Automakers face threat to EV sales: Slow charging times

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DETROIT — If the auto industry is to succeed in betting that electric vehicles will soon dominate the roads, it will have to overcome a major reason many people still avoid them: the fear of running out of juice between point A and point B.

Automakers have tried to allay those concerns by developing EVs that go further per charge and fill up faster. The problem is that most public charging stations now fill cars far too slowly, taking hours – not minutes – to provide enough electricity for a longer journey.

Concerned that such long wait times could scare off potential EV buyers and keep them hooked on gas-burning vehicles, automakers are trying to shorten charge times to something close to the five or ten minutes of a conventional gas tank.

“It’s definitely the goal to get faster and faster,” said Brett Smith, technology director at the Center for Automotive Research, an industry think tank. “It’s not there yet, but it’s one of those things that puts the needle more in the direction of a competitive vehicle for a lot of people, this ability to charge quickly.”

The latest generation of EVs, many with a range of around 300 miles per charge, can absorb electricity much faster than previous models. So fast, in fact, that most charging stations cannot yet accommodate the advanced technology of the vehicles.

It can now take hours to fully charge an electric vehicle, as most stations run on home-like AC power. DC fast charging stations, on the other hand, are hours faster. But they can cost tens of thousands of dollars more.

The high cost is something the Biden administration will need to consider when developing incentives to encourage businesses and governments to build 500,000 charging stations nationwide by 2030. Among the options under discussion are grants, with $15 billion in spending over five years to build the network, including fast chargers along highways and in communities. Details are being worked out as the government negotiates its infrastructure plan with key members of Congress.

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Of the roughly 42,000 public charging stations in the United States, only about 5,000 are considered DC fast chargers, according to the Department of Energy. The rest is like home chargers; they take about eight hours to fully charge extended-range batteries, longer than anyone wants to wait to charge a vehicle on a road trip.

And most fast chargers can only pump about 50 kilowatts per hour — which takes about an hour to charge an average EV to 80% — although newer EVs can charge faster than that.

“It’s one of the big barriers for someone who isn’t living with a battery-electric vehicle yet,” said Alex Tripi, Volvo’s head of electric vehicle marketing. “It will remain that way for a while.”

Cars make progress

Limited by technology, early electric vehicles charged at ridiculously slow speeds compared to recent models. For example, when Nissan’s Leaf first hit the market over a decade ago, it could only draw 50 kilowatts per hour from a fast charger. That meant it took half an hour to charge it to 80% of its tiny battery, with a range of just 58 miles (93 kilometers).

A new long-haul version released in 2019 nearly tripled the range per charge. Because it can use 100 kilowatts on a fast charger, it can reach 80% – 181 miles (291 kilometers) – in 45 minutes.

Newer EVs can charge even faster. But they far exceed the capacity of most fast chargers. Ford’s Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lightning can handle 150 kilowatts per hour. Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 and Porsche’s Taycan are over 200 kilowatts.

The Hyundai, with a range of 300 miles (480 kilometers), can be charged from 10% to 80% in just 18 minutes, much closer to filling up with petrol. (Car makers tend to quote charging times up to 80% of battery capacity because it takes much longer to go from 80% to 100%; the last 20% is often delayed to extend battery life.) Hyundai knows that there are not many chargers that can fill the Ioniq so quickly. But it says it is ready for a future where more fast chargers are more widely available.

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“Hopefully the infrastructure in the US will improve to make it a lot more viable,” said John Shon, senior group manager for product planning.

Tesla, which has its own private charging network of 25,000 plugs worldwide, leads just about every automaker. The newer chargers can generate up to 250 kilowatts and 175 miles (282 kilometers) of range in about 15 minutes.

Electrify America, a charging network funded with money paid by Volkswagen as punishment for its fraud scandal, says it’s ready for the newer EVs. Since 2018, it has installed fast chargers and has more than 600 stations with 2,600 plugs across the country. They can all pump out 150 kilowatts. That means they can charge a typical electric car with a range of 300 miles (480 kilometers) to 80 percent of its battery capacity (240 miles (386 kilometers) in about 45 minutes). More than half of Electrify America’s stations can charge 350 miles. kilowatts of pumps, which charges twice as fast.

A quick charge of up to 80% of battery capacity varies by state, but typically costs about $16.

Even Tesla owners, who have access to the country’s largest fast-charging network, risk running out of power on road trips, especially in rural areas. On Monday, one of those drivers, Dan Nelson, said he had to stop for more than 20 minutes at a Tesla station near Ann Arbor, Michigan, to make sure his Model 3 had enough charge to power his rural home. kilometers to reach. away.

“There are definitely improvements that can be made,” says Nelson, who usually charges at home.

You usually charge at home

Bruce Westlake, president of the East Michigan Electric Auto Association, suggested that such fears tend to subside as people become more experienced with EVs. He said he is now comfortable with his two Teslas with a battery capacity of just 5% to continue between charges during travel.

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Research by JD Power shows that most people think that charging points are needed in locations where gas stations are now located. But according to the Energy Department, most EV owners charge at home more than 80% of the time.

That means super-fast chargers, which can cost nearly $100,000, should be built primarily along highways where people travel long distances and charge quickly, experts say. They may also be needed in urban areas where people live in apartments without access to a home charger.

It is far from clear that automakers can rely on a proliferation of fast chargers across the country to build customer confidence and boost electric vehicle sales in the years to come. The high cost and heavy load on power grids will likely limit the number of fast chargers to areas where they’re needed for quick refueling, said Jessika Trancik, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies electric vehicle charging.

“As we approach this transition,” she said, “it’s important to be more strategic than putting them everywhere.”

Charging companies have time to figure out where to build fast chargers because it would take more than 17 years to convert the entire US fleet of 279 million passenger cars from petroleum to electricity, even if every motorist were willing to switch. said Pasquale. Romano, CEO of ChargePoint, a charging station company. But the chargers can’t come soon enough for automakers, who want more people to buy their EVs to spread development costs across more vehicles.

Romano says fast chargers will be needed about every 75 miles on roads connecting metro areas, and the United States should be there in about two years. As more EVs are sold, more stations will be built.

“You don’t want to build in all the infrastructure in the next 20 years, starting with vehicle zero,” Romano said. “This is about natural organic growth.”