Electrify America, the subsidiary managing Volkswagen’s $2 billion U.S. electric-vehicle charging infrastructure plan -- created as part of the automaker's court settlement for cheating on its diesel vehicle emissions tests -- can now point to eight real EV chargers in and around the nation’s capital, and 50 more to come in nine more metro areas by September. It's the first step in what could end up being the country’s largest EV charging investment to date. 

But in California, the country’s biggest EV market, regulators are demanding more details before allowing the first phase of the plan to move forward, including specifics on how it will support disadvantaged communities and data to prove it will “complement rather than duplicate other infrastructure investments” in the state. 

Last month, Electrify America unveiled its first working charging stations in Washington, D.C. and nearby Maryland and Virginia. The 50-kilowatt dual-standard stations, which can provide about 100 miles of EV driving range with a 30-minute charge, will be joined by late September with 50 new and upgraded fast chargers at “premier retail properties” in 10 major metro markets, including D.C., Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle and Portland.

It’s the first real-world implementation of a 10-year plan that encompasses $2 billion in EV infrastructure spending -- $800 million in California and $1.2 billion outside of the state. In April, the EPA approved the first phase of VW’s national plan, which outlines $250 million in charging station investments between now and mid-2019.

Outside of California, VW plans to have about 240 charging station sites along high-traffic corridors between metropolitan areas, along with more than 300 community-based charging station sites at workplaces, retail, multifamily residential locations and municipal lots and garages, by the end of the first cycle in 2019. 

The new stations will use charging gear supplied by BTC Power and ABB, installed by local electrical contractors, and operated by EVgo Services, the car-charging business started by NRG Energy and sold to investment firm Vision Ridge Partners last year. 

But Volkswagen promises the chargers will also be accessible “in the near future via Electrify America’s own open-standard network, which is currently under development with industry partners.” 

This is an issue of great concern to companies competing in the nascent yet fast-growing EV charging market. Charging network providers such as ChargePoint and automakers including Ford and BMW have complained that the settlement could hand Volkswagen too much market power, and are insisting that its new chargers remain open to multiple vendors using standards-based technology -- a challenge in a field where standards are still being developed. 

This conflict has come to a head in California, where Electrify America is required to spend $800 million on EV-related investments in the state to support broader adoption of zero-emissions vehicles over the next decade. That plan will start with $120 million for 2,000 to 3,000 EV chargers at 400 or more sites by mid-2019.

Back in May, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) wrote a letter to Electrify America, asking it to supplement its zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) infrastructure plan with more information about a number of key issues. Last week, Volkswagen submitted its response to those questions. 

One of the first issues on CARB’s docket was how Electrify America would ensure that underserved and disadvantaged communities will benefit from its rollout, both through increased ZEV access and in terms of reduced pollution. Last week’s response “clarifies that Electrify America anticipates that more than 35 percent of its investment will be in disadvantaged and low-income communities,” including a focus on Fresno, one of the state’s lowest-income metropolitan areas, for community charging investments. 

It has also “developed an education and outreach proposal targeted at the unique barriers to ZEV use in low-income and disadvantaged communities, and presented a new strategy to explore the use of more affordable preowned ZEVs,” according to the statement. Electrify America’s plans in California concentrate heavily on community charging at workplaces and multifamily housing such as apartments, a focus shared by the state’s big investor-owned utilities in their EV infrastructure plans

On the subject of openness, CARB highlighted that investment, education and outreach “cannot favor vehicles or services offered by settling defendants,” that is, cars made by Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche. Specifically, it asked the company to clarify which companies will own the capital investments, what types of entities are expected to operate different services, and how Californians will be assured that drivers of non-Volkswagen cars won’t be “priced out of using the network to ensure availability for VW vehicle users.” 

In response, Electrify America said that its stations will be compatible with EVs from all major brands, not just its own, with a goal “to promote universal access to the extent possible. In particular, multiple technologies (L2, DCFC) and multiple nonproprietary connectors and charging protocols (e.g., CHAdeMO, CCS) will be offered to maximize public access to Electrify America’s charging infrastructure.” 

As for CARB’s concerns about planning, Electrify America wrote that it “strives to be an analysis-driven company that utilizes data to guide investment to maximize impact,” and one that “learns from past failures in the ZEV refueling industry,” such as the bankruptcy and collapse of ECOtality