Owning an electric vehicle but not having a place to recharge it is just asking for misery, or so you might think. I certainly thought so, until I spent a couple weeks not driving very much in the suburban paradise of Palm Springs, Calif.
The 195-kilometre drive from Los Angeles into the desert drained just over half the battery capacity of the Mercedes-AMG EQE electric sedan. The speedy AMG was on track to beat its modest (by 2023 standards) officially rated range of 362 kilometres, but the fact that our Airbnb in Palm Springs didn’t have an EV charger still triggered a pang of range anxiety.
These words were ringing in my ears: “The least-satisfying aspect of owning an electric vehicle is the availability of public charging stations.” Those are the words of Brent Gruber, J.D. Power’s executive director of global automotive, and lead author of the firm’s 2022 Electric Vehicle Experience (EVX) public-charging study.
For many EV drivers in Canada, relying solely on the hodgepodge of non-Tesla public charging networks usually means downloading a half-dozen apps, creating accounts with log-ins and passwords, then inevitably forgetting them, or arriving to find an out-of-service charger, or that your cellphone has no reception.
Sometimes, yes, charging an EV at a public port is smooth and effortless. Other times, it provides no end of frustration and heartache. The problem is you never quite know what you’re in for.
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In the bougie suburban getaway of Palm Springs, however, there always seemed to be public chargers where and when I needed them. It is an EV owners’ paradise, and glimpse of just how good charging infrastructure can be. Let this be a lesson Canada; Build it and they will come. The Mercedes’ in-car screen showed the locations of public chargers on the map, and it showed how many plugs were available at any given time.
In Palm Springs, a city of 45,000, I counted 27 individual ports offering at least 100-kilowatt DC fast charging. By comparison, in Toronto, a city of three million people, I counted seven such ports. Seven! My quick Google Maps count is by no means definitive, but it doesn’t look good for Canada’s largest city. (To those who will argue 100+ kilowatt fast chargers aren’t needed in cities, well, they are if you don’t have overnight charging at home.)
Not only were fast chargers abundant in Palm Springs, but every charger I visited – in various places downtown, or in supermarket parking lots – offered free parking. The only concession I had to make was to favour grocery stores with EV chargers, which was hardly a concession.
The real reason, however, life was so easy without at-home EV charging is that I simply didn’t drive much.
Think short-distance drivers are a tiny niche? Not true.
In fact, there are millions of drivers in Canada who could cover their typical weekly driving needs in a modern EV, without recharging at home overnight. For those drivers, recharging once or twice a week at a public charger would be enough to keep the motors running.
It varies depending on where you live, but on average, Canadians drive 15,200 kilometres a year. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that works out to 42 kilometres a day or 294 kilometres each week.
If you haven’t looked at EVs in a couple of years, you may be surprised by how much range the more-affordable new models have. The Chevrolet Bolt, Toyota bZ4X and Kia Niro EV all have more than 400 kilometres of range and cost somewhere in the $40,000 range. The $58,000 Kia EV6 Long Range and $59,000 Nissan Ariya Venture+ both have around 500 kilometres of range. Larger, more expensive EVs have 500 to 700.
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Any of those vehicles could comfortably cover the average driver’s 294-kilometre weekly distance with range to spare. If your local supermarket installed a DC fast charger in the parking lot – a big “if,” admittedly – you could fully recharge your EV in less than the time it takes to do a big weekly grocery run.
About 90 per cent of car commuters drive less than an hour to work, according to Statistics Canada data. For those commuters – 11.8 million people – the average one-way distance is 18 kilometres. Even if we round up to 50 kilometres a day to account for various errands – grocery runs, soccer practice – a modern EV with 400 or 500 kilometres of range can comfortably cover the distance with just one big weekly recharge. Even in winter, when the cold weather cuts driving range to 300 or 400 kilometres, you’d be fine.
Longer trips require some planning, but they’re perfectly doable without at-home charging too.
When it came time to return the Mercedes-AMG EQE, I had to take it from Palm Springs back to Los Angeles. The scenic route through Mount San Jacinto State Park is 250 kilometres. The night before the trip, a quick Google Maps search found a nearby supermarket with an Electrify America DC fast charger, which, as it turned out, offered 30 minutes of free charging to Mercedes EV drivers. Half an hour was enough to refill the battery and pick up a few odds and ends from the store.
Obviously, some drivers cover much longer distances. People in Newfoundland and Labrador drive more than most Canadians, 18,100 kilometres a year on average. Across Canada, there are nearly one million drivers whose one-way commutes by car take an hour or more. For many people who drive for work and travel much longer distances, such as tradespeople, travelling salespeople or Uber drivers, they’ll need a place to plug in an EV at home. If you’re one of the millions of short-distance drivers, though, don’t let a lack of home charging be a deal-breaker.
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