Three things the EV sector needs to do better

by Oct 24, 2019

Shelton Stat of the Week

49% of Americans who don’t already own EVs say they are not considering purchasing one because either they suffer from range anxiety or fear there aren’t a high enough number of charging stations conveniently available (Energy Pulse 2019).

Three things the EV sector needs to do better

My family took a road trip to the beach for Fall break earlier this month. My in-laws are in town and went with us … and 5 of us couldn’t fit in our little gas-powered SUV (which is indeed a hybrid). So it was either rent a van at great expense to our pocketbook and the environment … or drive my EV separately.

I’ve actually been wanting to take on this challenge. In our ongoing polling of Americans we see that range anxiety is one of the top two reasons people say they’re not buying EV’s (cost of the vehicles being the other). I regularly put myself through things we see come up as barriers in our studies in order to better understand the actual experience and gain insight into how we might overcome the barrier.

I’m wired to like a challenge – my reaction to “That’s too hard/you’ll never achieve it” is typically, “Watch this.” But my family is much more risk averse. Their range anxiety was on FULL display, and there was much looking at maps and finding charging stations along the route well in advance. And there were many dire statements like, “The rest of us are NOT waiting by the side of the road with you if you’re stuck!”

So I’m here to tell everyone in the EV world: range anxiety is real, and it’s absolutely a barrier for people who aren’t wired like me. Case in point: nobody would ride with me on the 388 mile trip to the beach.

Since I’m sitting at my desk writing this post, it’s clear I made it back to civilization. 🙂

But I’m writing this post to let the EV community know that this was indeed harder than it had to be. I want you to know why and what could be done to improve the user experience and break down barriers to EV adoption. And full disclosure: I am currently leasing a BMW i3 with ‘extended range,’ which is a fancy way of saying it holds two gallons of gasoline – so I do have a safety net when I run out of charge, but the car loses a lot of its power and sounds/feels like I’m driving a riding lawnmower when I’m into the gas-only mode.

  1. It needs to be easier to map a route with fast chargers along the way. If you don’t have an EV you probably don’t know this: there are three ways to charge an EV. You can literally plug it into a regular home outlet, but that can take 20 hours to charge a car fully in my experience. You can plug into what’s called a level 2 charger – which is what most companies that have charging stations for their employees have and what most folks like me have at home. That takes several hours to fully charge a car. Then there are fast chargers, which can get you fully charged in 30-60 minutes. EVgo has a network of fast chargers, so I planned my trip according to their stations. But that wasn’t as easy as it could have been. You can search for a station on their app and find it, but you can’t click on it and magically have a map/route created for you. It would be great to click on the station and have Waze pop up to get you there most efficiently. Instead, you have to copy the address of the charger to Waze … and the addresses aren’t 100% perfect since some of the ones I used were in big shopping areas. There was a bit of toggling back and forth between Waze and the EVgo app to try and find a particular station, which my risk averse family told me repeatedly wasn’t safe.
  2. The stations need to charge consistently. Maybe this is standard, but it threw me: at my first stop I plugged in, got the charging started and walked to meet my family at a pizza place for lunch. When I came back my car was unplugged and mostly charged but not fully charged. I used that same station on the way back, and it did not get unplugged and got fully charged. At another station my car stayed plugged, but stopped charging after 80%, so I didn’t have a full charge to get me where I wanted to go.
  3. Which leads me to my next point: the car navigation systems need to point out which stations are fast chargers and if they’re available for charging. When my car didn’t get fully charged at the previously mentioned station I looked for another spot along the way and EVgo, helpfully, did show it had a station but it was undergoing maintenance. That saved me a LOT of time, and I’m grateful for it. By contrast, there are two Blink network charging stations in the parking lot by my office that haven’t worked in the three years I’ve been driving an EV…but my car navigation system still shows them as options. Using the car navigation system is the safest, easiest way to find a charging station – you go in the car navigation system to “maps,” click on “points of interest,” and charging stations pop up as an option. You click on that and a list of a gazillion of them come up, which is comforting, along with how many miles away from them you are. You click on one and the car routes you to it. If you click on one that’s further away than your battery will take you, the car tells you that so you don’t choose it. Awesome. What the car DOESN’T tell you is what level the chargers are. When you’re on a road trip, you need a fast charger, not a level two charger, and my navigation system doesn’t differentiate. So you have to then pull out the apps of all the charging networks on your phone to see if you can figure out if any of the stations your car is showing are actually fast chargers. Cue the admonishment from my family for doing this while driving.

Makes you want to take an EV on a road trip, right? Not so much.

I LOVE my EV. It is responsive and fun to drive, and I absolutely love never having to go to a gas station. I didn’t realize what a terrible user experience that is until I didn’t have to do it anymore. And I love the EVgo network … without it, it would have been impossible to make this trip. But we DO have to make using an EV just as convenient and no brainer-ish as it is to using cars with combustion engines if we truly want to transform the market.

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About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    The plugshare app does a lot of what you are complaining about. I’m a new EV driver and that’s been my experience. But it is still frustrating to find payment systems and other forms of confusion when I arrive at the charging station. So I think some of your complaints are addressed with available technology, but your general theme – charging on the road is confusing and uncertain – is dead on.

    Reply
  2. Avatar

    Agree with the three points, but all Tesla vehicles already do these three things

    Reply

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