Axios Pro Exclusive Content

EV investment is still creating charging deserts

Areas that are <span style="color: white; background-color:#f4937e; padding: 0px 4px; display: inline-block; margin: 5px 0px 0px; white-space: nowrap; font-weight: 900;">3 miles or further </span> from an electric vehicle charger
Data: SparkCharge; Map: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Automakers and startups last year spent as much as $3.5 billion on electric vehicle charging in the U.S. — but the effort is still excluding predominately "Black and brown communities," per mobile EV charging startup SparkCharge.

Why it matters: Historically underserved and lower-income Americans have the most to gain from the lifetime savings of an EV, yet the deployment of EV infrastructure and services is shutting out these communities.

What's happening: So-called EV "charging deserts" have been a persistent challenge — both in cities and in rural communities.

  • SparkCharge mapped such deserts in Boston (above), Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
  • As you might guess, the gaps — marked in red — overlap with mostly Black and brown communities.

Zoom in: Companies could argue that EVs are more expensive than internal-combustion vehicles — another problem that makes the technology unattainable for lower-income Americans.

  • That's not wrong: The gap in average price between an EV and ICE vehicle has widened to $10,000.
  • But the gap is distorted by the greater share of premium-level electric vehicles. Short-term, the upfront and monthly payments can dent the wallet, depending on the model. Long-term, EVs are a cheaper option when factoring in gas prices, maintenance and other factors.

By the numbers: The cheapest EV, the Chevy Bolt EUV crossover, will sell next year for just over $28,000. Pre-owned EVs can be had for much less.

Yes, and: SparkCharge says that its own customer base — through the app Currently — has demonstrated huge appetite for EVs in the neighborhoods that are being left out.

  • "Currently has customers in 90% of the poorest zip codes in the Bay Area, Greater Los Angeles, and the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, where we are often the only EV infrastructure available or accessible."

What they're saying: "The neighborhoods that we have found to be “charging deserts” are those that are historically underserved, low-income, and predominantly non-white," SparkCharge CEO Joshua Aviv tells Axios.

  • "We see these all over Dallas, where the divide is stark between the affluent neighborhoods where EV infrastructure is abundant and the low-income communities where there is virtually none."

The bottom line: As What's Next colleague Joann Muller put it back in October, "People aren't likely to buy electric vehicles unless it is convenient to charge them at home, at work or on road trips."

Go deeper