300 locations nationwide, it’s also the most popular. About 80 percent of all Americans make at least one trip to Walmart per year.

Walmarts are also located in mostly suburban and rural communities that aren’t as likely to be served by public transit or biking infrastructure, making it harder for residents to make low-emission lifestyle changes when it comes to transportation. Making charging stations as ubiquitous on the American landscape as gas stations starts to signify to the community that a new way to get around is on the way.

Walmart was actually one of the first retailers to start adding EV charging systems to its locations over a decade ago, as part of an ambitious sustainability plan that includes reducing freight emissions and eliminating plastic waste. According to Walmart, the charging stations will also be used for its own vehicles as the stores ramp up local zero-emission delivery services. Walmart’s online shopping services have been growing exponentially in an effort to catch up to global leader Amazon.

Electric cars can’t solve all our climate problems; the country must also reduce automobile use overall. But for many of the U.S.’s most car-reliant communities, EV access is key. The next step, of course, would be setting aside more acres of Walmart’s parking lots for EV demos, car-sharing hubs, and sales, so people could try out electric vehicles for themselves—and maybe even drive one home.