A Frustrating Hassle Holding Electric Cars Back: Broken Chargers

The federal government is spending billions of dollars to encourage people to buy electric vehicles. Automakers are building new factories and scouring the globe for raw materials. And so many people want them that they have months on the waiting list for a battery-powered car.

The electric vehicle revolution is just around the corner, but its arrival has been delayed by a fundamental problem. The chargers that people use to refuel their electric cars are often broken. A recent study found that about a quarter of public charging outlets in the San Francisco Bay Area, where electric vehicles are prevalent, are not working.

A massive effort to build hundreds of thousands of public chargers is underway, costing the federal government alone $7.5 billion. But electric vehicle drivers and analysts say the company that installs and maintains the stations is doing more to ensure the reliability of these new chargers and his 120,000-plus existing chargers. says that you need to do

Many people sit in parking lots or in front of retail stores, often with no one to call for help when something goes wrong. Problems include broken screens and buggy software. increase. Some stop working while charging, and some don’t start at all.

Some disgruntled drivers say the problem has made them reluctant to abandon petrol cars altogether, especially on long trips.

Professor Ethan Zuckerman of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a Chevrolet Volt owner for several years, said: “When they do, you quickly find yourself in a pretty dire situation.”

In the winter of 2020, Zuckerman was commuting about 150 miles each way to work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Cold winters can reduce the range of an electric car, and Mr. Zuckerman needed to charge it on his way home.

He looked online and found the station, but when he parked there the machine was broken. There was another one across the street, he said. In desperation, Mr. Zuckerman went to a nearby gas station and persuaded an employee there to add an extension cord to his car.

“I sat there in the freezing cold for two-and-a-half hours charging enough so I could limp to the town of Lee, Massachusetts, and use another charger,” he said. rice field. “It wasn’t a great night.”

The availability and reliability of public chargers remains a problem, he said.

Because most electric vehicle owners charge primarily at home, using public chargers is far less common than using gas stations by people with conventional vehicles. People also report few or are willing to look past problems with public billing. It has its own charging network, which is highly reliable according to drivers.

But all that is changing. Sales of electric vehicles are growing rapidly as established automakers introduce new models. Some of these cars will be purchased by Americans who cannot refuel at home due to their inability to install home chargers.

Surveys show that utility bills are the number one concern when people consider buying an electric vehicle. Another big concern is the related question of how far you can go on a full charge.

Even those who already own an electric car have such concerns. A survey found that about a third said broken chargers were at least a “moderate concern.” plugin americaa non-profit organization that promotes these vehicles.

Joel Levin, Executive Director of Plug In America, said:

The urgency of the automotive industry has not been lost.

Ford Motor recently started sending out contractors the company calls “charge angels.” Test your charging network We work together to provide energy to those who buy electric cars and trucks. Unlike Tesla, Ford does not build and operate its own charging stations.

This spring, that team member, Nicole Larsen, pulled into a charger line at a Long Island shopping mall, plugged in a Mustang Mach-E, and got to work. Larsen started taking notes as he watched the laptop record the detailed data flow exchanged between the charger and the vehicle.

On that day, the charger manufactured and operated by Electrify America, a division of Volkswagen, was functioning normally. But Larsen said someone sent her an error message the day before. In that case, Ms. Larsen will notify her Ford technicians who will work with the charging company to fix the problem.

Larsen said in her experience, problems are rare. “For the record, this will display an error on the screen,” she said.

There are few rigorous studies on charging stations, but a study done earlier this year by Cool the Earth, a California environmental nonprofit, and David Rempel, a former professor of bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley, found that 657 public charging stations 23% of the Bay Area stations were destroyed. The most common issue was that testers were unable to get the charger to accept payment or start charging. In other cases, the screen went blank, became unresponsive, or displayed an error his message.

Carleen Cullen, Executive Director of Cool the Earth said:

The billing company disputes the findings. Electrify America said there were methodological errors in the study, and EVgo, which operates the charging network, said it was unable to replicate the study’s findings.

Another major charging company, ChargePoint, had a success rate of just 61%. The company offers maintenance under warranty, but rarely owns and operates chargers that it installs on behalf of commercial companies. This is because it puts the blame on property owners who do not have the expertise and commitment necessary to manage their facilities. ChargePoint did not respond to a request for comment.

EVgo and Electrify America say they take reliability seriously, with employees monitoring stations from a central control room that can quickly dispatch technicians to fix problems.

said Rob Barrosa, senior director of sales, business development and marketing at Electrify America. “You can’t set it and forget it.”

But not everything is under their control. These companies test their chargers with a variety of electric vehicles, but compatibility issues may require changes to your charger or vehicle.

Even charging stations owned by charging companies like EVgo and Electrify America are often left unattended for long periods of time. Most petrol stations usually have a clerk on duty who can be seen when there is a problem. Using a charger can make vandalism and other damage more difficult to track.

“Where there is a screen, there is a baseball bat,” said Jonathan Levy, Chief Commercial Officer of EVgo.

This was a problem reminiscent of the early days of the Internet, when slow modems and aging phone lines made using websites and sending e-mail frustrating. The automotive and charging industries hope to overcome these problems soon, just as the telecommunications and technology industries have made Internet access much more reliable.

The funding also includes a requirement that chargers operate 97% of the time and comply with technical standards for communicating with vehicles. The station also requires at least 4 ports that can charge simultaneously and is not limited to any particular car brand.

Tesla is also expected to open up chargers to cars by other automakers in the US, which is already being done in several European countries. Still, automotive experts say Tesla’s network works well because Tesla chargers are designed for the company’s vehicles. There is no guarantee that vehicles built by other automakers will work smoothly with Tesla charging facilities the first time.

For now, many car owners say they have little problem with public chargers or are so happy driving battery-powered vehicles that they can’t imagine going back to petrol-powered vehicles.

Travis Turner is a Bay Area recruiter at Google who recently traded a Tesla Model S for a Rivian R1T pickup truck. Trucks don’t seem to work well with EVgo chargers, he said, and some stations won’t start charging until all truck doors and trunks are closed.

But Turner said he didn’t mind too much because he sorted out these issues and found the Rivian truck to be far superior to any other vehicle he owns. He’s also confident the kinks will be worked out soon.

“This is really just the beginning,” he said. “It only gets better from here.”

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