If you’re just now reading this series, here’s what’s going on. Because reviews of electric vehicles (my own included) seem to be 1/4 review and 3/4 whining about EV related issues, I decided to divorce the review from the “EV experience” and post daily about driving a car with an 80-95 mile range. You can catch up by going to Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 before coming back to the saga. Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you. Day three ended with my battery at 15% because I drove the orange creamsicle Fiat we have named “Zippy Zappy” over 175 miles. I don’t have a 240V charging cable at home so the car told me it would be 24 hours until the car was charged at 120V. Good thing day four was a Saturday.I woke up and debated whether I should shirk my weekend chores and head to the beach. After all, I had discovered the beach was equipped with a 240V station. No dice, I looked up the station online and it was occupied, probably because charging is free in Capitola By The Sea. Looking at the ChargePoint station map it’s obvious to see how the landscape has changed in a year. The SF Bay Area now has 781 public charging stations on the ChargePoint network, 172 on the Blink network, 23 DC “Fast Charge” stations that deliver 90 kW (nearly 14x faster than the onboard charger in Zippy Zappy or the 2014 LEAF). Of course Fiat hasn’t signed onto the CHAdeMO bandwagon yet leaving the LEAF and iMiEV the only cars capable of sucking down electrons at such a speed. No, I haven’t forgotten about Tesla, we’ll talk about that later.
In addition to those stations there another 980 private 240V chargers in the Bay Area that are part of PlugShare, a deal where you let random EV people charge at your home using your juice. Last time I had a LEAF, I decided to use a PlugShare station, so I looked one up and followed the directions. I texted the guy who was sharing his station and he told me to just drive up and plug my car into his station in his driveway. I was so blown away by thig I interviewed him. He told me he thought of PlugShare as”EV random acts of kindness.” How sweet. Let me ask you all a question to put this in perspective. How many of you would sign up for “GasShare.com” a place where you keep a 5-gallon gasoline can in your driveway so you can share it with your fellow neighbors? Anyone? I suspect that as EVs become more popular and the charge rate increases fewer people will be willing to let strangers park in their driveway and suck down $10 worth of electricity.
About that Tesla. The charging standard situation is like a VHS/Betamax battle with only one player on the Beta side: Tesla. I do understand the logic with the new charging connector, it is without a doubt superior into the J1772 that every other EV and plug-in hybrid uses. It is also better than the CHAdeMO DC charging plugs on Mitsubishi and Nissan EVs. Finally it’s way, way more attractive than that funky SAE combo connector the society is pushing.
How is Tesla’s cord better? First off the connector is smaller. I’m not convinced this is a big deal since every car has a fuel door and so far nobody has told me they hated their fuel door because it was too big. But the electrical side of the connector? Tesla rocks. J1772 started out with a 30A max draw, later amended to 80A in 2009 (although I have yet to see an 80A capable station). If your car supports J1772 AC charging and CHAdeMO quick charging, you have the ginormous connector above shown above ( on the left of the J1772 connector). It’s HUGE. Now we really do have a size problem because you can’t hide the two of them together behind a normal fuel door. Tesla went another way and (we can only guess at some of this because they haven’t shared their charging standard with anyone) and combined the AC and DC charging onto the same pins. (You can see the Tesla connector below.)Even though the Tesla connector is smaller it’s just as beefy with a Model S drawing 80A if you buy the 20kW charging option. That’s over 330% faster than a LEAF, Focus EV or Fiat 500e. The only problem being that your home needs to support that and my home has only a 100A service so I would have to choose between charging my car and using the oven. If that’s not fast enough you can stop by a Tesla “Supercharger” station and suck down power at 100kW (400 volts at 250 amps) 10kW faster than CHAdeMO.
The problem with this charging superiority is that it’s exclusive to Tesla. With the adapter that comes with every Tesla model S, you can use the 1,933 J1772 charging stations in the Bay Area, but you can’t share your home station with a LEAF driver. If you’re a multi EV family with a Model S and a 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV (powered by Tesla ironically), you will need to either use a J1772 station and deal with the slower charge in your Tesla or have two stations at home. (You know, aside from the fact that you’re going to be nearly maxing out your 200A service.) More vexing than that is DC quick charging your Tesla. Yes, I freely admit CHAdeMO is an enormous chunky plug, but there are already 23 CHAdeMO stations in the Bay, 28 in Tennessee, 18 in Portland, 6 in Seattle, 19 in Phoenix and several in Southern California. (Not to mention hundreds in Japan.) Right now there are only eight Tesla Supercharger stations in the USA growing to some 50+ stations by the end of the year. Great. But as of now you can’t charge your Tesla from the existing CHAdeMO stations and you can’t charge your CHAdeMO car from a Tesla station. If we cared about the EV landscape and wanted EVs to succeed, we need to use the same connector. How would it go down if Honda came up with a new Accord and used an all-new and all-sexy fuel filler neck that was incompatible with anything but a Honda gas station unless you used a funnel? A comparison to Apple is usually drawn here, but even Apple has always used industry standard NEMA power cords.
This this is all about Tesla vs Nissan? Think again. There is so much indecision in the industry over what charging standard to support that most manufacturers do nothing, which is probably worse. That means you can’t fast charge your RAV4 EV, a car that really needs it, or your Focus, 500e, Fit EV, Mini e, A3, Active e, iQ EV, fortwo, Spark EV, or Transit Connect Electric. What do the car companies say? “We are waiting for a standard to emerge.” Funny, I’d call the hundreds of DC stations already installed in America a standard that has emerged.
After 15 hours of charging, the wee Fiat was ready for a trip to civilization as we had a party to attend. We pre-planned and carpooled with some friends so we could leave Zippy Zappy plugged into their garage outlet for a few hours. There was zero range anxiety this time with an 84% charge. The EV Fiat proved amusing to drive quickly on the winding mountain roads we traversed. EVs add a fair amount of weight to any conversion like this, but because the battery pack is positioned low in the vehicle, it improves the centre of gravity and weight balance when compared to the gasoline 500. Four hours of partying later, the 500e was a minor celebrity with all manner of people wanting to see it/sit in it/ride in it. Even though you see EVs driving around all over the place in N. CA, they still have a novelty factor that makes people interested. Saturday was a slow day with only 49 miles going on the Fiat and an estimated time to a full charge when we rolled in of 9 hours even at 120V.
Looking for the other installments? Here you go: