What was your last gas station experience like? Chances are you didn’t plan to go to the gas station. You just realized as you were coming home from work that you were kind of low-ish on gas, maybe around a quarter of a tank, and so you went to the gas station that is less than 5 miles from your house, and pulled into one of the 4–16 pumping spots. You got out of the car and go over to the pump and insert your credit card. You selected the type of fuel you wanted and then removed the pump and inserted it into your car. You began refueling your vehicle, and then you waited next to your car for 5 or maybe 10 minutes at the most. Once you were done, you put the pump back in its holster, and got back in your car. The whole experience probably took less than 15 minutes no matter what gas station you were at in the United States.
Now let’s think about the Electric Vehicle charging experience.
If you are driving an Electric Vehicle, you probably plan your refueling a lot more than you used to. You might charge every night at home or every day at a charging station located at your work. If you don’t charge at home or at work, you probably have figured out that there are only a handful of fast charging stations within 20 miles of where you live. Before you bought your Electric Vehicle, you probably did a search for fast chargers in the area and identified the ones that you would use when you are out driving around.
When you use the fast charging stations, you know that in some places there are only 1–4 chargers at any given station, so it is conceivable that if you show up to get a quick charge, there might not be a charger available to you. And, when that happens, you don’t know if you’ll be waiting 5 minutes or an hour for the person ahead of you to finish charging.
Once you pull into a charging spot, depending on the charging network, you either open up the app, swipe your network card, or swipe your credit card. You then hopefully know which charger is compatible with your car. You plug in and then wait. If you are trying to fill up as you would with a gas car, you are likely going to be waiting 45 minutes to an hour while your car charges. When you are done, you get back in your car and drive home, which is probably more than 5 miles away.
There are some clear pain points in the Electric Vehicle charging user experience. The most obvious pain point is how long it takes to charge the vehicle. This is something that every Electric Vehicle manufacturer is trying to solve. There is also a problem with the number of chargers and proximity of chargers to urban and suburban hubs. But there are also problems with the user experience of charging at the point of sale.
Here are 5 ways Electric Vehicle charging networks can improve the Electric Vehicle charging user experience.
#1 Reduce payment friction — A lot of Electric Vehicle charging networks have developed membership models with their own cards that users can swipe to pay. Charging networks have also developed apps that users can pay through. These cards and apps only serve to make the EV charging experience inconsistent. Why not just use a credit card like everything else? The charging networks that have idle fees and tiered memberships are just creating more friction than is necessary. The apps can still be used for charging status and other features, but the payment should be through credit cards.
#2 Adopt a standard charger — This must be inevitable. Electric Vehicle manufacturers need to adopt a standard charger, and then every charging network needs to adapt to use only that charger. If we want mass adoption of Electric Vehicles, we can’t expect users to learn their local charging ecosystem so well that they know where all of the different types of chargers are. Early adopters will obviously figure it out, but the general public will turn away from Electric Vehicles if there isn’t charging ubiquity.
#3 Think about Grandma — The chargers and the cables attached to them are heavy. Do we really think old people are going to have a good experience using these? We should advocate for lighter and more ergonomic charging station designs. The “Think about Grandma” exercise also improves the experience for everyone else, not just Grandma.
#4 Entertain and Educate — You have a more or less captive audience for at least 30 minutes. Charging networks should use this time to entertain and educate. Charging stations could essentially be mini drive-in movie theaters. Why does refueling have to be a chore? If Electric Vehicle owners are sacrificing their time to do right by the environment, shouldn’t we reward them by giving them commercial free entertainment? Yes, we should.
#5 Reduce downtime to zero — The worst thing that could possibly happen to an Electric Vehicle owner is arriving at a broken charging station with no other charging options. Until we have hundreds of thousands more charging stations, Electric Vehicle owners need to have confidence in the charging networks. We need to know that when we show up, the chargers are going to work. Letting us know in the app that a charger is out of service is nice, but it would be even better if charging networks were able to reduce downtime to as close to zero as possible.