I’ve written a fair bit of opinion in the past about Telsa and EVs, but it has been from a theoretical marketing perspective. While I’m keeping my marketing hat on, what I have to say here is from a new perspective, having experienced an EV first hand. Cutting to the chase, I can see from my experience that while EV adoption will continue to gain traction, the need for more charging stations will keep the majority of auto buyers from going full electric. Let me explain.
I picked up the Model Y Saturday morning. We had plans to go to Cocoa Beach, a trip of about 75 miles one way. After a bit of driving around doing some shopping, we made our way to the beach. We found the two other families in our travel party and enjoyed our day. The kids had a great time playing on the beach with their cousins. When it came time to leave the group decided to go to dinner.
After quite a bit of negotiation, we sat down at the local IHOP. I knew the car was low on juice and I couldn’t help but wish to take advantage of the time and charge while we sat down for our meal. But alas, there were no public charging stations at the restaurant or even within a short walk. All I could do was to hope that the car was correct and I had enough charge to get us back to our resort.
As it turned out we did make it back, but by then it was nearly midnight and the car was very, very low on electrons. Again, there were no charging stations on the resort. So, I had no other choice than to take a 15-minute drive to the Celebration Supercharger. To my surprise, it wasn’t located along a motorway, or in a prominent location, but rather tucked away by an Applebee's restaurant. I plugged in and sat down for a long charging session. By the time I got back to the resort and climbed into bed, it was well past 1:00 am.
Now, I confess that my inexperience with the car and the area probably added to my confusion and made things worse than they could have been. But looking at the experience from an average user's perspective, I can’t help but ask how many average people are willing to put up with the inconvenience an electric vehicle can currently impose? I have to think that the majority of auto buyers wouldn’t do it. The needed infrastructure just isn’t there.
EVs vs ICE
This is not to say that EV adoption is going to slow down. There are plenty of EV enthusiasts and early adopters. There may be as many as twenty percent of the population who will put up with the occasional inconvenience that EVs require. But as Joe Wachunas very well points out in a recent CleanTechnica article
“If electric transportation is ever going to fully kick gas cars into the ash heap of history (ala whale oil and gas lamps), EVs must match, and eventually surpass, internal combustion engine (ICE) cars on the long-distance road trip.”
Joe goes on to describe his recent road trip experience in a Tesla Model 3. He describes his experience as positive overall. But then again, he is among the EV enthusiasts crowd. One of his lessons learned was to plan bathroom stops around charging stations.
This works well for someone who is an EV enthusiast. But the majority of the auto market would rather do the opposite and plan charging sessions around bathroom stops. In my case, perhaps if I’d been willing to separate my family from the group, I might have found a restaurant that had a charging station I could use. But again, I think that most people would rather that they decide where to eat and not worry about the car.
If They Come You Will Build It
Now on the face, this seems like a chicken and egg paradox. There has to be more charging infrastructure to entice most people to make the switch to EVs. But the happy fact is that, as I mentioned, upwards of twenty percent of the population will gladly adopt EVs regardless.
Happily, infrastructure will grow alongside the adoption. Once we get to the point that every fifth vehicle is electric, charging infrastructure should be well on its way to being fleshed out. I have to think, for example, that when one out of five Disney guests are driving electric, Disney will be persuaded to offer at least some on-resort charging.
This may take a few years. Probably more years than many of us EV enthusiasts would like. But if the bullish analysts are correct, we should get there before 2030.
Range vs Infrastructure
Now lest anyone is misled, I want to make it clear that I’m still a big proponent of vehicle range. It seems to me that adding range to the vehicles is something that automakers could effectuate much easier than growing the charging infrastructure. The combination of ample range and charging infrastructure will, in time, make driving electric a no-brainer for most people.
What do you think? How many more charging stations are needed to persuade the majority of drivers to make the switch to electric? How long do you think it will take before most people are driving electric?
Check out the following charging video from Tom Moloughney: