That all sounds good, but there's a disconnect when you compare the growing number of charging stations to 2015's plug-in vehicle sales. US plug-in vehicle sales fell about seven percent in 2015 to about 109,000 vehicles, with models such as the Chevrolet Volt extended-range plug-in and Nissan Leaf battery electric seeing sales drop 18 percent and 43 percent, respectively. In 2014, plug-in vehicle sales rose 8.4 percent.
Could that three-percentage-point slowdown in plug-in outlet growth really make that much of a difference? Not exactly, says Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. The bigger issue is that charging stations and outlets tend to be concentrated either in larger cities or along the west and east coasts of the US, leaving wide swaths of no-man's land when it comes to finding a place to plug in.
"There are still far fewer of those than there are gas stations, and [charging stations] are still far more concentrated in certain areas in the country than gas stations," Brauer said. And with the vehicle recharging process often taking hours instead of the few minutes it takes to fill 'er up, "it isn't just being stuck somewhere without a charger, it's also being stuck at a charger for a long time."
"It isn't just being stuck somewhere without a charger, it's also being stuck at a charger for a long time." - Karl Brauer
Some of those issues may abate once electric vehicles with longer single-charge ranges than the 80- to 100-mile variety we see today become the norm and plug-in ranges approach that of a full tank for conventional vehicles. That seems to be the case with Tesla Motors, whose base-version Model S has a single-charge range of 265 miles and whose Model S sales jumped 51 percent last year. Tesla doubled the size of its Supercharger network - which can add as much as five miles of range per one minute of charging – to 267 last year. More importantly, the company increased its number of Destination Chargers (i.e. the ones that add about 60 miles of range per hour of charging and are intended for places where you're going to spend some time, like restaurants and hotels) in North America fivefold to more than 1,500. That's still a fraction of the total publicly accessible chargers, but the Tesla chargers are also notable because they're free to Tesla owners. Additionally, Tesla will send out a car carrier for those who get stranded without a charger nearby.
"As Tesla sees it, a critical component of the adoption of electric vehicles is to create a seamless and convenient charging experience wherever owners choose to travel," said Tesla spokeswoman Alexis Georgeson. "Owners can drive all day, charging for just 20-40 minutes at one of our Supercharger stations and then stop at night to stay at one of the many hotels that have installed a Tesla High Power Wall Connector."
How long such an expansion of such a network can go on remains to be seen, though, since the company continues to expand its vehicle production but still hasn't made a profit.
"The company hasn't made money since time began," Brauer said. "But if you want to jump into Fantasyland, it's a great place to be."