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Ford's CEO hopes major deal with Tesla will help fix charging station shortage

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Anyone taking a road trip in an electric vehicle this summer - at least an EV that isn't a Tesla - may have struggled with chargers that were full or broken. That's true even for the CEO of one of the world's biggest automakers. But Jim Farley of Ford hopes a major deal with Tesla will fix the problem. NPR's Camila Domonoske reports.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: The CEO of Ford was traveling with his family last year in an electric Mustang Mach-E, when they passed a big, convenient charging station in Central California.

JIM FARLEY: My kids were, like, Dad, why can't we charge there?

DOMONOSKE: Tesla's superchargers are fast. There are a lot of them. They're reliable and easy to use. And until recently, they were only for Teslas. As Jim Farley remembers it, his kids were blunt.

FARLEY: Well, that's stupid. They have, like, a lot of free, open spots there. So, yeah, that got us thinking.

DOMONOSKE: Earlier this year, Farley made a surprise announcement that Ford was adopting Tesla's charging tech. Ford owners will get to use superchargers. That means revenue for Tesla and more convenient charging for Ford drivers. After the unexpected move, many other automakers have made the same decision. That deal was on Farley's mind a lot when I met up with him on another road trip.

(SOUNDBITE OF OBJECT THUDDING)

DOMONOSKE: This month, he drove an electric F-150 pickup truck from Northern California to Las Vegas, chatting with customers and trying out charging stops.

FARLEY: I had it from a business point of view. Like, prices are coming down, and customers are worried about charging. I didn't have, like, the human part of it.

DOMONOSKE: The frustration of being stuck with non-Tesla charging networks that look at the data or just talk to drivers aren't up to snuff. Right now Ford is losing money on EVs, but Farley says EVs, especially electric pickups, are super important to Ford because they're key to future growth. So when he was struggling to charge on this road trip...

FARLEY: I'm sure glad we did the Tesla charging deal. That's all I can say. That was a good move.

DOMONOSKE: Now, we're talking about road-trip charging here - think half-hour charging break along a highway. For everyday driving, the vast majority of EV drivers charge slowly at home or at work while they're doing other things. But even though Americans spend a heck of a lot more time commuting than road tripping, charging on the go is a big concern for car shoppers. Toward the end of Farley's road trip, we passed a long gleaming row of Tesla chargers. Future Fords will be built to match those chargers. And starting in January, existing Ford drivers can use them, too. They'll just need an adapter, which might cost a couple hundred bucks. But it's not January yet.

FARLEY: That's why I'm roaming parking lots looking for the chargers. Keep going?

DOMONOSKE: Farley's 15-year-old son Jameson was helping from the back seat.

FARLEY: He's like a savant when it comes to finding these chargers. He's, like, it's over there, Dad.

JAMESON FARLEY: You're going the opposite way. Make a u-ey (ph) or something.

FARLEY: Yep. OK, thanks, bro.

This is our trip for the last three days.

DOMONOSKE: We finally found the charging station. But the first plug...

FARLEY: Unavailable. Great.

JAMESON: Here - we...

FARLEY: Fantastic.

DOMONOSKE: The next one - broken.

FARLEY: We'll have to wait then.

DOMONOSKE: Too few, too inconvenient, too unreliable. Adopting Tesla's chargers is one way to tackle this problem. But the country will also need more and better chargers overall. The federal government is spending billions on that, and some automakers are working together to launch another charging network. When I left him at that charger in Las Vegas, Ford CEO Jim Farley still hadn't gotten a drop of juice, but he was confident he would. It might just take a while.

Camila Domonoske, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUA LIPA, SILK CITY ET AL. SONG, "KARAOKE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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