Automakers need to wake the hell up and start getting involved.
According to a research study from J.D. Power, the EV charging network in the US has already eroded, and at least one in five charging attempts by EV drivers failed to connect. And, oh boy, do we relate.
It's bad enough that the adoption rate of all-electric vehicles is double the rate of chargers being installed. Yet, the existing ones are already aging with a lack of maintenance, repair, and software updates to keep up with evolving batteries. According to the report, there was a steady rise from the first quarter of 2021 to the third quarter of 2022 of failed charging attempts from 15 percent to 21 percent. But it gets worse.
According to the research, customer satisfaction with Level 2 and Level 3 chargers has plummeted to its lowest point. Level 2 chargers are typically what you'll find in homes and work parking lots that assume a car will be there for around five to six hours at a time. Level three chargers should charge the majority of an EV's battery in 15-30 minutes.
Between federal and state government and industry stakeholders, billions of dollars have been sunk into what's already a fragmented charging network. If the charging network fails due to companies like EV Go, ChargePoint, and Electrify America trying to recoup costs as quickly as possible by not spending on maintenance, that's a lot of money to lose. But the investors in the charging network aren't the only institutions that will have wasted billions.
Automakers have sunk billions into developing electric vehicles, and the success of the developed products that rely on there being little friction for their customers to overcome when using the products. If people start giving up on their cars and EVs develop the currently-deserved reputation of being more pain than they're worth, that's more billions wasted. It also raises the probability that brands that bet the farm on battery power will face bankruptcy.
According to Brent Gruber of J.D.Power, outage rates vary by operating company but won't name names. However, we can take a good guess based on our own experiences that ChargePoint has the most failures. We've reached out to ChargePoint before about the state of its network in Southern California and received no reply. On top of the issue of reliability is payment.
Some EV charging companies forget that the first rule of business is to make it easy for people to give money for a product or service. Looking at you, EV Go.
This report should be a wake-up call to automakers financially, but from a consumer advocacy point of view, the situation is flat-out unacceptable. Generally speaking, brands are selling glossy words and images about the EV lifestyle, but the charging network isn't ready, and it's leading to terrible customer experiences.
Those automakers can tell us all they want that they are designing cars with home charging in mind, but then they advertise and send out press releases based on range, power, and performance. We've driven some amazing EVs now, but we're always happy to give them back because the network is so bad that they become a pain when you need a public charger.
And you do need public chargers if you want to fully use these fantastic vehicles' capabilities and abilities - whether that's performance, utility, or road-trip comfort. GM, for example, can't pretend the Hummer is for commuting and taking the kids to school. Ford and Chevy aren't telling us the trucks are only for local work and towing, and Rivian happily shows its trucks and SUVs out exploring the wilderness. Kia recently showed us the capabilities of its EV6 GT on a track and drag strip, bragging about how it can keep up with supercars, but few people live next door to either.
While we hate the idea of more government regulation, EV charging companies are in danger of bringing it upon themselves. California is leading the way, as usual, and the authors of the EV Charging Reliability Transparency Act are pushing the Energy Commission to require chargers to meet 97 percent uptime. They will get pushback from charging companies, though.
The automotive industry is powerful, and the current federal and many state administrations are in full support of the move to electric power. However, more automakers (like Mercedes and Volkswagen with Electrify America) need to start taking more responsibility directly. Likely that's with investment and uptime clauses in the deals they strike with charging companies. It's far from ideal that government should have to step in, and it would be best for all if it weren't necessary.
But until such time as EV charging stations can reach the same reliability levels as gas stations, the EV switch won't make sense and all buyers will be relegated to the status of early adopters.
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