LOS ANGELES – Beltway politicos pushing the Build Back Better plan envision America transforming into an electric-vehicle paradise. And spending $5 billion to build a half-million BEV charging points sounds like an impressive start.
But to truly succeed, America is going to require a seamless user experience for those BEV adopters accustomed to ready access to 1.5 million fast-filling gas-station pumps nationwide.
If we’re crossing the chasm to mass adoption of electrification, the typical consumer will have to engage with a charging experience that to date has proven exceedingly user unfriendly.
Until we get an industry-standard charging network, a driver might pull his CHAdeMO-plug BEV to a station only to discover it delivers electrons through a CCS connector. Imagine driving your Chevy Tahoe to a Shell station to discover it only refuels Fords.
This VHS-vs-Betamax battle needs to be resolved on a global scale before it ruins the customer experience for all BEV adopters.
Then there is the matter of the charging network itself. In my many past experiences with BEVs, I have repeatedly come across charging stations that were malfunctioning, out of service or simply not there anymore.
Most recently, I had a week-long drive in Los Angeles with a Ford Mustang Mach-E (test car pictured, left). (Notes for Jim Farley: Why does your BEV’s FordPass infotainment app list gas stations? Also, you should chat with the rear-suspension team about the spine-shattering calibration for rear-seat passengers.)
The People’s Republic of Los Angeles is a sprawling metropolis, so I ran down the car’s battery pack pretty quickly driving around. Finding a proper place to charge, however, still proved difficult – even though it’s the city with the most registered BEVs in America.
With battery level down to 61%, I needed to top off the pack before a lengthy trip the next day. I went to the nearest “fast” charger near my home – a 50-kW EVgo station 3 miles (4.8 km) away – to discover owners of internal-combustion vehicles had passive-aggressively parked in front of two of the three plugs in a relatively open parking lot. In BEV terms, we call that being “ICEd.”
The one remaining plug was occupied by a Tesla. After waiting 10 minutes for the Tesla owner to return, the charger denied my credit card for the first dozen tries before grudgingly accepting it.
Fast-charge advocates brag how the tech will refuel a car from 10% to 80% state of charge in 20 minutes. Although I was running errands for 12 minutes, the Ford’s SOC only increased 3%.
So much for fast charging. Realizing I had insufficient range for my next day’s journey without scrambling to find another fast-charger along the way, I took our gas-engine Volvo wagon instead.
Even though I live in an urban part of LA near the bustling Port of Los Angeles, the nearest proper fast-charging station is a 17-minute drive from my house. Everything else in the area is essentially a trickle charger.
For those who say, “Just recharge at home,” here’s another fiasco: Later that week, with the battery 73% charged, and again needing a top-off, I plugged the charger into the clothes-dryer outlet in the garage.
One hour and 20 minutes of charging provided just 2 additional miles (3.2 km) of range. How many folks like me would require (and want to install) an expensive upgrade to their house’s electrical panel to make home-charging work?
Finally, success. Running some errands in Santa Monica, the Mach-E’s charge had run down to 25% (or an anxiety-producing 54 miles [87 km], in any kind of car). I found another EVgo charging station with fast-charging 150-kW plugs.
Being part of the FordPass network, the charger fired up immediately when the mobile app connected. In the 24 minutes it took to get some Bay Cities Deli sandwiches, the Mach-E had charged to 80% (or 145 miles [233 km] of range).
That’s how fast-charging should work.
Except that the station was in a deserted parking lot a half-mile from my destination, and its dodgy location meant traversing the broken-windows section of Santa Monica.
I’m a fit 6-foot-1, 190 lbs. (86 kg), so most of the area’s notoriously aggressive panhandlers left me alone. But imagine the plight (and fear) of a smaller-sized woman walking to her Soul Cycle workout along the same route.
This is where real estate comes into play – location, location, location. Until recharging can happen as quickly as refueling, the different dynamic of delivering electrons means parking for an extended period.
Having loads of chargers won’t matter if they aren’t near destinations, and it will be expensive to build them near places where people shop and dine. Curbside charging, anyone?
Remember, my example is in Los Angeles – the city that has accepted electrification. Imagine what it will require to gain similar technology transfer in Topeka, Omaha and Minneapolis.
For most buyers, this will be their first BEV.
And when the salesman’s claim of, “You can totally recharge at home overnight,” turns out to be an empty promise, or when it’s impossible to find a fast charger that actually charges fast and is destination-adjacent, the dissatisfied voice of the consumer will be heard loud and clear.