EV Manufacturers Must Improve Charging Labels to Provide More Info

Branded charging stations are unhelpful if you don't understand your EV

This past week Electrify America took the initiative to make it easier for drivers looking for a charge to pull up to the correct station. The labels for 150 kW and 350 kW will be larger and will have their own fun names. Hyper-Fast will signify that the station supports DC fast charging up to 350 kW, while Ultra-Fast will mean 150 kW. 

Someone reaching for the charging plug at an Electrify America charging station that's properly labeled.

Electrify America

Without getting into the semantics of which word means quicker than the other when it comes to the delivery of electrons to a vehicle, it's important that charging companies make sure that it's easy to determine from a distance which station a vehicle can—and should—plug into. But this is also a call for automakers to do the same. 

Where's My Charge Rate?

While some automakers are very upfront and even crow about the DC fast-charge rate of their vehicles, others seem to think that maybe it isn't important enough to share with the owners of their vehicles. Instead, they only share the time it takes for a vehicle to charge from 5 or 10 percent up to 80 percent. This can lead to confusion when they get to the stations. Should they pull up to the 350 kW, 150 kW, or 50 kW station? Drivers are not entirely sure. 

If you're driving a vehicle that supports DC fast charging up to 50kW and you're unaware of that fact, you could skip those chargers and pull up to a 350 kW station. The problem is that vehicles that can actually support that much power are then stuck on the slower machines. Typically there are fewer 350 KW stations at a location. Now that person with the vehicle that supports Hyper-Fast charging is irritated, and the driver of the 50 kW car really doesn't understand why. 

Give Us Numbers

There is likely concern that throwing all these numbers at new EV buyers will make the experience more complex than it needs to be. In reality, automakers, the government, and even the media have done a pretty bad job explaining electric vehicles to the general public. This is especially true when it comes to charging. 

I'm fortunate to live in Northern California, where you can't throw a rock without hitting a charging station. But if you don't own an EV, I've learned that most people don't even realize they exist. If someone in my area is concerned about charging station availability as a barrier to EV ownership, they are unlikely to understand that not all electric vehicles charge at the same rate. 

So instead of trying to save us from the horrors of numbers, automakers need to be more forthcoming about this. We have the range numbers. Now make sure to provide the information we need so we plug our vehicles into the correct station to get that range. 

Hyper Is the New Premium

I own a few cars that require higher-octane premium gasoline. What's nice is that if, for some reason, I forget the type of gas to put in my vehicle or if I lend it out to a friend that wants to fill up the tank, when you open the gas cap, it actually tells you, "hey, this car takes premium." 

Automakers need to take the same approach with EVs. When you open the charge port door (or when it opens by itself via some elaborate mechanism), the DC-fast charge rate should be right there where the owner or friend of the owner can see it. 

This is on the automakers... they're not doing their customers any favors by not sharing these numbers.

There's no reason why this information can't be there or at least somewhere in the vehicle. Initially, it's good for the owners, but as I've mentioned, sometimes you lend a car to friends or family. If you shelled out a ton of cash for a vehicle that charges at about 150 kW, you don't want your mom to borrow, say, your F-150 Lightning and then hook it up to the 50 kW station instead of the 350kW one. Do you really want your mother to sit around all day because Ford didn't think about putting the DC-fast charge rate of its electric pickup somewhere noticeable? 

Mom's got stuff to do, and those pickup truck battery packs are huge. 

Rental Confusion

This is going to be an issue as EVs begin permeating rental fleets. When you pick up a rental car, it's unlikely the person helping you will do a rundown of the charge rate and range of a vehicle. They just want to get you in a car and out of their office. Frankly, you just want to get as far away from there as quickly as possible once you get the keys. No one likes hanging out at a rental pickup location. 

Eventually, as you're driving around, you'll need a charge. Currently, you'd have to open a browser on your phone and do a search on how quickly the vehicle you're borrowing will recharge. Again, no one has to do that sort of research for a gas vehicle. Maybe rental agencies will take the initiative and put the DC-fast charging rate next to that sticker in the window that reminds you not to smoke in their cars. 

An Electrify America charging station with the different features labeled in callouts.

Electrify America

But they shouldn't have to. This is on the automakers. If they're not proud of the rate at which their vehicle charges, maybe they should fix that. Regardless of their feelings about being shamed for having a slow-charging vehicle, they're not doing their customers any favors by not sharing these numbers. 

Maybe Electrify America is onto something here with hyper and ultra. Maybe in the future, you'll pop open the charge port of a Nissan, and inside, it'll say Ultra-Fast, and you'll know exactly which station to plug your vehicle into. But for now, keeping that information away from customers isn't helping anyone. Educating customers about EVs is part of an automaker's job. If we learned anything from Schoool House Rock, it's that knowledge is power. Especially when the knowledge we're seeking is actually about power.

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