How to improve the consumer experience for electric vehicle drivers at public chargepoints: the view from Green Car Guide. This is in response to the current consultation from the government – specifically, from the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV). This view is based on driving every EV that’s ever been on sale in the UK around the country over the last 10 years, and most recently, having to drive 400 miles in a Honda e with a 100 mile range. And as a heads-up, what’s needed is pretty simple and obvious.
So, let’s base our feedback around a real-life practical example: a 400 mile drive in a Honda e. The first leg of our Honda e trip was 200 miles from Bracknell to Manchester. With a range of around 100 miles at motorway speeds, charging would obviously be needed en route. And like most long distance trips in the UK, the vast majority of the journey was on the motorway network. EV drivers will be aware of the following, but potential EV drivers may not be: you would imagine that all motorway services have a long line of rapid chargers that are extremely easy to connect, and can give all modern EVs a charge at a rate of many hundreds of miles per hour (or more than 100 miles in around 20 minutes). But no. This isn’t the case. Unless you have a Tesla and use the Tesla Supercharger network. In which case what has just been described is exactly what exists.
But for every other brand of electric car, the rapid charging provision at motorway services is a long, long way off the user experience of Tesla Superchargers. Here’s what happened when we tried to drive 400 miles in the Honda e.
The first motorway services that we pulled into for a charge – when we had around 20 miles of range left – had two Ecotricity Electric Highway chargers, with four connectors. There was only one 50kW rapid DC charger with a CCS connector, ie. the correct type to give the Honda e a rapid charge, and it wasn’t working.
We then tried the next services where we found the first non-plugged-in car blocking a charging bay – a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (yes, it’s a plug-in hybrid, but it wasn’t plugged in). However we were still able to connect to the only rapid CCS connector, and thankfully that worked.
However the battery range wasn’t quite enough to get all the way home, and so we headed to a charger around 10 miles from the house. We arrived at the charger with seven miles of range left on the battery – and the charger wasn’t working. So we had to crawl home and three miles from the house the displayed battery range dropped to zero, and we arrived home with minus three miles of range. Apart from showing that the UK’s public charging infrastructure still needs a lot of improvement, it also shows that the Honda e still keeps going when the car tells you that there is no range left (don’t try this at home).
A week of driving the Honda e followed, with zero dramas due to a 7kW home charger, and lots of local chargers if needed, although these were never required. And at this point it should be said that the Honda e – like most of the latest battery electric vehicles – is a brilliant car, but it’s obviously designed to be a city car. So it’s unlikely to be doing long motorway trips on a regular basis, but many EV drivers who primarily use their cars locally say that they occasionally need to do a long journey – when they will need to charge en route. And people driving around the UK on business will need to use public chargers on a regular basis.
It was soon time for the return journey from Manchester to Bracknell. The aim was once again to try and charge just once en route, which meant charging when the battery was almost empty. So we pulled into the motorway services, which again had two Ecotricity chargers with four connectors, along with the second non-plugged-in car blocking a charging bay – a Range Rover Sport Plug-in Hybrid (again, not plugged in) – and the charger in the other bay having a sign attached saying ‘Out of order – sorry for any inconvenience’. The inconvenience could well have been a car with no ability to drive anywhere, which is pretty inconvenient.
This resulted in a 26 mile trip to the next services, with 27 miles of range, meaning that we arrived with one mile of range left. If these chargers hadn’t been working, we’d have been heading to Bracknell on a recovery truck. Luckily, the chargers were working, however one of the four bays was occupied by the third non-plugged-in car blocking a charging bay – a petrol-powered Mercedes A-Class, which parked up at the same time as we arrived. Fortunately, we were still able to access the correct CCS rapid connector and we were able to charge – watching the fish in the aquarium on the Honda’s dashboard while waiting. When it was pointed out to the Mercedes driver that he was parked in an electric car charging bay, he wasn’t bothered in the slightest and made no effort to move the car and instead just wandered into the services. What a shame that we accidentally caught his number plate on a photograph. This charge enabled us to get to Bracknell, arriving with with exactly zero miles of range left.
At all the motorway services charging locations that we visited, each of which had just two chargers, with just one CCS rapid charging connector for most modern EVs out of four connectors, there were around ten Tesla Superchargers, with lots of availability, with Tesla drivers turning up, charging very rapidly, then driving off, with no dramas. Yet drivers of every other brand of EV have to face a lottery of whether there will be any chargers that are available, and whether they will work; and then drivers will often have to download an app and then hope that works in order to be be able to pay and charge.
The story above relates to one of our most recent experiences with a Honda e, admittedly with a much shorter driving range than most modern EVs, but we’ve had similar experiences with charging many other EVs over the last 10 years. When driving from Manchester to London and back in an Audi e-tron, four out of five Ecotricity Electric Highway chargers didn’t work, and the one that did work later stopped working. The e-tron just made it home with six miles of battery range left.
So here’s our response to the Government’s public EV charging consultation:
There are increasing numbers of public chargers around the UK, the vast majority of which work effectively – as well as more and more chargers at people’s homes. But the priority must be to have reliable chargers at motorway services that are as rapid as possible – with more CCS connectors; as our experience above shows, we’re a long way from this at the moment. People won’t want to head off the motorway searching for chargers. It’s amazing that Tesla sorted this years ago, but nothing has been done for all the non-Tesla EV drivers. So just copy Tesla.
Early adopters of EVs and of public charging – we would include ourselves in this category – have often had little choice but to wrestle with such things as apps to pay for charging. The remaining 99% of mainstream motorists who are yet to make the move from petrol and diesel cars to EVs will simply not be prepared to put up with any inconvenience; you don’t need membership or an app to pay for petrol, so why should you need such barriers to pay for charging? All charge points must be 100% user friendly to use. Feedback that we receive says that this means no apps; people just want to pay contactless with a credit card – which is now happening (slowly) at rapid charge points – or even better, the car pays automatically with no driver intervention needed: again, copy Tesla. And then there’s all the extremely confusing terminology at charge points. What does AC v DC mean to the average motorist? Nothing. And all the charge points that we’ve ever used have no protection from the rain, which isn’t great when you’re desperately trying to get your phone to scan a code on the charger to get the charger working.
Even though satnav systems and apps help drivers find charge points, we still need massively better signage of charge points – both for the benefit of EV drivers, and for motorists who are yet to make the move to EVs – so they can be reassured that there are lots of charge points around. Signage to highlight nearby charge points is currently almost non-existent.
Our Honda e drive showed that petrol or diesel cars – or in two cases PHEVs that weren’t charging – were parked in bays in three out of four charging sites. So it would seem that more monitoring and stiffer consequences are needed to prevent this.
Sales of EVs are going through the roof, and the government wants us all to be buying EVs as new cars by 2030, so action needs to be taken now, not in months or years.
The online survey runs until 15 March 2021.