3 Reasons Obama’s Electric Vehicle Program Is Game-Changing

President Barack Obama tours a lab testing electric vehicle infrastructure.
Obama’s electric vehicle program is getting stronger in the final months of his presidency | Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

As far as electric vehicle go, President Barack Obama has been the industry’s most influential advocate. He once made the aspirational goal of getting 1 million EVs on the road (we’re past the halfway point) and announced the government would guarantee $4.5 billion in loans for infrastructure in July 2016. On November 3, the White House added details that suggest the government-backed initiative could be a game-changer.

In brief, the action involves establishing 48 “national electric vehicle charging corridors” on U.S. highways. When concluded, drivers would have access to chargers connecting 25,000 miles across 35 states. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will install signage alerting drivers to the EV charging stations in the same way signs currently do for gas, lodging, and other highway attractions.

If you have been wondering how plug-ins will grab market share and eventually become a force in the industry, this announcement starts answering that question. Here are three reasons it will pave the way for a greener transportation system.

Public and private forces together

2016 Nissan Leaf | Source: Nissan
Automakers like Nissan join utilities and government agencies in moving EVs forward | Nissan

There are so many ways to block progress. When a government tries to curb a business interest’s harmful effects on a community, you might see an advertising campaign to sway citizens in the company’s favor. Marketing efforts by corporations are often effective because they have money to spend that governments can’t spend on media battles. But when parties in the public and private sectors join forces, great things can happen.

The Obama administration initiative has every part of the electric car ecosystem on board. From automakers like Tesla and Nissan to states like New York and utilities like PG&E — not mention charging station operators ChargePoint and EVGo — this coalition can get things done. Frankly, if this effort fails, we do not see any Plan B that could top it in scope and cooperation.

Chargers every 50 miles

DC Fast Charger with BMW i3 and VW e-golf plugged in
New charging programs will make plugs available every 50 miles | BMW

If you are going to change the narrative about electric vehicles, you have to eliminate (or at least curb) “range anxiety.” Whether it’s a lingering myth or not, people need to feel secure driving long distances in an EV. This initiative establishes a network of chargers every 50 miles to make it happen. When you hit the road on an alternative fuel corridor, you’ll know you have options if your battery runs low.

Just as importantly, the Obama administration is making sure road signs alert plug-in drivers of a charging station ahead. We can’t say enough about this part of the program. Owners of gas-powered cars even feel range anxiety when driving on the highway with their tank getting low. Signs pointing to a nearby gas station add a measure of comfort and security. EV drivers will get that once signs go up along the corridor.

Consumer education and outreach

Car Charging Group Inc. opened it's the first residential electric car charging station at the 435 Mass Apartments on January 12, 2011 in the NW section of Washington, DC. The station can charge two cars at a time; one with a 220 volt line and one with a standard 110 volt household line.
Better information about EVs is coming for consumers  | Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

Most people are open to electric vehicles, even in places where they are not yet popular. Survey after survey reveals the more people know about the technology, the more willing they are to try it. No one likes being behind the times, causing air pollution, offering an assist to climate change, and spending money on gas. With different advocacy groups joining with local governments and business owners, the public may finally start getting quality information on EVs.

Frankly, automakers not named Tesla have not helped in the department. With sales volumes still around 1% and manufacturers making charging equipment expensive for dealers, we can’t blame salespeople and dealership owners for the entire deficit. Spreading the word about EVs and getting the charging station signs on highways will start the conversation. Consumers can take it from there. Once you go electric, you tend to get hooked.

Follow Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY