There are a number of factors contributing to the slow transition to electric vehicles. After roughly ten years of EV availability, albeit limited, electric vehicle market penetration in the US is still only around 2% nationally.
Limited product availability across popular vehicle segments, an initial higher cost, shorter driving ranges than ICE, takes longer to recharge than to refuel, and the dearth of plentiful, conveniently placed, high-speed public charging stations have been some of the biggest challenges in the EV industry.
One of the many things Tesla understood and addressed from the beginning was to drastically reduce the issue of range and high-speed charging availability. Tesla's Supercharging network, which recently surpassed 15,000 stations worldwide, is one of the most effective selling tools in the entire automotive world. The fact that the stations are there, even if customers don't need to use them all the time, is, without doubt, a contributing factor to Tesla's sales success thus far.
In addition to having a large network of conveniently-placed stations, one of the best aspects of the Superchargers is that they just plain work. You pull up, grab the connector, plug in and walk away. You don't even have to check that it's working because it always is. I know this first hand, as I've been driving electric cars for over ten years now and recently bought a Tesla Model 3. I've personally used chargers from every network here in the Northeast, and the Tesla owner's charging experience is second to none.
However, Superchargers don't service the rest of the electric vehicle world outside of Tesla, and until recently, legacy OEMs have been unwilling to do any of the heavy lifting when it came to EV charging infrastructure. That left the daunting task of installing and maintaining public charging infrastructure up to third-party investment, without the financial means or the urgency to quickly build out a national network.
Then came the Volkswagen diesel-cheating scandal, and as part of their punishment in the US, the Volkswagen Group was ordered to invest 2 billion dollars in zero-emission infrastructure and education. They formed an independent company, Electrify America, and began their mission in late 2016. Was this the watershed moment that EV owners in the US were hoping for? Would EV owners that drive BMWs, Chevrolets, Jaguars, Audis and the rest finally have a reliable, national high-speed DC fast charge network?
In May of 2018 Electrify America installed their first DC fast-charge station in Chicopee, MA, and in the following 20 months since, they have installed about 2,000 chargers at nearly 500 sites. That works out to about 100 new charging stations every month, which is a pace that far exceeds what Tesla had accomplished when they first began installing Superchargers.
So it is happening. The US is getting a high-speed nationwide network of EV charging stations and they are coming very quickly. However, it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing along the way.
I use Electrify America stations to charge my BMW i3s, when I get long term EV loaners from manufacturers, and also on new-EV media drives, and I've experienced my fair share of issues from dropped sessions, to having difficulty initiating a charge. Unfortunately, it never seems to just be plug and play, like it is when I use a Tesla Supercharger for my Model 3.
"I'm an EV advocate and want to see the best future for EV's. All non-Tesla EV's entering the market are depending on Electrify America for DC fast charging but the experience so far has been terrible. Our experience is one of many." - Audi e-Tron owner
Then, earlier this month, we had a reader contact us about the difficulties he's experienced charging his Audi e-Tron to discuss how painful charging the e-Tron has been. He wished charging the e-Tron would be as easy as charging a Tesla and offered some links to support his charging woes. After we posted his story, I reached out to Electrify America for comment. They were aware of the article and explained that they would prefer if InsideEVs gave them the opportunity to fully explain what they are doing to solve their issues, as opposed to offering a quick quote or two.
I looked at this offering very favorably, because it was clear that they didn't want to hide behind a quote from their PR department. Instead, they said they were aware of issues, and they are actively working on solutions and wanted to opportunity to explain that to the public.
So, at their expense, Electrify America arranged for me to come down to their headquarters in Reston, VA, and sit down with their CEO, Giovanni Palazzo, their COO, Brendan Jones as well as meet their Director of Technology, Cliff Fietzek at their engineering lab a short distance from HQ.
They have also promised to answer any follow-up questions that I send them from our readers. So please let us know if you have any questions in the comment section below. We'll be posting what we learned in the interviews in part 2 of this article shortly. In the meantime let us know if you have any questions for Electrify America in the comment section below and we'll do our best to get answers.