Retailers hope to cash in on electric vehicle charging

By Mike Lewis
Electric vehicle charging stations at the Valley Mall near Hagerstown, Md.

Stores in the Crossroads area are installing stations in hopes motorists stop and shop.

By Mike Lewis

Alma and Dan Rooney might be the motorists retailers have in mind when businesses install electric vehicle charging stations in their parking lots.

The Rooneys, who live in York, Pa., were heading into one of the establishments at the Valley Mall near Hagerstown, Md., recently. They had about a half-hour to relax while their 2019 Nissan Leaf was charging in the mall parking lot.

Alma Rooney said that meant a little extra time to relax or shop.

“We’re enjoying that. It’s not a bad thing at all,” she said.

They also got a deal through the car dealership that makes charging pretty cheap.

“We don’t feel bad going to Starbucks and having a coffee,” she said.

The Valley Mall has had charging stations in place for years. Other organizations, from local cities and towns to the Sheetz chain of convenience stores, have installed charging stations at their establishments.

And Walmart made news a few weeks ago when it announced the latest locations in its plan to provide EV charging stations at stores coast-to-coast. When the plan is in place, Walmart will become one of the largest retail hosts of EV charging stations in the United States.

There’s no secret to the appeal. Businesses hope that drivers will check out their wares while the cars are charging.

‘Great stopping point’

“We have had Charge Point Charging stations since 2016. A few months ago, we added two more to enhance this amenity,” Julie Rohm, general manager of the Valley Mall, wrote in an email.

“The electric charging stations are located on the north parking lot of the mall, easily seen as you enter the property, for the convenience of the drivers. They are a wonderful accommodation for our local customers and even our traveling ones.”

The mall, along with a host of other businesses, sits near the intersection of Interstates 70 and 81.

“We are a great stopping point to relax and ‘refuel,’” she wrote.

That’s exactly what the Rooneys had in mind. The stops became part of their vacation.

By Mike Lewis
Electric vehicle charging stations at the Walmart south of Hagerstown, Md.

“We’re actually going home,” Alma Rooney said. “We went down to Deep Creek Lake (in western Maryland).”

The Valley Mall stop was their second near Hagerstown on the trip. They charged the car at Premium Outlets, another shopping center just outside the city, on their way out.

“You find (charging stations) on your apps and you plan your trips around that,” Alma said.

‘Right thing to do’

Walmart recently went live with a charging station at its store south of Hagerstown.

More than 130 Walmart stores offer Electrify America EV charging options the retailer reported. It expects to install more stations at Walmart stores across 46 states.

The Electrify America chargers feature 150 kilowatt and 350kW DC fast chargers, currently among the most powerful available on the market. Chargers at this power can charge capable vehicles at speeds of up to 20 miles of range per minute, according to Walmart.

“Along with providing our customers with an enhanced shopping experience through added convenience, this initiative also allows us to contribute to the expansion and accessibility of our nation’s EV charging station infrastructure,” Mark Vanderhelm, vice president of energy for Walmart Inc., said in a news release. “Many of our Walmart associates and customers are EV drivers, so providing access to these stations is the right thing to do for our customers, our business and the environment.”

Electrify America has plans of its own, like a series of charging stations no more than 120 miles apart and, on key East and West Coast highways, an average of only 70 miles apart.

The effort focuses on major routes, similar to the Tesla Supercharger network.

By Mike Lewis
An electric vehicle charging station at the Premium Outlets mall near Hagerstown, Md.

Writing in Forbes recently, Jim Gorzelany, a Chicago-based consumer automotive journalist, noted that Walmart’s network might help boost electric vehicle sales.

“While most public EV chargers to date have mostly been located on the East or West Coast, and in some densely populated urban areas in between, this represents a major push to bring battery-powered vehicles to the heartland. Electric vehicle sales are practically nil in rural areas, due in large part to past models’ limited range on a charge. But with recent and coming models able to achieve well over 200, even 300 miles per infusion of kilowatts, the genre can easily become more practical for a broader swath of the motoring public,” he wrote.

“Having easy access to public charging, particularly DC Fast-Charging units that bring an EV’s battery up to 80% of its capacity in around a half hour — easily the duration of a quick visit to a Walmart — can go a long way toward eliminating so-called range anxiety from EV ownership.”