Electric car charging still needs improvement – for some people.

Electric-car-charging-still-needs-improvement-for-some-people-1 Electric-vehicles

I’ve been following electric car news and developments for a long time. In fact, I’ve been interested in electric cars for a long, long time. I remember back in 1996 when GM released the EV1. At the time, it struck me as amazing and a glimpse into the future. The car only had a range of 60 miles, used lead acid batteries, and lacked any charging infrastructure. Eventually, they switched to MiMH batteries. The car was a limited edition and could only be leased. Personally, I think the EV1 was set up to fail for whatever reason. But it was a precursor to Tesla and other great things to come in the future.

Tesla Ecosystem.

Tesla launched in 2005, just 9 years after the GM EV1. But that was a high-end electric car. However, they had a long-term vision. And it was well thought out. The Tesla Supercharger network of charging stations was introduced in 2012, just as the Model S went into production. It took some time for the stations to roll out. But now there are more than 5,500 Supercharger stations with more than 50,000 plugs worldwide. If you look at a map of the United States and filter out just the Supercharger stations, you can see that they have covered the entire country very well. It is also important to note that the very first Supercharger station, the V1, provided 100 kW of power. Many ChargePoint, EVGO, and ElectrifyAmerica charging stations have power far below that. V2 is 150 kW, V3 is 250 kW, and now there is a new V4. Currently, the V4 is only labeled as 250 kW. But I’ve heard that’s a software limitation.

Tesla has not only rolled out a wide network of Supercharger charging stations, but also made sure that they work very well. The charging process is very simple and enjoyable. And the car is regularly charged at maximum capacity. I recently watched a YouTube video of a guy driving a Tesla and a Polestar on a 400-mile trip. He made sure to make plenty of stops during the trip to show how each car felt. It’s very enlightening.

Painful non-Tesla experience.

If you’ve watched this video, I think you know what you’re in for. If you haven’t watched it yet, the basic story is that charging the Polestar was painful to say the least. First of all, there were a lot of broken stations along the way. There were stations with reduced power that were only giving out a fraction of their maximum power due to some problem. There were also a few stations that didn’t seem to have any problems, but couldn’t deliver the full stated capacity for a charge.

One of the most interesting points in the video was why many stations were unable to deliver their maximum charging capacity. The presenter talked about the cable being too small for the charger. I watched several YouTube videos of people taking trips in non-Tesla EV class vehicles. And when they got to the DC fast chargers, they regularly got far less than the amount the charger said it was supposed to deliver. I think this is likely due to the problem the presenter pointed out – the cable just can’t handle the load. It makes sense why, say, the Ionic 5 or the Ford F-150 Lightning were only able to get about 85 kW on charge instead of the claimed 150 kW.

Another thing I’ve noticed when reviewing applications like PlugShare is that many CCS chargers are quite slow. It’s not uncommon to find stations that can only deliver 56 to 86 kW. And finding 350 kW is very difficult. Often there are two 150kW stations and two 350kW stations on a site, while they can run up to 350kW.

Tesla and CCS charging station density.

Another issue that comes up regularly is the number of available spaces on a charging pad. I’ve run into this a lot. There might be about 4 CCS chargers in a parking lot and 10, 20 or more Tesla Supercharger spaces next to them. Tesla is currently far outperforming other models in sales. But as GM, Ford, Hyundai and others sell more and more cars, demand will increase.

One of the problems we have to deal with now is having to wait 20-40 minutes to charge an electric car. If one has to wait for someone else to charge, it adds to the frustration. So if the place is heavily used, you can get a number of very unhappy drivers. Add to that a person who has a car that can charge at a maximum of 150 kW and decides to drive up and use a 350 kW spot, and you’re on the verge of frustration.

NACS is the new North American standard.

Many automakers have announced a switch from CCS to NACS connectors. The NACS connector is the Tesla connector. And Tesla is opening up the Tesla Supercharger network to non-Tesla vehicles. We don’t know yet what this will look like going forward. The first cars from other manufacturers with NACS connectors are expected to start shipping in late 2024 or early 2025. In the meantime, automakers transitioning to the NACS connector will be shipping CCS connector adapters to NACS.

Charging stations not owned by Tesla have already started reporting that they will be retrofitting their chargers with NACS connectors at some point. This will be an interesting transition over the next few years. I wouldn’t be surprised if this change causes a slowdown in non-Tesla electric car sales until new cars come with NACS connectors. It’s hard to say how much of an impact it will have. But I do know that I don’t want to get into a car with a CCS connector from a company that is transitioning to NACS. Yes, they will have an adapter, but who wants to mess around with it?

People are more likely to charge at home.

There is another point to consider in this whole charging discussion. Most people charge their cars at home most of the time. The need for a reliable public charging infrastructure arises when traveling for long periods of time. This is one of the main differences between internal combustion engine cars and electric cars. With an internal combustion engine car, you always need to go to the gas station for gasoline. In the case of an EV, you simply plug in at home.

Currently, home charging is only available to those who own their own home and have a driveway, or better yet, a garage. If you’re renting, you’ll have a hard time getting your landlord to install a Level 2 charging station. If you live in an apartment, you have the same problem. However, the situation is starting to change. I’ve seen a few apartment listings that offer a level 2 charging station in the garage as one of the features. In time, this will become much more common. And I think smart builders will be wiring for level 2 charging stations when building new homes. It costs virtually nothing to run a 240-volt line to any place where it is practical to install a charger. It then requires nothing to attach the appropriate charger to the wall.

Electric cars are inevitable. The pace of their adoption is increasing every year. Yes, there are some obstacles, such as charging infrastructure in public places for long trips. But all these will be overcome within the next few years. GM, BMW, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz and Stellantis are jointly planning to build 30,000 more charging ports in the U.S. and Canada. Most of them will be located along major highways. But they will install stations in other locations as well.

Ewing, Jack. “G.M. and other automakers to build 30,000 charging stations for electric cars.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/26/business/energy-environment/electric-vehicles-fast-chargers-automakers.html.

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