DETROIT, June 6 (Reuters) - Volkswagen AG unit Electrify America will significantly expand its U.S. network of electric vehicle charging stations at Walmart Inc store locations with an emphasis on America's heartland states, the two companies said on Thursday.
Electrify America already has more than 120 operational charging stations installed at Walmart stores in 34 U.S. states, in line with an announcement made by both companies last year.
The companies did not disclose the number of new charging stations they plan to build. But according to sources familiar with Electrify America's plans, the company will build 180 more charging stations at Walmart locations by the end of 2019.
U.S. electric vehicle ownership is now concentrated on the country's east and west coasts. Walmart provides locations across the country within easy reach of major highways, said Brendan Jones, Electrify America's chief operating officer.
"What Walmart offers is the heartland of America," he said. "That is a massive benefit geographically for us."
Major automakers including General Motors Co have announced plans to invest tens of billions of dollars on families of electric vehicles over the next few years, in a direct challenge to Tesla Inc.
But a lack of infrastructure for U.S. drivers to recharge vehicles is seen is as a major barrier to mass adoption of electric vehicles as consumers remain concerned over limited range.
VW has agreed to spend $800 million in California and a total of $2 billion nationwide on clean car infrastructure as part of its agreement after admitting to diesel emissions cheating.
Electrify America's chargers at Walmart stores provide fast charging for vehicles, with speeds of up to 20 miles of range per minute of charging.
"We anticipate the use of EVs will continue to rise and we want to put in infrastructure to accommodate that," Mark Vanderhelm, vice president for energy at Walmart, the world's largest retailer, told Reuters.
Vanderhelm said he expects the number of Walmart store locations with charging stations to keep growing as shopping habits change. With the rise of online shopping, more delivery vehicles are expected to become electrified. (Reporting By Nick Carey; Editing by David Gregorio)