As we’ve explained before, the future isn’t as bright for CHAdeMO cars as it is for CCS cars. Electrify America isn’t building any new CHAdeMO stations. Infrastructure Bill funds require a station have a minimum of four CCS stations per site, spaced roughly every 50 miles along major highways. Some of these stations will probably include some CHAdeMO plugs, but state governments and their contractors/partners, are not required to put in anything but CCS.
Big fans of CHAdeMO cars will tell you that their charging network is still growing, and that’s true, but it’s not growing at the rate of CCS or Tesla’s plugs. This means that in many places, current stations are all there will ever be, and attrition due to repair costs, disinterest in maintenance, and abandonment will eventually reopen gaps in the network. In other words, the problems faced by CHAdeMO cars today are long-term problems that won’t always be solved by future infrastructure growth.
This was one of several reasons that I switched from a LEAF to a Bolt EUV last year, but just because I’ve personally moved on doesn’t mean everybody wants to do that or has the ability. I think Electrify America and Congress made the right call in not forcing continued CHAdeMO support, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least try to make life easier for people when we can.
One of these long-term problems is that Electrify America only installed one CHAdeMO stall per site back when they were doing CHAdeMO at all. Plus, the lone CHAdeMO plug shares a space with another CCS plug, so it’s not a dedicated spot. When I arrive at an Electrify America station with my Bolt, I can plug in at every stall. If there’s only one stall open, I don’t have to worry about whether it has a compatible plug. But, for the owner of a Nissan LEAF, there’s only one stall that can support their car, so if a CCS car is charging in it, they can’t charge no matter how many empty spaces there are.
Interestingly, this is quite similar to a problem many diesel drivers face. While places like truck stops have a dedicated diesel lane at the pumps, most gas stations only have a few diesel pumps that also have a hose for gasoline. So, if a gas-powered car is already there and there are other gas cars in line, you’ve gotta wait, even if there are other pumps open. Sometimes, diesel drivers take measures to discourage use of the pumps by gas drivers, like putting an “out of order” bag over the gas handle (you can get these on Amazon). There are also stickers you can buy and stick to pumps asking gas car drivers to show some courtesy.
Recently, I came across a post on Facebook (link will not be provided for reasons that will be clear soon) where some LEAF drivers were trying to do the same thing as diesel drivers. Their solution? Put a sticker on the lone CHAdeMO stall at Electrify America stations asking CCS drivers to use another stall when possible.
Here’s what the sticker looks like when placed on an Electrify America station:
Personally, I don’t see a problem here. It’s not a bad looking sticker. It looks professional, and like it belongs on the station. It makes a very polite request, and definitely doesn’t give the appearance that Electrify America is ordering anybody around. The station is still available to CCS drivers, and only asks them to use another stall if available.
But … I asked Electrify America reps what they thought about these stickers, and they’re not happy about it.
“Electrify America does not condone the stickers,” a company representative said. “Charger use is on a first-come, first-served basis. Any placement of unauthorized stickers or other material is considered vandalism since we will have to have them removed and repair any damage.”
When told about this, LEAF drivers I talked to on Facebook told me they figured this would be the response. But they weren’t willing to give Electrify America much benefit of doubt on this. Some said they think EA is messing over CHAdeMO drivers because they didn’t buy a Volkswagen (Volkswagen owns Electrify America), and others think the company is only minimally supporting drivers because Volkswagen was required to build the company as part of the Dieselgate settlement (and they’re only begrudgingly operating a charging network).
I don’t personally think this is true, but I can see why people would feel that way.
What I Think Electrify America Should Do
I’ve stood up for the company a lot in the past. People complain quite a bit about Electrify America online, because its stations often have problems, but I’ve never been stranded by the network. They certainly aren’t as unreliable and untrustworthy as some of the Tesla Stans say they are. I’m not afraid at all to take road trips in a CCS car, and nobody should be.
But I know this wouldn’t be true if I was trying to road trip in an CHAdeMO car (something I have experience with). While a CCS station or two being down wouldn’t strand me in my Bolt, having the only CHAdeMO station go down would strand someone driving a LEAF. They’d either have to spend hours at a Level 2 station or spend the night at a hotel with charging. In some towns, where there’s literally no place else to charge, they might have to sleep in their car at an RV park to make it to the next rapid charger.
Sadly, I see something like “Electrify America is aware of a problem at this station rendering the CHAdeMO station unavailable” a lot on PlugShare. If it’s some urban charging site where the driver can just go somewhere else, it’s not a real problem. However, when Electrify America is literally the only girl in a small town by the interstate, it’s a serious problem for CHAdeMO drivers.
While I’d like to see them add a second CHAdeMO plug to add some redundancy, I know that’s never going to happen. So, Electrify America does need to get more serious about repairing its stations more quickly, especially when it’s only the CHAdeMO plug that’s down.
It would also be a good idea to politely guide drivers to show more courtesy, and this is important for more than just the CHAdeMO stall. People who pull up to an EA station in a Bolt (which can charge at 55 kW maximum) and charge in the 350 kW stalls cause a lot of trouble for people who have faster-charging cars, largely because they’re ignorant and don’t know they’re doing anything discourteous. The same is true for people who block the CHAdeMO plug when other stalls are empty.
I get that Electrify America doesn’t want other people adding stickers to its property, but this is something it should be doing itself already. There should be some guidance on the stalls requesting that people use an appropriate plug for their vehicle.
There should also be some guidance and warnings in the software and app. For example, when there’s another open spot (this is something the software should be able to figure out) and a CCS driver plugs into the CHAdeMO stall, a warning should pop up suggesting that the driver move to another stall if possible. The same should happen when you start a session at a 350 kW stall and your car draws less than 150 kW. The software should ask you to choose a slower stall if it can see that there’s another one available.
This would be a minor inconvenience for some drivers who are accustomed to pulling up to any stall, but it would also be a great way to educate drivers and help them to be more courteous to others.
Finally, there should probably be a better system in place for those times when all the stalls are full. The app should allow you to take a virtual number, or there should be some lines on pavement directing people to wait in line where that’s possible.
The cost of doing things like the above wouldn’t be much, but it would lead to a much better experience for EV drivers as more and more EVs hit the road.
Featured image: My LEAF charging at an Electrify America station in Lordsburg, New Mexico. Image by Jennifer Sensiba.
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