As electric vehicle sales in the US grow beyond early adopters and Tesla owners, one of the growing challenges for EV owners is finding compatible and available charging stations — especially on road trips or areas where the owner infrequently travels.
A second key challenge is in minimizing or eliminating the hassles of having to be members of multiple charging networks and establishing different payment processes.
Apps not associated with charging networks like PlugShare, ChargeHub, Chargeway, and others exist to help EV owners plan trips and locate available and compatible charging stations regardless of network. The major charging networks are also working on several interoperability initiatives to improve charging access and payment processing.
The legacy automakers also increasingly recognize that they need to take greater responsibility for “refueling” to ensure a complete and superior customer experience for owners of their electric vehicles. This is not something automakers had to worry about the last 100 years or so, since gas stations became widely available in the US and most regions of the world.
So automakers are forming partnerships with companies like Amazon for home charging installation and listing EV charging installers on their websites, or even coordinating home charging station installation services as part of the purchase process. And in the case of away-from-home charging, automakers are forming their own networks, investing in others, establishing interoperability relationships with charging networks, and enabling simple charger access and payments through their own proprietary apps.
Among US automakers, Ford has its OnePass mobile app and General Motors has its Energy Assist EV charging feature available in the myChevrolet mobile app for the Bolt EV. The app is available on select Apple and Android devices and provides Bolt EV owners access to all Bolt-compatible charging station locations, regardless of the charge point operator. Bolt EV owners using the app can now view more than 40,000 charging stations in North America. According to GM, this now includes access to 30 percent more DC fast chargers compared to 2019, but the company did not share the actual number of DC fast chargers this equates to in 2020.
Energy Assist Feature Enhancements
Today GM announced that it’s adding several enhancements to its Energy Assist feature, first available for Bolt EV customers in 2017. Energy Assist currently enables Bolt EV owners to plan and manage their routes, locate available charging stations, monitor their route, and receive real-time alerts if their range projections change dramatically. Energy Assist is integrated with data from the vehicle, which enables smart planning and accurate charge-time predictions, according to the GM press release.
Energy Assist features are available in the myChevrolet mobile app at no additional cost for 5 years to original Bolt purchasers in the US, Canada, and Mexico. New enhancements of Energy Assist include:
Real-Time Charging Station Availability: The myChevrolet app will now display real-time data from charging networks EVgo (company site here) and ChargePoint (company site here) within Energy Assist, including whether a charging station is available. GM will integrate EV Connect (company site here) network data later in 2020, but would not identify other networks that would be integrated in the future.
According to GM, the real-time data displayed in the myChevrolet mobile app will also be projected onto the infotainment screen via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Payment: Bolt owners can now link their EVgo account to activate and pay for charging sessions directly from the myChevrolet mobile app. All of the stations with a compatible port for the Bolt EV are covered and are noted within the myChevrolet mobile app. According to Kelly Helfrich, Manager, EV Charging and Infrastructure, GM will continue to add eligible charging stations throughout 2020.
Owner Reviews and Ratings of Stations: Coming in early 2020, Bolt EV owners will be able to review and rate charging stations within the myChevrolet app. This feature will enable Bolt EV owners to share their insights about charging stations by providing a star rating and leaving comments about the station.
GM will ensure that the charge point operators (CPOs) have visibility into the crowdsourced reviews and ratings. “We want the customer reviews and ratings to be provided to the CPOs so any feedback can be incorporated to ensure the most optimal charging experience,” according to Kelly Helfrich, Manager, EV Charging and Infrastructure.
Preference Settings: Users can set various filters in Energy Assist to ensure their route is planned to their preferences, including charger type, network, and charger availability. When a charging station is included in an energy plan, GM says the app tries to make the stop to be as short as possible. “The user can modify the stopping time and the app will calculate in real-time the impact on the entire route,” according to Helfrich.
Without doing a detailed feature-by-feature comparison, it appears that the Energy Assist feature has many, but not all, of the same capabilities as an app like PlugShare and apps from the charging networks. But according to Helfrich, “The intent of Energy Assist is to eliminate the need for the customer to have to download and manage several apps.”
And that quote explains the key value proposition automakers are trying to achieve with their own mobile apps. They’ve recognized that unlike the simple and well understood gas station experience that drivers of gas- and diesel-powered vehicles have, the EV charging experience can be confusing and complex, especially for new EV owners or those who infrequently charge away from home.
While we need automakers to produce many more new EV models sooner rather than later, it is a positive sign to see OEMs like GM working to simplify and improve the charging experience for its EV owners.
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