A Month of Relying on Public EV Chargers in the Midwest Revealed Serious Hardships
In short, EV ownership in the Midwest for an apartment dweller with no home charging, is very hard.
My first multi-car Midwestern EV test is over, y’all. After many weeks and over 2,500 miles all-electric miles driven over Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, I learned a lot about what EVs can and can’t do, plus, what they’re like to live with when you don’t have home charging.
The point of the EV Explorer series was to get a big sample of real-world experience with a few different electric cars in a place that’s not New York or Los Angeles. In other words — outside where most EV reviews seem to come from. We wanted to find out what life with an EV is like in 2022 as a renter rather than a homeowner, and demystify electric cars in general along the way.
We’re not done testing electric cars altogether, but now that we’ve made it through the first real phase of the EV Explorer series, we wanted to round up what we’ve learned so far in one place.
From the outset of our test, I wasn’t sure how accommodating the charging infrastructure in the greater Columbus area would be. The maps look both more impressive, but less impressive on paper, but at that time I had never drive an electric car for more than a few minutes. I learned later in the test that the Columbus chagring network is in fact, very limited, especially for DC fast charging options.
First to bat, Hyundai lent us a 2022 Kona Electric to help evaluate midwest charging infrastructure. The Kona was not designed to be fully electric from its inception, yet its EV downsides were minimal. Barring the mediocre heater HVAC performance, the Kona Electric is a solid normal-feeling EV crossover. There’s nothing wrong with normal.
“This might be in the running for the best headline for 2021,” wrote bossman Patrick George, on Twitter. That’s a feather in my cap, and completely true — the Polestar has the air of a Sonos soundbar on wheels, or a four-figure credenza in the foyer of a newly built townhouse. Delightfully bourgie, entertaining to drive, the future of EV luxury sedans looks promising if they turn out as nicely as the Polestar 2.
I’m a natural contrarian, and I didn’t want to go along with the flow of other auto journalists who didn’t like the VW ID.4; I was convinced that the car probably isn’t all that bad. Unfortunately, they’re right. The ID.4 has a crummy, frustrating interface, mediocre efficiency, and awkward braking performance. Still, it’s very spacious and was good at charging, so there’s that.
We get it, some of you don’t think the Mach-E is a “real Mustang”, whatever the hell that means. I, and most other consumers do not care. Ignore the haters, and you’ll find a very competent electric crossover (really, station wagon), that imbues the Mustang spirit. Out of all the cars, it was my favorite. I wish the last 20% of charging was faster, though.
You can’t say “electric car” without Tesla. The Model 3 is the best BMW 3-Series that BMW never built. Sure, the door handles, infotainment and fan club could be intolerable to some (many, actually), but this Tesla’s sublime driving dynamics may be enough to win you over. Was the Supercharger network really that much superior to everyone else? I’m not convinced, as there are only three in the Columbus area. They worked fine, but at least in my circumstances, I don’t know if there were enough locations to truly make a difference.
MPGe is a hard-to-follow metric that has very little utility for the average EV driver. Sure, EVs are mechanically more efficient than any fuel-powered car, but MPGe doesn’t parse that out in any particularly helpful way. This article demystifies MPGe, gives more insight into vehicle range and charging losses, and proposes an alternative to MPGe that makes more sense to EV drivers; miles per kWh.
Home charging really is the backbone of cheap EV motoring. Without it, running an EV often isn’t that much cheaper (if cheaper at all) than refueling and driving any fuel-powered car. Here, I chat with a few local EV concern groups, power companies, and look at some hard data to see why the hell EVs cost me so much money to run.
Okay, what do we do when charging stations do break? Nothing, I guess. There aren’t really any standardized mechanisms in place to ensure that charging stations remain functional, everywhere. DC fast-charging stations are expensive to run and often offer little financial return. Will we fix this? Hopefully.
I’ve got to keep it real here; driving an electric car on a road trip around the midwest, sucked. EV road-tripping requires planning and foresight, but unfortunately, a lack of infrastructure or poorly maintained infrastructure meant that I almost got stranded in the Polestar 2 and Volkswagen ID.4.
I took the Hyundai Kona Electric apartment shopping and quickly learned there’s no easy way to find a reasonably priced apartment that offers EV home charging. Public charging options in two Columbus suburbs were also lacking, and there’s no way to search for apartment complexes that offer on-site charging.
Charging an EV takes valuable, precious time. What time is worth, varies from person to person. The time spent waiting for an electric car to charge is negligible. For others, it is an impossible sacrifice.
So, what did we learn?
My goal with this series was never to moralize you into setting your gas truck on fire and buying an electric car. I just wanted to give a real, open, and earnest look at what EV ownership would look like in a place that doesn’t have it. Automakers are increasingly electrifying, but the infrastructure to do so, is lagging. There’s an awful, reductionist tendency to distill all EV skepticism as mere instruments of gas and oil propaganda. That is a baby-brained take. Electric vehicle ownership is far more nuanced, and complicated than it appears on its surface; people have the right to be a little concerned that they’re being asked fundamentally change the way they use their cars, but with little concessions.
I get it, though — from one perspective, electric cars are worse. They cost more, don’t go as far, and take hours to recharge. They require infrastructure that flat out doesn’t exist in non-high earning areas. It’s scary.
I am less EV pragmatic now than I was at the start of the test; I learned that most EVs are sharp driving, perfectly pleasant appliances that can do a lot more than you think. The Mustang Mach E and Polestar 2 are some of my favorite automotive experiences I’ve had to date. There’s nothing wrong with any of these electric vehicles, at least capability-wise.
If you have access to home charging, or at work free (or very cheap) charging, or some semi-dedicated space where you can charge your vehicle, then an electric car could absolutely work for you. If you don’t, then well, going electric might not be a very good idea.
Anyways, this is the end of our little Midwest EV test, but don’t worry, I’ll still be critiquing and chatting about all things electric, and automotive. The next chapter of the EV Explorer series will be about, well, that depends on where electric propulsion tech goes next.
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