- EV Charging
- EV Charging Infrastructure
- Electric Vehicles
It's Time for Automakers to Step Up to Make Sure EVs Can Charge
Over the nearly two decades since it was founded, Tesla has done more than any other automaker in history to make the EV a legitimate alternative in consumer minds. It created vehicles that were genuinely appealing regardless of their propulsion technology. It also pioneered a new retailing model that bypassed the challenge of getting traditional dealers to sell EVs. However, one of the most important actions was the creation of the nationwide Supercharger network.
In the years prior to the launch of the higher volume Model 3, Tesla gave all of its customers free lifetime access to DC fast charging at Supercharger stations. The cost of providing free charging ultimately led Tesla to discontinue that offer, as the number of customers using the chargers increased dramatically. However, Tesla has continued to grow the Supercharger network; as this is written, there are 1,460 Supercharger locations across North America with nearly 15,000 chargers. Most important, Tesla appears to do a good job maintaining its chargers in proper working condition.
What About Everyone Else?
Unfortunately, Tesla opted to use a proprietary charging connector instead of the industry standard Combined Charging System connector, so other EV drivers can’t use Superchargers for now. Tesla has promised to open its charging network to other EVs and has already begun the process in Europe where it is required to use the standard connector. Until then, EV drivers looking for somewhere besides their garage to charge must rely on other networks such as Electrify America, ChargePoint, and EVgo.
Therein lies the problem. Over the past decade, public chargers have been deployed in the hope that EVs would come. Unfortunately, aside from Tesla, EV adoption has been much slower than most had projected (although Guidehouse Insights forecasts have traditionally been more conservative and closer to actual EV sales). This reality has led to underutilized and often under-maintained chargers.
When Ford began rolling out the Mustang Mach-E in early 2021, it received many complaints from new owners about non-functional chargers on its BlueOval charging network. Ford aggregates multiple charging providers including Electrify America and Greenlots in an app in the vehicle to provide easier access to chargers for drivers. However, when the system guides a driver to a broken charger, that leads to a bad experience that reflects poorly on the manufacturer.
Here Come the Charge Angels
During a recent visit to my local Electrify America station to replenish a Mini Cooper SE I was evaluating, I found a Mach-E with a Ford Charge Angels graphics on the side. In mid-2021, Ford established a system to find and fix broken chargers. Ford EVs now monitor whenever a driver plugs in at a public charger. If a charging session fails to initiate, telemetry data is transmitted back to Ford and that unit is removed from the recommended list in the app until it can be verified to work. Ford also has teams of technicians driving around to proactively test chargers and gather data, as I found on my visit.
Although most automakers are forming partnerships with charging providers, few are directly investing in the chargers. They are investing many tens of billions of dollars to develop and build new EVs and hope to sell many millions annually by 2030. If they expect customers to actually buy all of these EVs, they would all do well to take a more active role in making sure the charging infrastructure is accessible both where and when people need it. Just relying on third parties hasn’t worked and everyone needs to do better to make the EV transition friction free.