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MIT Technology Review

Electric Superhighways Can’t Come Soon Enough

The White House has a plan to make interstates electric-car friendly, but Americans are still in love with gas-guzzlers.

November 4, 2016

The U.S. government has announced a plan to create 48 national highways that are plentifully dotted with electric vehicle charging points. And boy, do we need them.

The Obama administration has announced that it plans to turn four dozen interstates, totaling almost 25,000 miles of highway, into what it calls “national electric vehicle charging corridors.” That’ll mean that they’re regular roads, but with enough charging points along their length to stop drivers from panicking about getting stranded.

In fact, there will be rather a lot of places to juice up your electric vehicle. “Drivers can expect either existing or planned charging stations within every 50 miles,” a statement released by the White House said. New standardized signs developed by the Federal Highway Administration will guide drivers towards their charge.

Barack Obama scoped out a Chevy Bolt at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

A comprehensive charging network is vital to the success of electric cars. Without it, long journeys will remain inconvenient, because the range of even the best all-electric vehicles is today only a little over 300 miles, and that only looks set to rise to 400 miles in the next few years.

The announcement sadly leaves aside the rather important matter of when the new charging points will be installed. But it does emphasize that states, utilities, and automakers are being corralled to make it happen as soon as possible. Several states have also promised to expand their electric-vehicle fleets as part of the new scheme.

While we wait for the infrastructure to be built out, we may try to console ourselves with the fact that new vehicles in the U.S. are on average more fuel efficient than ever. The average fuel efficiency of new U.S. vehicles, says the Environmental Protection Agency, rose from 24.3 miles per gallon in the 2014 model year to 24.8 miles per gallon in 2015.

Still, that falls short of proposed targets, which are set at 36.6 miles per gallon for 2017 vehicles and 54.5 miles per gallon for 2025. The numbers aren’t helped by the fact that Americans love to buy trucks rather than cars—automakers are doing what they can to boost their fuel economy, but it’s hard to get a behemoth to sip fuel.

Those charging points can’t come soon enough.

(Read more: The White House, Reuters, “Why Range Anxiety for Electric Cars Is Overblown,” “Cheap Gas and Big Cars Are Killing Obama’s Fuel Economy Push,” “These Engineering Tricks Are Helping Automakers Build Greener Cars”)