There’s been an increase in reports of inoperable charging stations intended for EVs this year, with the data coinciding with J.D. Power’s annual Electric Vehicle Experience Public Charging Study. Despite EV sales continuing to climb, the survey showed that people are actually becoming less satisfied with charging stations overall.
“Not only is the availability of public charging still an obstacle, but EV owners continue to be faced with charging station equipment that is inoperable,” elaborated Brent Gruber, executive director of global automotive at J.D. Power.
A survey of more than 11,000 battery electric and plug-in hybrid owners indicated that consumer satisfaction with Level 2 public charging declined from 643 to 633 last year on a 1,000-point scale. Meanwhile, the public’s satisfaction with DC fast chargers stayed roughly the same – though, at 674 out of a possible 1,000, there is certainly room for improvement.
The J.D. Power survey similarly revealed that around 20 percent of respondents were unable to charge their vehicle when visiting a station. That matches what we’ve seen from other studies, right down to the number-one issue being malfunctioning or completely inoperable chargers.
The industry is getting pretty deep into electrification at this stage. Even Dodge is floating a hypothetical all-electric replacement of the Charger this week to test if die-hard Mopar fans are willing to embrace simulated exhaust noises. That doesn’t mean there’s necessarily anything wrong with the concept Daytona SRT EV. But this is coming from a company whose current branding relies predominantly upon tire smoke and monstrous V8 engines producing oodles of power for less than you might expect. It’s actually kind of shocking to see Dodge consider getting rid of HEMI engines after they helped restore the brand’s identity.
Automakers see the upside of electrification (e.g. government subsidies, fewer regulatory fines, a leaner workforce, subscription-based features, service centers seeing less competition, etc.) and don’t want to be the last company to make the swap in the event that EVs end up dominating the market. That said, almost every company also seems to have overlooked the fact that the charging infrastructure remains their biggest obstacle. With electric cars typically having shorter ranges than their gasoline or diesel counterparts, customers are required to either charge at home overnight (a perk) or find a charging station out in the wild (not a perk).
Tesla made massive investments to build its own proprietary charging network. But most other companies don’t seem to want to make those kinds of commitments – often teaming up with the government, utilities, and private companies to get things done. For example, Volvo was one of the first global brands to announce a planned transition to an all-electric lineup. But the latest effort the company has made in regard to strengthening the EV infrastructure was to buddy up with Starbucks on a pilot program seeking to install “up to” 60 fast chargers at 15 Starbucks stores across a 1,350-mile route from Denver to Seattle. Starbucks will ideally see more foot traffic from EV owners that have to wait for their vehicle to charge and Volvo gets to look like it’s addressing the problem of there being an insufficient number of charging stations.
“We want to send drivers to where there are the amenities that they expect — a clean restroom, a snack, a well-lit parking lot,” Tripi told Automotive News in a recent interview. “Who better to do it with than Starbucks, given their footprint?”
I guess Tripi hasn’t been to a Starbucks bathroom recently. Changes in policy have made hitting one up a test of one’s good fortune. But the company has recently decided to make them less public in the hope that patrons don’t lose their appetite after stopping to relieve themselves. Gross bathrooms or not, Volvo probably just wanted a business that could share the burden of installing and maintaining EV charging stations and had a good sense of where its customers tend to go already – Tripi even hinted at that during the interview before making an incredibly important point.
“Installing fast chargers is an expensive investment,” he continued. “We need to ensure that there’s value in it.”
Automakers have been dumping billions into developing all-electric vehicles, so tossing billions more into building the supporting infrastructure may not be all that appealing at this juncture. The financial risk posed if the EV market implodes is absolutely massive. However, ignoring the matter seems short-sighted if brands like Volvo actually want to sell EVs. Tesla gained a lot by establishing its own charging network and conveying to its customer base that they could have faith in the company because it was actually putting all the pieces into place for electrification to happen. Its charging stations also seem to have a better reputation for uptime, perhaps because Tesla has so much skin in the game already.
Truth be told, the J.D. Power survey is fairly kind to the industry. Despite EV owners complaining that broken charging stations are routine, overall satisfaction still managed to stay above 60 percent. By contrast, a recent CDK Global survey found that 60 percent of respondents reported concerns about charging network availability, with almost half saying they’d wait till they had a garage to buy an EV due to concerns with public charging. In Europe, energy rationing has also become a concern. Some are wondering if “smart meters” that give utilities and the government the ability to throttle power usage could spell trouble for electric vehicles.
But it’s hard to get a wealth of reliable data on the public perception because the world has been inundated with reports from EV manufacturers, lobbying groups, and the companies building the charging stations. Here’s one from Plug In America claiming EV drivers just love their cars and that 90 percent plan on getting one as their next vehicle. But even that survey still failed to avoid just how annoyed most people are with the modern charging infrastructure.
I anecdotally fall into the majority here and have a sneaking suspicion that most EV advocates rarely drive themselves long distances. Unless you have a penchant for combustion-engine vehicles or live in an extreme climate, electrics work well enough for most daily duties. But taking one for a prolonged road trip exposes you to the plight of charging stations. Sometimes the only thing to complain about is the minutes lost while the vehicle takes to move electrons. But encountering a bad charger seems an inevitability based on the current condition of most stations and you don’t always know that there’s been a problem until you’ve returned to the vehicle to check. This absolutely has to be addressed by the industry if manufacturers seriously expect EVs to supplant gasoline-driven automobiles.
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