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driving concerns

Charging the Volvo XC40 Recharge electric vehicle in Vancouver.Jason Tchir/The Globe and Mail

Given the fact that virtually all of the world drives on the right-hand side of the road – with notable exceptions, including the U.K., India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand – why do EV manufacturers place the charging port on the driver’s side of the car instead of the passenger side? Time and time again, I see long charging cords dangling over the hoods of electric cars to reach the charging port on the driver’s side. Surely there can be no mechanical reason for this. It makes it difficult to access side-of-road charging stations. – Iain, Vancouver

When it comes to placing charging ports on EVs, it’s up to car makers to choose sides.

Transport Canada said there are no rules against putting ports on the driver side, passenger side, front or rear of a battery-electric vehicle (BEV), as long as the car meets all other safety standards.

In Canada and the United States, most car makers, including Ford, Volvo and GM place BEV charging ports on the driver side. In North America, where we drive on the right, that’s the left side when you’re inside the car.

Why charge on the driver side? Most companies didn’t have an immediate answer.

“On our upcoming bZ4X fully-electric BEV, the charging port is on the left [driver side] front fender,” said Romaric Lartilleux, Toyota Canada spokesman. “There is no specific reason for that, but the fact that Japan is a [right-hand drive] market is probably a pretty good [one].”

According to GM, customers prefer the charging port on the driver side because it reminds them to unplug it when they get in the vehicle. But there are car makers, including Nissan, BMW and Audi and Volkswagen, who put their charging ports on the passenger (right) side.

That side is traditionally where most gas-powered German cars put their gas caps – which also varies by company.

Audi’s e-tron SUV and e-tron GT have charging ports on both sides, although just the driver-side port is capable of Level 3 fast charging.

Fast charging can get most EVs’ batteries from nearly empty to 80-per-cent full in 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the speed of the charger.

But Audi’s Q4 e-tron will have just one charging point on the passenger (right) side.

Switching sides?

Several companies couldn’t immediately say whether they switch charging port sides depending on whether it’s a left-hand drive market, like North America, or a right-drive market like the United Kingdom.

BMW said photos of its U.K. EVs show the port on the same side as Europe and North America.

Volkswagen said all its EVs will have a right-side port everywhere in the world. That “places the port on the curb side in most markets,” Volkswagen said.

But Nissan generally switches sides to fit the country where it’s selling.

While the Nissan Leaf’s charging port is in front, the upcoming Nissan Ariya will have it on the passenger side in every market, the company said. That means it will be on the left in the U.K. and Japan and on the right here.

“This way, the plug is always on the sidewalk side of the car when parked,” said Didier Marsaud, Nissan Canada spokesman, in an e-mail.

Other EVs, including the Hyundai Kona electric, also charge from the front.

What about plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)? On some, including Toyota’s RAV4 Prime PHEV, the plug is on the opposite side of the car’s gas cap. For the RAV4, the port is on the (right) passenger side.

On others, including the Volvo XC60 Recharge PHEV, it’s on the same side as the gas cap – the driver side in Volvo’s case – but at the front.

Wrong side of the law?

Why does it matter? Well, if you’re parallel parking at a curbside charger on a two-way street, the passenger side is the closest to the charger.

If you’ve got a driver-side charging port, you might be able to snake the charging cord over or around your car to get to it. But if the cord doesn’t reach, then you’ll have to park facing traffic.

I had to do this recently with a Volvo XC40 recharge at a Level 3 charging station in Vancouver because the cord wouldn’t reach around to the driver side. The only other car parked the wrong way was a Ford Mustang Mach-E at the next charger.

Parking on the wrong side of the street is illegal in much of Canada under local bylaws, provincial rules or both.

But, at least for now, curbside chargers requiring you to parallel park aren’t “really a thing in most of Canada,” BMW said.

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com and put ‘Driving Concerns’ in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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