Op-Ed: 600-Mile Chevy Bolt EUV Trip, Charging Disasters/Solutions

How is the non-Tesla charging infrastructure? Should you consider the new Chevrolet Bolt EUV?

We took our brand new 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV on a trip from Ft.Worth to Houston, and then Galveston, and then back to Ft. Worth. About a 600-mile trip, although really more than that since we spent two days in Houston and needed to use public charging a few times.

This isn’t my first EV road trip. I’ve made several before in a Tesla and also a previous 2019 Bolt EV. But this is the most recent and I thought I’d give my opinion of where we are with public charging infrastructure for non-Tesla vehicles.

In total, we used eight different charging stations during our trip. These included Electrify America, EVGo, and Blink. We encountered some sort of problem with seven of these stations ranging from minor to severe annoyances. But fortunately, we were able to charge at all of them eventually.

I’m not going to give you the story of each specific charger, but I’ll give you an example by explaining our first stop in Madisonville, TX. We pulled up to the EA charger only to find it was completely dead. The screen was black, and no sign of life. So, we got back in the car, moved it over to the next stall, and plugged it in.

With this one, the credit card reader wouldn’t work. So, I opened the app only to find I had been logged out since the last time I used it and couldn’t remember my password. So I had to spend several minutes dealing with that issue to finally get logged back in. I was able to start the charge using the app. But for some reason, it was only charging at 30 kW despite being at a low state of charge.

So, after a few minutes, we stopped the charge and tried moving to the next stall. I was unable to activate this one because the app insisted I was still charging at the previous stall and wouldn’t allow me to initiate another charge session. After fighting with that for 10 minutes, I decided to try the credit card reader. Low and behold, that worked and was able to start the charge. This time getting a beautiful 52 kW like we were expecting.

Now, I’d like to say this sort of problem was unique, but we would continue to have these sorts of problems the whole trip, including an EVGo charger that had a broken locking clip on the CCS charge cable, so we basically had to hold it in place for the charge to continue. A blink station with the cable laying in a mess and the touch-screen interface almost unreadable.

So what I wanted to do is essentially just compile a list of the various problems I see with charging infrastructure and how things could be changed to improve it. And while “build more stations” might be at the top of most people’s list. I feel like improvements to reliability may be more important at the moment.

Gallery: 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV

1) There is no need for these fancy 12 inch TFT color LCD touch-screens on these chargers. They look cool, but don’t really add much to the experience. These sort of screens seem to be a main point of failure for a lot of stations. Take a lesson from gas pumps and use simple numeric LCD screens that tell you exactly what you need to know and nothing else, then add real buttons for the controls.

Also, the touch screen on the EA stations we used was very unresponsive. We would click something and sometimes take 10 seconds before it would respond to what we pressed. There were also three physical buttons below, but they didn’t seem to be any better. The UI is way too clunky. I should also add that Tesla Superchargers don’t have screens at all and seem to work just fine.

2) Take another lesson from gas pumps and always have the charging cable suspended from above. While it is true a lot of DC fast chargers already do this, this needs to be the standard at Level-2 stations as well. Almost every time I drive up to an L2 station, the cable is on the ground in a twisted pile of spaghetti.

Expecting the general public to nicely wrap these back up is like expecting them to return their shopping cart to the grocery store. (I always do, but let’s face it, we know a lot of people don’t!) Gas pumps are designed so that it is actually more convenient to place the handle back in its holster than it is to lay it on the ground. Charging stations should be the same.

3) One last lesson from gas pumps – covered parking. And yes, one of the charging stops we made in Huntsville, TX was pouring rain. That was certainly inconvenient standing there dealing with the uncooperative station with sideways rain blowing in at 40 mph.

The bigger concern is the longevity of the stations. I suspect one of the reasons the screens are unreliable is because they are constantly subjected to the hot Texas sun, then thunderstorms, then sun again, etc. While the initial cost may be higher to install canopies over these stations, it may actually save money on repair costs in the long run.

4) If a retail location or workplace is going to offer free Level-2 charging for customers or employees, then just put a “dumb” charger there. Basically the same sort of thing a consumer would put in their garage or on the side of their house.

There is no need to require a customer to have an account with a charge company, swipe the card, and all of that nonsense for a free charge. And seriously, all of that extra stuff that deals with validating the account including the screen, the buttons, the card reader, the cellular data connection, etc. That’s the stuff that always breaks. Stop using these sort of charging stations for free charging!

5) Place the charging stations away from prime parking locations. I’ve noticed EA stations seem to be following this protocol already and I have yet to see one ICED. But so many stations, especially L2 stations, are continuously ICE’d because they place them in the front of the building. Most business owners won’t enforce parking because they don’t want to annoy their customers that drive gas cars. At this point, you might as well not bother to install a station if you plan to put it up close and not enforce the parking.

6) DC fast charge stations should be a “drive-through” design much like gas pumps. And the station should be in the center so that it can reach a front or back charging port. And since it is a “drive-through,” a driver can approach from either direction depending on which side of the car the charging port is on.

In driving our Bolt EV, we found one location where some of the EA stalls were inaccessible to us no matter how we pulled in, meaning of the four stalls, we might have only been able to use two of them. Fortunately nobody else was there, and fortunately the ones we could reach were actually functional. But had there been other cars charging, or had those been broken, we would have been out of luck.

7) All DC fast charge stations should support Tesla charging alongside CCS. Let’s face it, there are more Tesla drivers than any other sort of EV. What might surprise you is, I think this would be a win for everyone, not just Tesla owners. There are three reasons for this.

  • It generates more revenue for the station owner, which helps with maintenance costs and the build-out of new stations.
  • It encourages the business owners around the station to embrace them if they are always busy and bringing in customers.
  • It would essentially solve the problem of the format war and make potential EV customers feel more secure in buying an EV knowing that no matter what kind they have, they can charge it anywhere.

So those are my suggestions of how to improve things going forward. Eventually, when we reach a large enough base of drivers, I think more private businesses will start to install DC fast charging, especially places like Buc-ees or Love’s travel stops. This is the ideal scenario because then the stations won’t actually need to be profitable, as long as they bring in customers to the store (where the real money is made).

Right now I feel like the infrastructure works well enough for EV enthusiasts and tech-savvy people to be able to drive a non-Tesla EV wherever they want. But I think we’re still a few years off from grandma driving her new (non-Tesla) EV across the country.

There’s simply no way the average person would be able or willing to deal with these issues. I know GM is apparently pouring some cash into EVgo. And I also read that Electrify America is about to add a bunch of new stations. I just hope all of these new stations have better reliability and usability.

Check out the related Bolt EUV first drive review video below:

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