I don’t own an electric car, although I haven’t ruled out the idea that, at some point in the future, we might buy one rather than another gas guzzler. One reason we haven’t done it already is a lingering concern about the ease of charging up the car’s battery.
That shouldn’t be a problem in most cases, because a homeowner can install a charging unit that should keep the car charged to the point of being able to handle the standard, daily, in-town driving that is the bread-and-butter use of many American cars. No, the real question is: how do electric vehicles do on road trips? If, like me, you like driving long distances every once in a while, can you find charging stations that allow you to do so without significant hassle–which would defeat the basic concept of a carefree road trip?
Recently I’ve run across several articles that suggest that there are problems with long-distance driving in an electric car. One article on arstechnica.com made that point with the pungent headline “Electric cars are doomed if fast charger reliability doesn’t get better.” The Wall Street Journal published a story (behind the subscriber pay wall) with the descriptive headline “I Rented an Electric Car for a Four-Day Road Trip. I Spent More Time Charging It Than I Did Sleeping.” And Autoweek chipped in with a piece called “The EV Charging Industry Has A Maintenance Problem” that noted that while most electric vehicle owners love their cars, their anecdotal stories note that fast-charging stations are often operating at suboptimal capacity or are out of order altogether.
The arstechnica.com article gives one writer’s tale about the frustrations involved in driving cross-country in an electric vehicle. Electric vehicle owners seem to generally concede that such trips need careful planning, because fast-charging stations simply aren’t as ubiquitous as gas stations. But this article notes that, even with planning and use of apps to locate such stations along the intended route, a basic road trip from Washington, D.C. to upstate New York was replete with charging problems, in terms of simple delays, issues with getting a “fill ‘er up” charge, non-functional chargers, and other annoyances. And the writer also found that careful planning was thwarted because the electric-charging apps often don’t have accurate information about the actual, functional capability of fast-charging stations.
These kinds of stories are an alien concept for owners of gas-powered vehicles, who don’t have to consult apps or worry about finding functional gas pumps on a long-distance journey. You just hope in your car and go, confident that you can find an ample supply of gas stations wherever your journey might take you. And the apparently standard delays in charging an electric vehicle–the five- and ten-minute waits while the vehicle establishes communications with the charging unit–would drive many road-tripping drivers nuts.
This problem isn’t fatal for the electric vehicle industry, in my view. When cars first were used, there weren’t gas stations on every corner, and yet automobiles still gained a foothold, and as more and more families bought cars gas stations became available from sea to shining sea. The same will happen with electric cars . . . at some point, when some entrepreneur believes there is enough demand for charging stations to justify the investment needed to make reliable fast-charging stations a widespread, no-hassle experience.
Until then, however, it sounds like you might want to keep that gas guzzler around for those road trips.