In many ways, EV drivers can use as much infrastructure as we can get. Even with current drivers, there are many places that need more charging stations, and when we consider all of the coming future growth, it’s hard to argue that it’s even possible right now to build too many charging stalls. But, seeing a new marker show up on Plugshare and other EV charger maps doesn’t always mean the same thing.
While you can count on company-owned networks like Electrify America or Tesla Superchargers to be open 24/7, the same isn’t true for all stations. In some cases, the property owner only allows people on their parking lots during business hours, among other things (like seasonal businesses). And, the businesses that are most likely to close you out are automotive dealers.
Really, the situation isn’t the auto dealer’s fault. The point of installing EV charging at a dealer isn’t to provide essential charging to the public as much as to take care of the dealer’s charging needs. That they allow the public to use the charger is really a public service they’re providing. But, for now, the only EV charging in many towns and along many routes is at automotive dealers, and as more infrastructure comes online, people won’t depend on dealer charging nearly as much.
This having been said, I’ve seen several car dealers who went the extra mile to help people out. In some cases, they put the EV chargers on a corner of the lot that remains open at night and on days the dealer is closed. The rest of the lot is closed off to protect against theft, but it’s possible to both guard against theft and allow a small part of the lot to be behind different gates.
But, in a recent post I saw on Twitter from Out of Spec’s Kyle Conner, I saw how this kind of arrangement can go horribly wrong.
This is really cool! @friendlychevy EV HQ charging park.
The only problem – it’s closed on Sundays
— Kyle Conner (@itskyleconner) March 26, 2023
In the video, you can see that the Friendly Chevrolet in Dallas went to much greater lengths to create a charging station on their property (and I’m very much impressed with this). They not only put in four decent DC fast charging stations, but they installed canopies over them to keep EV drivers in the shade and out of the rain. They did a nice landscaping job, installed a gate that could be opened to the road without opening up the lot to theft, installed some large and nice-looking “EV HQ” signage, and even have a spot for an attendant to sit in the shade between helping drivers charge their cars.
So, yes, it’s extremely impressive.
But, there was just one problem: the gates were all closed up when Kyle went to review this new station. In Texas, automotive dealers have to close up on weekends, but the lot that was designed to be open just for charging during non-business hours had also been closed up. Given how much they’ve invested in the “EV HQ,” it’s super strange to just close it up on Sundays.
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This is a very extreme example of the problem I wanted to discuss in this article. The phenomenon of closed up charging stations on Sundays and after business hours is something we see all over the United States. For new EV drivers who don’t know to double check the business hours of chargers their preferred route planning software suggests, it can be a great way to get stranded in a small town that might not even have Level 2 charging. So, it’s an issue that we need to think about improving.
How We Can Go About Fixing This Issue
The obvious #1 way to fix this issue is something I talked about above. We need to build out enough infrastructure that people don’t rely on a dealer’s charging stations. Dealers definitely need to have charging stations, but every town along every highway should have at least two charging options, if not more. That way, when the dealer is closed, nobody gets stranded. But, we’re a long way from accomplishing that. Many towns don’t even have one charging option other than Level 2 overnight at an RV park.
The next best thing is to work with dealers to make sure no more weird charging installs go in. It makes no sense for auto dealers to spend big money to open a charging station to the public only to close it off at night. So, if you’re a dealer and you’re reading this, and you haven’t put in EV charging yet, try to plan ahead better. A setup like that in the video embedded above is a great option, but you don’t need to get that fancy. Just putting the charger closer to the street and leaving a small space outside the fence with the charger is just as good for night and weekend charging.
For dealers who have already put a charging station way behind the fence with no easy way to reconfigure the lot, it’s going to be more complicated. It might be easiest to relocate the charging station, but that’s a huge expense. In those cases, it might be good to find a way to provide night access to that part of the lot with some form of monitoring and permission.
Finally, it might just be best to not spend money installing Level 3 charging at dealers at all, at least if the goal is to make them accessible to the public. For most dealers, Level 2 charging is more than enough to handle their needs, and there are slow ~25 kW Level 3 stations that probably do the job. Instead, dealers should consider partnering with a nearby business to host faster chargers. Not only does this still give the dealer access to charging, but it could give the customer access to things like restrooms at night, along with drinks and snacks.
For automotive manufacturers which require dealers to get Level 3 charging, it’s probably a good idea to allow for these sorts of partnerships instead of requiring the charging to be on the dealer’s lot, and it might even be a good idea to require 24/7 access whenever possible.
Featured image: a charging station at a dealer. Image by Jennifer Sensiba.
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