By Mike Colias
General Motors Co. is working to install 2,700 electric-vehicle chargers in the U.S., in an effort to stoke demand for battery-powered cars and catch up with Tesla Inc.'s commanding lead in the plug-in market.
GM said Friday the so-called fast-charging stations will be able to replenish about 60 miles of driving range in 20 minutes, similar to some of the ones used in Tesla's network of more than 17,000 chargers in North America.
GM will invest an undisclosed amount and help charging operator EVgo to leverage public funding over the next five years in U.S. metro areas, the companies said.
Over the past five years, auto makers have gradually improved the range electric vehicles can travel on a single charge, some to more than 300 miles. But a shortage of charging stations remains an impediment for consumers.
Outside of Tesla's supercharger network, the nation's charging infrastructure is largely a patchwork of systems installed by small companies and startups. Pricing is often inconsistent and the upkeep spotty. Drivers at times encounter outdated machines that provide only a few miles of range for an hour-long charge.
Some car companies, including Volkswagen AG and Ford Motor Co., have taken a more active role in building out charging networks. Many are working on larger, more-powerful electric cars that will require faster, reliable chargers to replenish their bigger battery packs.
The chargers will be publicly available to any electric-car owner and customers typically spend $5 to $15 on a charging session, GM and EVgo said.
"We believe that charging should be open to everyone," GM Chief Executive Mary Barra told reporters Friday, adding that more chargers will encourage electric-vehicle sales.
That contrasts with Tesla, which years ago spent the money to build out its own charging network for the use of Tesla owners. The move helped give Tesla an early lead among car companies in convincing traditional buyers to switch to its plug-in models.
Ms. Barra has pinned GM's growth strategy largely on the notion that electric vehicles eventually will catch on as prices come down and it becomes easier for owners to charge them. She is under pressure to translate her electric-vehicle plans into investor enthusiasm. The Detroitauto maker's plan is aimed at supporting its bet on electric vehicles, which now account for less than 1% of GM's overall sales. Industrywide, electric vehicles represented about 2.5% of overall sales globally last year, according to research firm EV Volumes.
GM recently said it is investing $20 billion to develop electric cars and autonomous-driving technology through 2025. In March, executives showed analysts and dealers about a dozen future electric models, ranging from brawny pickup trucks to a sleek Cadillac.
Still, GM's stock price has languished during the pandemic while Tesla's has soared, and money has been pouring into electric-vehicle startups such as Nikola Corp. and privately held Rivian Automotive.
During a conference call with analysts Wednesday to discuss second-quarter earnings, Ms. Barra fielded several questions about how she can leverage GM's electric-vehicle technology. One analyst asked if GM would consider licensing its batteries or other components to other auto makers. Another asked whether GM should consider changing its corporate name to Ultium, the name of the GM-developed batteries that will power its electric vehicles.
Ms. Barra said she is open to ideas that will boost the stock price but didn't directly answer the name-change question.
There were about 69,000 publicly available fast chargers in the U.S. as of May 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Of those, only about 11,000 were so-called DC, or direct-current, units, which are the fastest, capable of adding up to 80 miles of range in about 20 minutes. GM said the 2,700 chargers it will install with EVgo will be direct current.
Los Angeles-based EVgo has about 800 public fast chargers in 34 states.
The chargers will be installed at grocery stores and other high-traffic places, which should make it convenient for electric-vehicle owners who may not have the ability to plug in at home or work, the companies said.
Ford recently said it is working to give customers access to 12,000 charging stations in the U.S. Volkswagen is investing about $2 billion into charging infrastructure in the U.S., part of its settlement with U.S. regulators over its diesel-emissions cheating scandal.
Write to Mike Colias at Mike.Colias@wsj.com