Many dealers’ lots are brimming with an ever-growing number of electric vehicles. A stumbling block to sales: Consumer dissatisfaction with public charging infrastructure has increased over the last year, according to the J.D. Power’s 2023 US Electric Vehicle Experience Public Charging Study.
“Since consumer skepticism regarding public charging availability is the primary reason vehicle shoppers reject EVs, this performance could prove to be a further hindrance to EV acceptance,” J.D. Power says in a press release.
Focusing on educating potential EV buyers is one way for dealers to overcome the skepticism around public charging and to sell more EVs, says Brent Gruber, executive director of the EV practice at J.D. Power.
“In order for someone to adopt an electric vehicle they have to feel comfortable and confident they can charge their EV,” Gruber tells Wards. “Right now, they don’t’ feel confident. Dealers can educate consumers about public charging.”
The J.D. Power study found that despite an increase in the number of public charging stations across the U.S., customer satisfaction with Level 2 charging declined by 16 points on a 1,000-point scale to 617, the lowest level since the study began in 2021. Satisfaction with DC fast charging plunged 20 points to 654.
The study, conducted with PlugShare, an EV driver app maker, was fielded from January through June 2023 and included responses from 15,079 owners of battery-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.
To be sure, one cause of the growing dissatisfaction is the spread of EV ownership to more than just early adopters, Gruber says.
The J.D. Power 2023 U.S. Electric Vehicle Ownership Study found first-time owners rose to 85% of EV buyers this year, up from 74% in 2022. The mass market share of sales jumped to 89% from 67%.
The study, also conducted with PlugShare, was fielded from August to December 2022 and included 7,073 owners of ʼ22- and ʼ23-model BEVs and PHEVs.
Many of the early EV buyers were Tesla owners, and they were (and still are) very satisfied with the Tesla supercharger experience. That is not the case with other nameplates.
“Now you have mainstream consumers coming into the mix,” says Gruber, “and they are using a bunch of different networks (so charging is) not a consistent process.”
Indeed, many of those non-Tesla chargers don’t work. The Public Charging Experience study found 20% of all EV owners who visited a charging station didn’t charge and the main reason was inoperability.
It’s Not Just Broken Public Chargers
But consumer concerns about charging starts long before they try to plug their EVs into public chargers, says Gruber. Dealers need to address those issues.
For example, dealers should let consumers know they need different types of credit cards for different brands of charging stations, he says.
As electricity rates have increased, so has the cost of charging, and consumer satisfaction with the cost of charging “plummeted” in the most recent study, says Gruber.
Dealers could let consumers know how to take advantage of any discount programs charging networks or local utilities have, he says.
Consumer dissatisfaction also grew due to the increasing disparity between the EV adoption rate and the charger installation rate, says Gruber. “There is a pretty big imbalance,” he says.
Adding more charging stations at dealerships isn’t a solution, however, Gruber says. Dealers can and should have charging stations at their stores, but “you have to look at it practically,” he adds.
The more affordable Level 2 chargers provide what amounts to a convenience charge. A DC fast charger is needed for a faster complete charging experience, and that requires a substantial investment on the dealer’s part, Gruber says.
Plus, “people want charging where there are things to do” while they wait, he says.
Changing public perceptions often comes down to education. The No.1 reason for not buying an EV is the perceived lack of public charging, Gruber says.
Dealers can let consumers know not just about charging locations but also other details, such as how to use different chargers and how to get charging discounts.
That will be crucial to more EV sales in the future, the J.D. Power official says.
“Dealers are the frontline educator for EVs,” Gruber says. “As more mainstream consumers do come into the fold, the dealer role is going to be even more critical to educating consumers about EVs.”