non-Tesla charging challenges

so sad that I can no longer recommend a non-Tesla EV

4 min, 759 words

Tags: EVs

Update: the gloom is lifting! Read why!

I had a Chevy Bolt from 2018 through 2021 that I loved. It was a requirement of the lease that I had to return it at the end of the lease; I'd have bought it otherwise.

During the time I had it, I took three very long trips (750-1,000 miles round-trip) to see what that was like. And I took many other shorter long trips that required DC fast-charging (often referred to as "level-3-charging") -- as opposed to slower AC home-charging using the equivalent of an electric-dryer outlet (often referred to as "level-2-charging").

The Bolt is known to fast-charge very slowly. But it has great range, and is super-efficient (so it makes the most of every kilowatt it gets). I loved those trips. BUT... I went into those trips with a sense of adventure: I knew, from reading accounts of fast-charging non-Teslas, that I had to treat those trips like an airplane-pilot charting a trip. I had a backup-charging-plan, and at least some awareness of a back-up to the back-up plan. And I built-in lots of extra travel-time for possible charging issues.

There were often slower EV-Go fast-charging stations that were my back-up-plan to the main higher-speed Electrify-America (EA) fast-charging stations I usually used. At many EA stations, half the chargers wouldn't work at all, or would only work with multiple attempts. But that generally wasn't an issue, because there were rarely any other EVs there.

Now, however, there are many terrific non-Teslas being sold -- the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Ford Lightning pickup, the VW ID-4, and the Hyundai Ioniq-5 being a few -- but that means that the lack of EA reliability has become much more of an issue as more cars vie for working fast-chargers. Here's a recent youtube video that gives a sense of the kinds of charging issues that folk are experiencing.

I replaced my Bolt with a Tesla Model 3. I love the car -- but there are definitely things about the Bolt that I miss. But Tesla fast-charging on long trips is unbelievably better.

I can get in my Tesla, in Rhode Island, and push the voice-button and say "Directions to Chicago". The car knows how full my "tank" is, and routes me to a convenient fast-charging station on my way. As I get close, the car automatically prepares the battery to accept a fast-charge. The smallest charging-station I've ever seen had 8 chargers; most have a dozen or more. I pull up, unhook the charging-cable-plug, press a button on the plug that opens my car's charge-port, and plug it in. That's it[*]. It charges, fast. And most crucially, I simply don't have to even think about it not working (I think I've had only one or two times where I had to move over and use another cable, out of many hundreds of fast-charges). The importance of that reliability cannot be overstated: it is just not a concern. Contrast that experience with the youtube video above.

My EV evangelism is by no means Tesla specific. But I'm very sad to say that I can no longer recommend a non-Tesla EV to anyone if:

  • it's going to be your only car, and...
  • if you want to be able to even occasionally take long trips

(If it's a second-car, or you'll just be using it for normal daily life, my all-brands EV evangelism stands. You charge at home, and start of each day with a full battery.)

I just honestly wouldn't want my loved ones to have to go through the current all-too-common anxiety of getting a needed fast-charge along the highway in a non-Tesla. I really hope the current publicity around terrible charging experiences helps push companies to prioritize reliability. An increased number of chargers will address range-anxiety, but if they don't work reliably, real charging-anxiety and understandable frustration will result, harming EV-adoption.

In the future, I'm sure we'll look back on these days like the proverbial elders that talked of walking miles to school through snowstorms, but for now the hassles are real and terribly sad.

[*] Re fast-charging, "What about payment?" you may wonder. The fast-chargers automatically use the credit-card associated with your car.