Walmart Inc.’s plan to install electric vehicle fast charging stations at its thousands of Walmart and Sam’s Club locations across the country could make EV ownership a more realistic option for millions of rural Americans, industry experts say.
“It’s transformational,” said Kitty Hoksbergen, executive director of Adopt a Charger Inc. of Palos Verdes, California, a nonprofit that promotes widespread adoption of plug-in vehicles.
Last month Walmart Inc. announced that by 2030 it plans to have charging stations at thousands of locations nationwide. And since there is a Walmart-affiliated store within a 10-mile radius of 90% of American homes, by the retail giant’s estimate, the new stations will ease a major worry for potential EV buyers: Will I be able to find a recharging place?
Vishal Kapadia, Walmart’s senior vice president of energy transformation, said in an April 6 blog post that the chargers will be the Bentonville retailer’s means of improving America’s EV-charging infrastructure. The company also thinks that people charging their cars will most likely spend some time shopping.
In his post on the Walmart website, Kapadia said the intent is to make EV ownership “more accessible, reliable, convenient and affordable for [customers and members] across the country.”
The announcement brought praise from officials in the EV industry.
Hoksbergen said Walmart will be expanding the charging infrastructure to rural areas where it would otherwise be cost-prohibitive to install an EV station. A fast charging station costs about $100,000, and those in rural locations would normally not see enough use to justify an owner’s investment. “They’ll most likely lose money,” Hoksbergen said. “But Walmart, meanwhile, is in all these communities already, so for them it’s an extension of an existing business.”
The move comes at a time when the Biden administration is promoting new antipollution rules and has a goal that at least 50% of all new passenger cars and light trucks sold in 2030 be zero-emission vehicles.
In February 2022, the U.S. Departments of Transportation and Energy said nearly $5 billion will be made available under the new National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program created by the bipartisan infrastructure plan to build out a national electric vehicle charging network, which was touted as a key step toward making electric vehicle charging accessible to all Americans.
Electric car sales in the U.S. have jumped from 194,000 in 2017 to 990,000 in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency.
The automotive data firm S&P Global Mobility said on its website that 2026 will be the “tipping point for an acceleration in EV adoption that will drive automotive electrification trends ahead.” By 2030, 25% of new passenger cars sold will be electric.
But “the industry as a whole still needs to tackle consumers’ range anxiety, particularly for those without a garage or those traveling long distances,” S&P Global Mobility said.
Walmart expects to ease range anxiety. “We are uniquely positioned to deliver a convenient charging option that will help make EV ownership possible whether people live in rural, suburban or urban areas,” Kapadia said. “Our goal is to meet the needs of customers and members where they live and open the road to those driving across the country.”
Kapadia said easy access to fast charging stations is a “game changer” for drivers who haven’t bought an EV for fears that they won’t be able to find a charger on the road.
Meanwhile, Entergy Arkansas, the state’s largest electric utility, is working to get into the roadside charging business in Arkansas.
In recent years Walmart has been making moves to transform its business and supply chains to reach a goal of achieving zero emissions by 2040.
In June 2019, Walmart and Electrify America of Reston, Virginia, said that more than 120 fast electric vehicle charging stations were available at Walmart stores across the country.
“The collaboration with Walmart is part of Electrify America’s strategy to help promote greater zero emission vehicle adoption by offering an ultra-fast and convenient charging network,” Walmart said in a news release.
Electrify America didn’t immediately return an email for comment on its relationship with Walmart after the retailer’s announcement last month.
In a Dec. 10, 2021, Walmart analyst meeting, Kathleen McLaughlin, Walmart’s executive vice president and chief sustainability officer, touted the EV charging stations, which at the time were in 41 states.
“That’s significant,” McLaughlin said in a transcript posted on the company’s website. “And so, those are places where our customers can come, and while they’re charging, they’re shopping.”
She also said the stations offer a chance to deepen customer loyalty.
Walmart said it couldn’t provide more details than what was in its April blog post, which didn’t mention Electrify America.
Marc Geller, a spokesperson for the Electric Automobile Association, said that Walmart must have some sense of how much the charging stations are used.
He said that he hopes that Walmart will also have Level 2 chargers in addition to the fast charging stations.
Level 2 charging uses a 240-volt outlet, which in an hour will provide charge that will allow a vehicle to travel in the range of 20 to 25 miles. A Level 2 station might cost around $10,000.
The DCFC chargers work far faster, allowing for quicker recharges.
Having the DC fast charging stations “at every Walmart makes tons of sense,” Geller said. “I don’t know if there’s any retailer with as many well-positioned locations as Walmart.”