I hit the hose bank with about 15 miles to spare, but three of the six units weren’t working and the Nissan Leaf owner was in the fourth slot on the phone with station customer service, looking far from cheerful. With my two young children in the back, I dunked a credit card and took it out wet – no dice. My brain frantically calculated emergencies like a Garmin on a fritz until I updated an app and was able to pay through the iPhone. With the buzz of electrons pressing down on the string, my heartbeat returned to its steady state. Crisis averted.
Even without gas, running out of gas is still a big deal — call it driving to zero. With the sharp rise in the use of electric vehicles, as a wave of charging newbies hits the road, it will only become more common. Stranded drivers will be a particularly acute problem in North America, where its network of often defective chargers remains insufficient. The vast EV deserts are more standard than exception and error codes—whether in the parking lot of your local Whole Foods or at any of the charger-equipped rest stops along I-95 East Coast—admittedly.
However, the cars are as smart as they look. Near the end, they are desperately trying to save themselves. Most contemporary electric vehicles do the math and automatically switch to a nearby charger when range is tight. Many also have some form of “limp-home” function, a setting that shuts down all but essential electrical operations and adds a few miles of distance. Nissan calls this “turtle mode” – a lumbering crawler pops up on the car’s screen.
Even when the battery is completely dry, your car will slowly pull itself up; The throttle will feel soft, but not quite. “You can always go a little further once you hit zero,” said Tom Moloney, who regularly runs empty EVs for his YouTube channel State of Charge. At the very least, the electric vehicle will survive long enough to die in a safe place.
Battery depletion is a constant concern for electric vehicle owners, particularly those who haven’t driven electric vehicles for a long time, says Ryan O’Gorman, director and strategist in Ford Motor’s energy services business. “Generally I order [people], “When was the last time you ran out of fuel?” And the answer is usually something like, ‘When I was in high school. : Asking how many times they’ve been away from home with a full gas tank.
This issue has been a priority for Ford since it was geared toward the electric market with the launch of the Mustang Mach-E in December 2020. Those who buy the battery-powered compact SUV — or the F-150 Lightning — also get a tow to a charging station if And when stranded as a free service for five years or 65,000 miles.
Data on generic charger reliability – or “uptime” in the industry – is notoriously hard to come by. Perhaps the best metric is the crowdsourcing ratings system on PlugShare, a mobility platform meant to be for EV drivers like Yelp is for diners. On a scale of 1 to 10, almost a quarter of PlugShare stations have a score below 7.
In a recent study of chargers in the Bay Area, nearly 23% weren’t working for a variety of reasons — from unresponsive screens to malfunctioning credit card processors. Another 5% had wires too short to be of much use.
Ford has also launched a fleet of “Cargo Angels,” an unspecified number of electric vehicles that are spread across the country for quality control. Auditors rotate through chargers on the company’s “Ford Pass” network, reporting problems and gathering data on output and overall reliability. “We’ll keep them walking around and testing and retesting until we get to the point where we’re comfortable,” said Jordan Mamo, a Ford spokesperson.
Cold weather is another starting point. Not only are freezing temperatures severely hampering an electric vehicle, but they also drain an idle battery. Ski trips are especially risky, according to Gary Baker, managing director of PlugShare. “If they don’t check their car for two or three days, they may find that the car has been broken,” he wrote in an email. “Then it needs to be dragged into a heated garage to melt the ice.”
EVgo Inc aims for 98% reliability on its 885 public charging stations in the United States and has an aggressive program to repair or replace a lot of older devices in its network. But the upgrades may take some time. Jonathan Levy, the company’s chief commercial officer, acknowledges that the parts’ tight supply chain has been a challenge.
“We want to make sure we can have the best experience for our customers,” Levy said. “There are horror stories every once in a while, but electricity is everywhere. … If you really get down to zero, pull up anywhere and plug it into a wall. It might take a while, but you’ll get the juice.”
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