Tesla has been working to expand its ever-growing Supercharger network. And even better — the charging speeds (witness V3) continue to improve. Over the years, Tesla's tech has allowed its chargers to "fill up" its battery packs faster and faster. And new Superchargers are being built every week. Has this become an edge for the Silicon Valley automaker?
Kyle Stock, writing for Bloomberg, encountered challenges charging a Jaguar I-Pace during a road trip. Attempting to find a charger, Stock had "realize[d] it was a level 2 unit—one step above a standard outlet. It would take four hours before the car had enough juice to make the 100-mile trip home. Eleven miles down the road, it was the same story. And while that spot had a superfast Tesla charger, it was incompatible with the I-Pace."
"Failing to note the difference between a level 2 charger and a harder-to-find level 3 charger is often the mistake of an electric vehicle rookie. Had I realized the distinction, I would never have considered a car such as the I-Pace (it was a loaner), or any of the dozens of Tesla rivals set to debut in coming years. For the future of electric vehicles in America, that’s a really big problem," he concludes.
Sure enough, EV buyers are paying attention. Bloomberg reports, "Tesla has been selling more of its Model 3... [but] Jaguar has sold fewer than 3,000 I-Pace SUVs in the U.S." Meanwhile, "Audi’s E-Tron has been slightly more successful since it hit the road in spring 2019, but it has yet to sell more than 2,000 in a quarter... [And] last year saw huge declines in demand for older, more established EVs, including BMW’s i3 (-21%), the Chevrolet Bolt (-9%) and Nissan’s Leaf (-16%)."
"The long-held narrative of mainstream auto executives ('We would make more electric vehicles if people actually wanted them') has been flattened under a parade of Teslas, from the Model S and Model X to the popular Model 3. The automaker decided early on to build its own charger network, realizing there would be little financial incentive for the private sector to take a capital-intensive risk on a new market—one essentially created by a single company," writes Stock.
"Because Tesla CEO Elon Musk is more interested in selling vehicles than electricity at charging stations, his plugs are scattered more widely around the country... [and] Shrewdly, Tesla made its charging club exclusive. The company’s fast outlets are proprietary and can’t be used by another brand’s vehicles... In the U.S., there are slightly more Tesla charging outlets than there are on all other fast-charging networks combined," reports Bloomberg.
Nevertheless, "A range of charging startups do promise thousands of new chargers, though timelines are hazy, and even the most ambitious plans will still skip much of the country. Thus the U.S., the world’s No. 2 auto market, is stuck in a microeconomic staring contest of sorts: Without chargers, rural drivers aren’t likely to go electric. And without enough buyers, automakers aren’t likely to ramp up production."
“What we won’t do is build willy-nilly and then wait three years for demand to show up,” says Julie Blunden, an Executive Vice President at California-based charging company EVgo.
Then there's California-based ChargePoint, another big name in charging infrastructure. According to CEO Pasquale Romano, ChargePoint's fastest-growing sector has been company parking lots whose electric output is often subsidized by the employer.
“Would I say that it’s perfect? No,” Romano said of the business model. “Is it close enough for where the market is right now? Yeah.”
As these third-party charging companies drag their feet, will automakers pick up the slack? To its credit, "Volkswagen, as part of its 'Dieselgate' settlement, is spending $2 billion to install new chargers across the U.S. via a company dubbed Electrify America."
However, according to Bloomberg, most legacy automakers "are largely staying on the sidelines, waiting for EVgo, ChargePoint and others to fill the gaps."
For example,"[Ford] has cobbled together a network of sorts—dubbed FordPass—that will help its EV buyers find and use plugs operated by EVgo, Chargepoint and others." Meanwhile, GM is looking to "pitch outside investors to bankroll thousands of new chargers."
“It is the classic chicken-and-egg problem,” said Brian Collie, senior partner at Boston Consulting Group. “And this is something that is not going to be solved in the next year or two. It’s going to take a decade-plus to get what we really need.”