Nearly every non-Tesla electric vehicle sold in the US today comes with some variation of a free charging offer than can be redeemed on a specific public EV charging network. The offers range from three years of free unlimited charging all the way down to two complimentary free charging sessions.  

These free charging plans, especially the ones that offer unlimited free charging, are beginning to strain the already inadequate and often unreliable DC fast charging networks across the United States. 

EVs charging for free at an Electrify America station

An assortment of EVs with free charging plans charging at an Electrify America station in New Jersey

A recent study by S&P Global Mobility indicated that public charging stations need to quadruple by 2025 to accommodate the expected increase in electric vehicles on the road by then. However, even that won't be enough if automakers continue to offer unlimited free charging plans as an incentive to buy or lease the company's electric offerings.

The big problem with these unlimited free charging programs is they incentivize people that can charge at home to not do so, but to use public infrastructure instead. Additionally, because these owners are using the DC fast chargers for all of their regular charging needs, they are much more likely to charge to 100% so they don't have to come back to the station too soon. 

EV owners using public chargers on long drives typically won't often charge past 80%, because the charging rate slows down drastically once the vehicle exceeds 80% state of charge. They know it's more efficient to unplug and continue the journey, rather than to stay and charge slowly. 

However, those charging up for their weekly driving needs are much more likely to stay until the vehicle is 100% charged, like filling up a gas tank until the pump shuts off. That ties up the chargers for longer periods of time. Some EVs actually take longer to charge from 80% to 100% than they do from 20% to 80%. Therefore, the car is often plugged into the charger for more than double the time that it would be if it was unplugged at 80%. 

Porsche Taycan at Electrify America charging station

Porsche Taycan at Electrify America charging station

Many of the people occupying the DC fast charge plugs for long periods live within a few miles of the station and have the ability to charge their EVs at home, but they don't because they were offered free, unlimited charging when they purchased or leased the EV. 

Now that EVs are growing in popularity, the DC fast charging stations are getting overwhelmed by the number of people redeeming the free charging perks. Lines are forming, stations are full and people that actually need to charge to continue driving on a road trip are having to wait before they can even plug in. 

Plus, people that don't have access to home charging are finding the difficulties of getting an available, working fast charger so cumbersome that it's ruining their electric vehicle experience. 

Electric vehicle infrastructure already has enough challenges without free unlimited charging programs straining the networks further. There simply aren't nearly enough charging station sites and those in service don't have enough individual stations and quite often have broken chargers. 

Manufacturers need to pivot away from offering unlimited free charging, and they need to do so quickly. Tesla used to offer unlimited free Supercharging but ended that practice in 2018 after asking customers not to abuse the perk and only use Superchargers on road trips. The company occasionally brings back a short-term limited free charging offer to incentive sales, but the unlimited free charging perk that used to come standard was eliminated. 


A Tesla Supercharger station

But Tesla is in a totally different position than all of the other companies because it owns and operates its proprietary network of high-speed DC fast chargers. Tesla can add new sites based entirely on where its sales dictate the need, and it also installs more chargers per location than any other network, which in itself, increases accessibility. If the company would have continued its free unlimited Supercharging offer, it too would be experiencing severe overcrowding issues across the network. 

Tesla has stated for a while that it will open up its network to EVs from other manufacturers, and when that happens it will likely help relieve the overcrowding stress we're beginning to see, but that hasn't happened yet. 

Currently, there are free charging programs offered by various EV manufacturers on the Electrify America and EVgo networks. We'd like to see manufacturers pivot from these free charging programs and offer customers different incentives. 

General Motors has a better strategy in our opinion: They offer a choice. They do offer Bolt EV and Bolt EUV owners a $500 charging credit on the EVgo network, but customers don't have to accept that. Instead, they can opt to have GM pick up the installation costs for a standard installation (up to $1,250) of home charging equipment, performed by installation partner, Qmerit.

That's a much better approach. Incentivise home charging for those that can install a charger at home, but for those that can't, offer them a limited amount of free public charging. Offering a set number of kWh or dollar amount is a much better solution if a manufacturer wants to offer free charging. As long as there is a finite amount to the free charging, the customer will use the credit when they need it, and won't abuse the perk. 

Other possible incentives could be to offer a reduced price for public charging over a set period, or how about just "cash on the hood" and give the customer money off the cost of the vehicle at the point of sale. 

EVs are in demand and most people have to wait months after ordering one to take delivery. Free unlimited charging as a sales incentive is unnecessary and going to negatively impact future sales when current EV owners have poor public charging experiences. 

Free, unlimited charging programs suck and are hurting the industry. Hopefully, the OEMs offering them will wake up and realize they aren't needed and are contributing to creating a poor customer ownership experience. It's time to end the practice now. 

Agree? Disagree? We'd like to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

Here is a list of Electrify America's DC fast-charging agreements with manufacturers that InsideEVs has previously reported on:

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