KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City metro is starting to figure out how it will become a leader in the future of electric vehicles, even while they are generally more expensive than their gas-powered counterparts and before charging infrastructure is widely available.
Panasonic’s $4 billion electric vehicle battery plant in De Soto, Kansas is starting the conversation about the large investments that will need to follow to make it as easy to drive an EV as it is to travel in a gas-powered car.
“I live in an apartment so I was always wondering, ‘If I got an electric car how would I charge it,” said Keith Jones at the EV charging stations in Loose Park.
Experts say more charging stations in public areas is one key to actually getting drivers in electric vehicles.
Panasonic’s Director of Strategy and Programs Ajay Gnanasekaran says the whole EV industry needs to chip in.
“It’s a shared responsibility and education part definitely needs to catch up to the production,” Gnanasekaran said.
Beyond Panasonic’s $4 billion plant, Gnanasekaran says they’re also working with local cities and organizations to spread the word about how EV’s might fit into a driver’s everyday life.
“We have our start of production in January 2025, so we still have a year and a half and I’m pretty sure, if you ask me in January, has Kansas seen some electrification, I would say absolutely,” Gnanasekaran said.
Local engineering company Burns & McDonnell is getting in on the effort by helping figure out how to produce, distribute, and store energy needed to charge batteries. A big part of that is figuring out what public and private charging infrastructure will look like.
“A lot of the problems that we see in the industry are related to people’s neighborhoods,” said Burns & McDonnell Vice President of Energy Storage Chris Ruckman. “The infrastructure is not designed for everyone to go and charge their vehicles at 6 p.m.”
In that sense, KC SmartPort Vice President Elli Bowen says history is repeating itself.
“If you look at historical investments made by Ford and GM and Harley at the time…that really shaped our manufacturing economy in the region for years to come,” Bowen said.
The 21st Century version of that investment will be more charging stations, batteries made in De Soto, and making vehicles cheap enough that Jones can get the electric vehicle he wishes he drove.
“If they put more [charging stations] up, I think more people would be more open to go buy electric cars,” Jones said.