- Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure
- Electric Vehicles
- Battery Electric Vehicles
- Market Transformation
As New EVs Come to Market, Charging Infrastructure Must Evolve
A decade into the modern era of battery EVs (BEVs), we are starting to see greater proliferation in form factors from subcompact cars and crossovers to a slate of full-size pickup trucks and SUVs. When public BEV charging first appeared with the launch of cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, much of the expectation in the industry was that smaller vehicles would represent the bulk of BEV sales. But that’s no longer the case with pickups from Rivian and GMC scheduled to launch in 2021, followed by Ford, Chevrolet, Tesla, and potentially others in 2022.
New Vehicle Form Factors Need New Charging Infrastructure
Until recently, most sites with more than one charger were configured for cars to pull in or back in and stay for at least 30 to 60 minutes. Virtually all of the 1,000-plus Tesla Supercharger sites and other charging networks install a row of chargers along one edge of a parking lot or garage. This layout works fine for individual vehicles.
But with increasing diversity in BEV form factors, this approach is inadequate for some users. When Tesla launched the Model X in 2016, it became the first BEV capable of doing any significant towing. Auto journalist Dan Edmunds did a series of test drives with the Model X towing a small trailer and found the charging experience to be decidedly suboptimal. He either had to disconnect the trailer when he wanted to charge, park the vehicle with the trailer hanging out into the aisle, or park across several bays, reducing charging opportunities for others.
This problem is exacerbated by the significant reduction in driving range when towing. Whether running on gasoline or electrons, range while towing is typically reduced by as much as 50%. For a gasoline vehicle, it’s not a major problem because gas pumps are configured for drive-through use and refueling only takes a few minutes. Towing with a BEV means stopping twice as frequently.
I discussed this challenge during a recent product briefing with Ford on the 2023 F-150 Lightning. The Lightning is a battery-powered variant of the full-size truck that has been the best seller in the US market for more than 40 years. The extended range version is expected to have a 300-mile range and a towing capacity of 10,000 lbs, but with a trailer that size, the range will likely be closer to 150 miles.
Drive-Through Charging Can Be a Solution
One of Ford’s charging network partners, Electrify America, has already been anticipating the arrival of these electric trucks and has taken them into consideration while designing some of its stations, which number over 600 locations. Currently, about 5% of Electrify America locations—including the one in Baker, California, between Los Angeles and Las Vegas—are configured with drive-through charging bays similar to the way gas stations are laid out. An F-150 Lightning, Rivian R1T, or GMC Hummer EV with a trailer can just pull right up, plug in, then pull out when charging is complete.
Electrify America Drive-Through Charging Station
(Source: Electrify America)
Electrify America is also working with Stellantis to install solar-powered chargers at popular off-road trailheads such as the Rubicon Trail in California and Moab, Utah to support the new plug-in hybrid Jeep Wrangler. These chargers will allow plug-in SUVs to crawl over boulders and through gullies completely silent and emissions-free.
At this stage, public charging infrastructure is nearly as nascent as the BEV market. But as the population of BEVs increases and gets more varied in the coming years, charging providers will likely have to keep evolving the way they install new chargers to make the process as seamless as possible for all drivers.