Thefts of charging cables hinder the attractiveness of electrical vehicles

DETROIT (AP) — Just before 2 a.m. on a chilly April night in Seattle, a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck pulled as much as an electrical vehicle charging station at the sting of a shopping mall parking zone.

The scene that night is an element of a disturbing pattern across the country: thieves are targeting electric vehicle charging stations, attempting to steal the cables that contain copper wires. The price of copper on world markets has reached a record high, meaning criminals could make ever-increasing amounts of cash selling the fabric.

The stolen cables often paralyze entire stations, leaving electric vehicle owners desperately looking for a working charger while on the road. This situation may be extremely stressful and upsetting for owners.

Defective chargers have turn out to be the newest obstacle for U.S. automakers of their efforts to convert more Americans to electric vehicles, despite widespread public concerns a couple of shortage of charging stations. About 4 in 10 adults within the United States say that they think charging electric vehicles takes too long or that they have no idea of any charging stations nearby.

If finding a charging station doesn't necessarily involve finding working cables, that is another excuse for skeptical buyers to keep on with conventional gasoline or hybrid vehicles, no less than for now.

America's major automakers have made big financial bets that buyers will switch from internal combustion engines to electric cars as the results of climate change worsen, and the businesses have invested billions in electric vehicles.

Stellantis expects 50% of its passenger cars to be electric by the tip of 2030. Ford has set a goal of manufacturing two million electric vehicles annually by 2026 – about 45% of its global sales – but that goal has since been postponed. General Motors, probably the most ambitious of the three, has committed to selling only electric vehicles by the tip of 2035.

Such timelines, in fact, depend upon whether corporations can persuade more potential electric automotive buyers that they’ll all the time have a charging option while driving. The rise in cable thefts is unlikely to strengthen the position of carmakers.

Two years ago, considered one of the 968 charging stations with 4,400 plugs across the country experienced a cord cut perhaps every six months, based on Electrify America, which operates the country's second-largest network of DC fast chargers. By May of this yr, the number had reached 129 — 4 greater than the overall for all of 2023. One station in Seattle experienced cord cuts six times last yr, said Anthony Lambkin, vice chairman of operations for Electrify America.

“We enable people to get to work, get their kids to school, get to doctor's appointments,” Lambkin said. “So having an entire station offline has a big impact on our customers.”

Two other leading electric vehicle charging corporations – Flo and EVgo – have also reported a rise in thefts. Charging stations within the Seattle area were a frequent goal. Locations in Nevada, California, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Pennsylvania were also hit.

Stations operated by Tesla, which operates the country's largest fast-charging network, have been raided in Seattle, Oakland and Houston. So far this yr, Seattle police have reported seven cases of cable thefts from charging stations, matching the number for all of 2023. Thieves have raided Tesla stations 4 times this yr, in comparison with only once last yr, Seattle police said.

“Vandalism of public charging infrastructure in the greater Seattle area is unfortunately on the rise,” EVgo said.

The company said law enforcement was investigating the thefts while it attempted to repair the non-functional stations and thought of a longer-term solution.

The problem shouldn’t be limited to urban areas. In rural Sumner, Washington, south of Seattle, thieves have twice cut cables at a Puget Sound Energy charging station. The company is working with police and the property owner to guard the station.

Until a month ago, Houston police had not been aware of a single cable theft. Then one was stolen from a charger at a gas station. Now there have been eight or nine such thefts recorded in the town, said Sergeant Robert Carson, head of a police metal theft unit.

In one case, thieves stole 18 of 19 cables at a Tesla station. That day, Carson visited the station to evaluate the damage. In the primary five minutes he was there, Carson said, about 10 electric vehicles that needed charging needed to be turned away.

In very large cities like Houston, charging stations typically have numerous plugs and cables, so thefts may cause particularly great damage.

“They don't just take one hit,” Carson said. “When they get hit, they get hit pretty hard.”

Roy Manuel, an Uber driver who normally charges his Tesla on the Houston station that was raided by thieves, said he fears he won’t give you the option to achieve this due to stolen cables.

“If my battery was really low, I would have a lot of trouble running my vehicle,” he said. “If it was so low that I couldn't get to another charger, I might have a problem. I might even need a tow truck.”

Charging corporations say it's clear the thieves are after the copper within the cables. In late May, the worth of copper hit a record high of nearly $5.20 a pound, partly resulting from rising demand driven by efforts to cut back carbon emissions from electric vehicles using more copper wiring. The price is up about 25 percent from a yr ago, and plenty of analysts expect further price increases.

The charging corporations say there isn't actually much copper within the cables and that what copper there’s is difficult to extract. Carson estimates that criminals can get $15 to $20 per cable at a scrap yard.

“You won't make a lot of money,” he said. “You won't sail on a yacht anywhere.”

However, the more cables the thieves steal, the more cash they’ll make. At a price of $20 per cable, 20 stolen cables could herald $400.

The problem for charging corporations is that replacing cables is rather more expensive. In Minneapolis, where cables have been clipped through at city charging stations, replacing a single cable costs about $1,000, says Joe Laurin, a project manager in the general public works department.

The charging corporations are attempting to fight back. Electrify America is installing more surveillance cameras. In Houston, the police are visiting recycling centers searching for stolen metal.

However, it is usually difficult to find out at scrap yards whether a charging cable actually accommodates metal. Thieves often burn the insulation and only sell the metal strands.

The Recycled Materials Association, which represents 1,700 members, issues law enforcement scrap theft alerts so members may be looking out for suspects and stolen goods.

Since charging stations are sometimes situated in distant corners of parking lots, significantly more surveillance cameras are needed, said Carson.

Meanwhile, Seattle police are attempting to trace down the thieves within the video, based on Electrify America. And Carson said Houston police are following up on leads concerning the Tesla theft.

“We would like to stop them,” he said, “and then let the judiciary do its job.”


AP video journalist Lekan Oyekanmi contributed to this report from Houston.

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