Electric car charging: Clean your windshield too

We were somewhere around Mount Pleasant on the edge of Racine when the drugs started to take hold. I remember saying something like…

Okay, there were no drugs, except for the caffeine in the coffee – I had to mention them to pay homage to the opening of Hunter S. Thompson’s epic road adventure, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Of course we were on a road trip, to Milwaukee for lunch. On a bit of a boss ride: a 2022 Porsche Taycan electric sports car, part of a revolution taking place on America’s roads. Joyfully blasting north on 94 at… ah… um, yeah, regular speed.

Over 600,000 electric vehicles were sold last year. California just announced that it will ban gasoline cars after 2035, perhaps sounding the death knell for the internal combustion engine that reigned for a century.

However, all electric vehicles share the same obstacles.

“They’re no good if you can’t plug them in and they’re no good if you can’t find them [charging stations] and they’re not good if they’re creating all these obstacles to charging your vehicle,” said Hooman Shahidi, co-founder and president of EVPassport, riding next to me.

The federal government will pour $5 billion into electric vehicle charging stations over the next five years, with $148 million of that planned for Illinois.

EVPassport is one of the smaller players in the fray to secure those stations. The California company isn’t even two years old, with 1,500 chargers in 23 states and Canada.

“We hope to get 10,000 chargers 12 months from now,” Shahidi said.

According to the MIT Technology Review, there are only about 6,000 public fast-charging electric vehicle charging stations in the US, plus 48,000 slower charging stations. A third of the number of gas stations. Since EV stations are generally unattended, they are more susceptible to breakage and vandalism. A recent survey of EV stations around San Francisco found more than a quarter out of service at any given time.

Those who do work are not always easy to use – this was the point of our trip. Shahidi wanted to show how annoying his competitors are.

Our first stop was a ChargePoint Station outside Aurora Medical Center in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The idea was that I, a newbie, would try to use the industry leader, the “900 pound gorilla” of charging stations.

“So you get to a charging station,” Shahidi said. “I’ll let you go through the motions and say nothing.”

I tried to grab the electrical cable. It would not be released. There was a screen, but I could barely read it under the fierce sun. I called the helpline. Cowboy music played. While I was waiting, I downloaded the app. The minutes dragged on.

To be fair, it can also be difficult to pump gas if you’ve never done it before.

The gas station model involves pulling up to a pump, inserting a credit card and putting gas in the tank. You don’t have to join everything. Why do you need an app to charge your car?

“They want to be able to collect data on the driver,” Shahidi said.

Driving my van I usually wait until the needle is empty before filling up. This does not work with electric cars.

“People don’t want to go really low,” Shahidi said. “Range anxiety sets in.”

Although potential EV buyers worry, most charging happens at home; 85 percent of car trips are less than 15 miles.

Concerns about charging are related, I believe, to the myth of the open road. Unlimited possibilities, the same reason speedometers go up to 160.

“There is such a great need for EV chargers if we are going to achieve mass adoption,” said Shahidi, who drives an electric BMW i3.

Space does not allow me to describe part of our day, thankfully. Two more stops, lots of talk about kilowatts, lots of traffic, seven hours in total, ending downtown with the Taycan charging up nicely at an EVPassport station in the Millennium Park Garage. Shahidi ordered an Uber. I didn’t mind taking the Taycan back to Northbrook. Without a manual transmission, driving an electric sports car is… a somewhat overwhelming experience. A Lincoln Navigator pulled up and I climbed in gratefully. I think that before we know it, cars will be something we call, not own. They will mostly drive and charge themselves, like robot vacuums do now. And just as romantic.

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