Herbert Diess, CEO of Volkswagen Group, was driving an ID.3 Pro S through Austria to Italy recently, using the Ionity network to recharge his car’s battery along the way. It didn’t go well. For those of you who slept through geography in high school, there are these big bumps in the Earth that separate Italy from Switzerland and Austria called the Alps. The only way to drive over them is via one of the passes, between the peaks.
One such is the nearly mile-high Brenner Pass. Once used by Roman legions on their way to conquer distant lands, today it is home to several shopping malls — and 4 Ionity EV chargers. When Diess got there, however, all the chargers were in use, so he kept going to the Italian town of Trento. That’s when he became completely unraveled, posting in German on LinkedIn,
“No bathroom, no coffee, an out-of-service/broken charging point, a sad state of affairs. It was anything but a premium charging experience, IONITY!”
What is ironic is that Volkswagen is one of the primary investors in Ionity, along with BMW, Daimler, and Ford. The network began several years ago with lots of fanfare and pledges to install 400 ultra-fast chargers by the end of 2020. But the roll out has been slower than expected and the online reviews for the network have been dismal. According to Autoblog, Ionity users have posted many comments online like this one: “The EV charging company that makes ICE cars attractive again.”
People aren’t happy about the prices the network charges, either. One person posted this comment online: “It’s cheaper to burn your empty car and buy a new fully charged one.” Ouch! In the UK, Autocar tried an Ionity charger earlier this year and said the the process went “disastrously.” What does that mean? One unit was broken and it couldn’t get the two that were working to actually charge the car despite being walloped with £134 ($160) in pre-authorization fees.
Overall, Ionity gets an online rating of 1.5 stars out of a possible 5. While that is a pitiful performance for the company, it is a disaster for the push to bring electric cars to market. Nobody wants the hassle of searching for a working charger or having no restroom available while waiting for electrons to flow into their depleted battery.
Joe Biden is right. The EV revolution is absolutely dependent on having a robust infrastructure of chargers available to drivers wherever they may go. People will be less fixated on range if they know they can recharge conveniently whenever necessary. But they may very well opt to skip the EV revolution altogether if horror stories about non-working chargers, dirty or unsafe charging locations, and outrageous fees keep popping up on social media all the time.
The whole sad story makes Elon Musk look like more of a genius for creating the Supercharger network a decade ago. He understood that charging away from home was critical to getting people to buy electric cars and did something about it. Now everyone else is panting along behind, trying to catch up. It will be interesting to see what happens when non-Tesla drivers start having access to the Supercharger network and find out how simple and seamless charging can be. Those other networks are going to suffer big time in comparison.