Autonomous Vehicles, New Mobility & the Built Environment Electric Vehicles

EV Charging Batters My Self-Esteem

The true tale of EV range anxiety in Texas that could have been alleviated with fast EV chargers and a much simpler payment system.

It is two decades later and the technology overlords continue to batter my self-esteem. In 2005, it was the lowly PC that beat me into submission. In 2024, it is EV charging and the complications of trying to juice up in Texas that almost had this author in tears.

Am I turning into Jay Pritchett from Modern Family? #

Viewing the above video is reminiscent of the classic Modern Family episode where Jay Pritchett attempts to learn how to use a touchscreen phone. Double click, double click!

Ready for a New Ride #

As background, this isn’t my first rodeo with an electric car and it was quite exciting to try the Mustang Mach-E. As an owner of a used Leaf (super value) and previous renter of a Tesla Model 3 and, later, a Chevrolet Bolt, my confidence in my EV knowledge was over-inflated compared to reality.

That reality started with a seamless car rental at Dallas Love Field. It was a bonus when the representative of the car rental agency explained that, because the car had less than 75% charge, it could be returned on the electric equivalent of fumes. Given that it had approximately 250 miles in the “tank”, it sparked hope we might not have to charge this electric chariot saving us a few aurei.

Amazingly, this electric ancestor of the 60s muscle car, proved to be a cargo workhorse, fitting four suitcases, three backpacks, and two large boxes, along with three people. After about 10 minutes, the family decision-maker declared this would be our next vehicle.

The Carefree Superhighways of the DFW Metroplex #

The first couple of days in Denton were uneventful and mobility was a breeze in the car-centric Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, thanks to our trusty steed. Knowing that we were going to visit a friend who lives outside the Metroplex, a brief stop at the world’s largest retailer was the perfect spot for a quick charge, since we had some shopping to do.

It started easily enough; plug in the charger and wait for the car to connect…..and wait, and wait…. After a few minutes, the rest of the crew left for shopping, while yours truly, did everything possible to make the connection to the 350kW fast charger work.

Finally, after 5 minutes or so, desperation set in and I dialed customer support and fell into the inevitable phone tree. Eventually, a customer support person answered and we were making progress until his voice was undecipherable. It was like he was underwater. It had to be from his side as the on-hold music sounded great.

At one point, the call dropped. Fortunately, the agent promptly called back. In total, the phone calls with support lasted 36 minutes. The resolution was to move the vehicle to a 150kW charger. Amazingly, after 20 minutes of shopping, the car was juiced back up to 289 miles.

With that much juice, we felt confident that we could make a 20-mile detour to the world’s 3rd largest retailer to pick up some additional supplies and secure a low-cost meal. That detour took off some 45 miles of range and is the reason there is more to this story.

From Suburban Sprawl to Rural Vistas #

An 80-mile journey from the top of the DFW Metroplex to its edge could barely be described as going to the hinterlands. Still, we were quickly transported from suburban sprawl to rural vistas. A mental calculation suggested that the roundtrip, plus a detour to visit a friend on the return meant there wasn’t much of an energy storage cushion.

Unfortunately, the rental car company did not supply an adaptor to plug into a 110 VAC outlet. This would have been useful, as we spent hours enjoying the company of a longtime friend in the picturesque town and surrounding area of Mineral Wells. She could probably see through my mild range anxiety with my repeated comments about the need to charge.

The Interstate Must Have Plenty of Fast Chargers, Right? #

Around rush hour we began our journey east toward Denton with a planned detour to see another friend. Thinking it would be worth the investment of 10 minutes, we stopped at the first charger station we could find.

It was at a college with plenty of chargers, and the best part was that it was “free”. The problem was that these must have been Level 1 chargers providing only 5 miles of charge per hour of juice.

So, we made another detour that led us to a dealership for a carmaker that is convinced hybrids are the best way forward. The spot in front of the charger was taken by an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) car. Fortunately, a sales representative had the car moved before we even asked.

Again, the charging was free and the process of connecting to the car was simple. The salesperson was engaging and soon we were talking about the challenges of selling EVs in rural Texas. The warm and dry dealership building was a relaxing place to return phone calls and emails, while our faithful stallion recharged.

One can imagine our frustration when we found that after about 30 minutes of charging, the range had increased about a mile; from 59 to 60 miles. We decided to carry on to our friend’s house, as we were already late.

Yes, Range Anxiety Is Real #

Arriving at our friend’s house with a twenty-something mile range and still approximately 18 miles to our hotel, it was obvious we would need to find another charging station before the night was over. After a lovely evening of pool, pizza, and music, we departed from our dock and headed out to find a charger.1

Not to belabor the details but that 18-mile trip to our temporary home entailed stopping at five chargers (one of them twice). Some of the reasons we stopped at five chargers

  • A charging station was still under construction
  • The vehicle doesn’t work with the Tesla NACS charging standard – which is supposed to change in March
  • The charging rate was too slow.
  • Couldn’t get the required app working and/or didn’t solve the payment problem.

Finally, we bit the bullet and waited about 30 minutes for probably 15 miles worth of charge, while the pouring Texas rain pelted down on our thirsty electric horse.2

Some Lessons Learned & Observations #

The obvious thing that my Texas relatives would say is don’t rent an electric vehicle in Texas, particularly if you are straying from the metro areas. That may be the correct bromide in February 2024, but that could change in short order. With that in mind, here are some thoughts inspired by last week’s experience.

  • The payment system should be part of the vehicle, particularly in a rental situation when the renter isn’t necessarily familiar with all the charging networks, doesn’t want to download an app, and just wants to charge and go. There should be no requirement to download an app.
  • As referenced in an earlier article, the car rental agency should include a simple printed list of important things to know about electric vehicles (e.g. how to charge, how to open the frunk – had to find an online video to figure that one out – etc.)
  • Like a gas station, please cover the charging station to prevent the customer from getting soaked when it is raining.3
  • [added after publication] The cost of fueling the EV was at least 25% higher than a similar ICE vehicle. In other words, $15 of fast charger provided electricity garnered approximately 100 miles of range. At 25 MPG and with $3 per gallon gas, it would cost $12 to fill up a similar ICE vehicle. It is important to note that the $0.48 per kW cost at the fast charger is approximately four times what this author pays to charge at home.
  • This entire experience reinforces the thought inspired by an interview with Etc. at BT at CES. That is, there may be an opportunity for rural U.S. operators to help fill the holes in charging networks using their existing infrastructure.

In the end, did I learn a lesson? Probably not, as driving an electric car is fun. The acceleration, the quiet ride, and being able to avoid the smell of gasoline are great things, but it is the one pedal, regenerative braking that seals the deal. Who knows, it may not be long before we turn over an old Leaf for a new horse.

Notes #

  1. See, This Ain’t Beans (YouTube) by Bill Fielding ↩︎
  2. Overall, the process of charging (detours, charging attempts, and actual charging) probably took three hours out of our Friday. To be clear, if we had fast chargers, charging wouldn’t have been an issue and would have been a nice 10-minute break for checking emails, etc. ↩︎
  3. It was an irrational fear, but it was difficult to get the thought out of my mind that the combination of rain and electricity could be my demise. ↩︎

Author Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

By Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

Ken Pyle is Marketing Director for the Broadband Forum. The mission of this 25+-year-old non-profit “is to unlock the potential for new markets and profitable revenue growth by leveraging new technologies and standards in the home, intelligent small business, and multi-user infrastructure of the broadband network.”

He is also co-founder of Viodi, LLC and Managing Editor of the Viodi View, a publication focused on the rural broadband ecosystem, autonomous vehicles, and electric aviation. He has edited and produced numerous multimedia projects for NTCA, US Telecom and Viodi. Pyle is the producer of Viodi’s Local Content Workshop, the Video Production Crash Course at NAB, as well as ViodiTV. He has been intimately involved in Viodi’s consulting projects and has created processes for clients to use for their PPV and VOD operations, as well authored reports on the independent telco market.

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One reply on “EV Charging Batters My Self-Esteem”

Chris Chamberlin says it well on this LinkedIn post. “Success isn’t just about the sheer number of charging stations, it’s about strategically placing the right chargers in the right locations. This concept is about ensuring that charging infrastructure is where it’s most needed and convenient for EV users…”

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