Owning an electric vehicle (EV) in the vibrant heart of Los Angeles, a city celebrated for its eco-conscious ethos and technological prowess, should epitomize a seamless and efficient experience. However, recent reports have cast a sobering shadow on the EV ownership dream in the self-proclaimed EV capital of America, harking back to the days of the gas crisis under President Carter.
A recent exposé by The Wall Street Journal has shone a glaring spotlight on the state of EV charging infrastructure in Los Angeles, revealing a landscape fraught with challenges. In an ambitious test, the article delved into the reliability and functionality of non-Tesla fast-charging stations across the city, subjecting 30 stations with a combined 120+ charging stalls to scrutiny. The results were nothing short of alarming, with a staggering 40 percent of these stations grappling with issues that left EV owners high and dry.
Columnist Joanna Stern, herself an owner of a Ford Mustang Mach-E EV, embarked on a journey that took her from the sun-soaked beaches of Santa Monica to the posh parking garages beneath Rodeo Drive, visiting various non-Tesla DC fast-charging stations in a Rivian R1T pickup truck. The outcome was far from uplifting, as Stern encountered problems at a disheartening 13 out of the 30 stations surveyed, surpassing the 40 percent issue rate. She aptly summed up the situation with an exasperated “Oof.”
These issues, which Stern encountered during her testing odyssey, can be categorized into three primary areas, each not only hindering the charging experience but also underscoring the challenges that the EV industry must confront to ensure a smooth transition to electric mobility.
The first issue is a straightforward one: non-operational charging stations. Stern encountered instances where the charging stations were either out of service, displayed signs indicating issues, or featured unresponsive screens. Astonishingly, a staggering 27 percent of the 126 individual Level 3 fast chargers at the surveyed stations were found to be inoperable for various reasons. While some cases might be resolved with a simple technician reset, this offers little solace to EV owners urgently in need of a charge. Moreover, power issues can also force charging units out of service, exacerbating the problem.
Another problem area involves payment rejections. At one station, Stern found herself in a perplexing situation where the credit-card reader repeatedly rejected multiple cards, ultimately demanding “CASH ONLY” for payment. This bizarre and inconvenient situation affected nearly 10 percent of otherwise operational stalls. Various factors contributed to these credit card issues, including integration problems between charging hardware and credit card reader machines, as well as the need to comply with new standards requiring more reliable contactless card readers. The recommended solution, both by Stern and industry operators, is to embrace contactless payment methods like Apple Pay or register with charging apps to facilitate automatic payments.
The third issue revolves around “handshakes” between the charging station and the EV. This technical hiccup occurs due to a timeout in the communication process between the charger and the car. The industry relies on standards like the Combined Charging System (CCS) for most non-Tesla EVs, necessitating a swift and dependable handshake to initiate charging. With various combinations of cars and chargers in use, a software update can disrupt this handshake, rendering the car unchargeable. The proposed solution is for the industry to establish a standardized protocol to avoid these compatibility issues.
While these issues undoubtedly frustrate EV owners and pose a potential roadblock to the growth of the electric vehicle market, they also underscore the necessity for industry-wide cooperation and infrastructure enhancements. Tesla’s announcement of opening its charging network to non-Tesla EVs in 2024 may alleviate some of these problems, but it also presents its own set of challenges related to compatibility and the need for adapters.
Furthermore, the reliability and availability of the charging infrastructure can significantly impact consumer confidence in embracing electric vehicles. These issues aren’t unique to Los Angeles, as similar problems have been reported in other regions, including the Bay Area. In some instances, electric car enthusiasts have found themselves in dire straits searching for charging stations, underscoring the urgent need for nationwide improvements in charging infrastructure.
California’s ambitious goal of banning the sale of internal-combustion cars by 2035 adds urgency to the imperative of addressing these charging infrastructure issues. To achieve this goal and foster widespread EV adoption, the state must prioritize the reliability and accessibility of charging stations. Otherwise, EV drivers may find themselves in a paradoxical situation, driving electric vehicles designed for the future but refueling at charging stations reminiscent of the past—a paradox that may not align with consumers’ expectations and could thwart the state’s green ambitions.
In conclusion, the challenges faced by electric vehicle owners in Los Angeles serve as a stark reminder of the crucial work needed to pave the way for a future dominated by electric mobility. With innovation, collaboration, and a renewed commitment to addressing these infrastructure issues, the EV industry can ensure that the road ahead is smooth, efficient, and sustainable.