When it comes to buying an electric car today, there’s a massive choice of different makes and models to choose from. Most now come complete with either DC quick charging capabilities as standard, or at least offer DC quick charging as an optional extra at the point of ordering.
Be it Nissan’s LEAF, the Tesla Model S, or the BMW i3, rapid charging (CHAdeMO, Supercharger and CCS respectively for each of the models just listed) can make longer-distance zero-emission trips practical and pleasant, recharging your car’s battery pack from empty to 80 percent full in well under an hour — or in the case of the Tesla Model S, adding enough range for you to travel more than 100 miles in the time it takes you to grab a coffee and nip to the restroom.
So when we heard that the upcoming 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV would include CCS quick charging as an optional extra when it launches in October this year, we expected parent company General Motors to follow in the tire tracks of Tesla, Nissan, BMW and Volkswagen in announcing an investment in public quick charging infrastructure.
But as our friends over at GreenCarReports detailed earlier today, GM might be interested in bringing an affordable, 200-mile electric car to market in double quick time, but it won’t be spending a dime on improving the CCS quick charging infrastructure the Chevy Bolt EV will need to make trips longer than 200 miles a practical reality.
“We are not actively working on providing infrastructure [for the Bolt EV],” said GM CEO Mary Barra at a press Q&A session at this week’s Detroit Auto Show, giving a swift (and some would say brutal) response to GCR’s question of how GM planned on supporting Bolt EV drivers who wanted to make trips beyond the 70- to 100-mile radius of their home.
While the Chevrolet Bolt EV has an impressive 60 kilowatt-hour advanced nickel-rich lithium-ion battery pack which GM says should be good for an EPA range in excess of 200-miles per charge, the Bolt EV comes with just a 7.2 kilowatt on-board charger as standard. Quick charging capability via an SAE CCS socket will likely be standard on higher-trim models and an optional extra for lower-trim models.
As we noted on Monday, the Chevrolet Bolt EV’s CCS quick charging port will only charge at 50 kilowatts, meaning 90 miles (just under half a charge) is possible in 30 minutes at a public CCS charger. While the CCS quick charging standard can technically offer faster charge rates of up to 150 kilowatts, it seems that GM has decided to stick with 50 kW since that’s what the majority of CCS charging stations in the wild use today.
But while we conceded on Monday that we understood the logic behind the limited 50 kW quick charging on the Bolt EV, we’ll admit we’re more than a little foxed by the decision by GM not to invest in public charging infrastructure. Because as other companies already know, the best way to increase public electric car charging infrastructure is to invest in it.
Of course, Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] has been investing in its own Supercharger network since the day its Model S luxury electric sedan was launched back in 2012. Nissan meanwhile, has been working alongside infrastructure providers to increase the numbers of CHAdeMO DC quick charging stations available to its customers around the world, while BMW and VW have carried out similar investments (in smaller volumes, admittedly) into CCS quick charging.
Thanks in part to Nissan’s investment in public charging infrastructure and the head-start its chosen CHAdeMO DC quick charge standard had on CCS in the public charging marketplace, there are now more than 1,500 CHAdeMO DC quick charging stations in North America. At current estimates, there are less than 200 CCS quick charging stations, most of which are located in key market areas like California, Colorado, and the Northeast coast of the U.S.
Even Detroit, the spiritual home of GM, has just one lowly CCS quick charger according to PlugShare.
And that poses a major problem, because without suitable CCS quick charging infrastructure across the U.S., the Chevrolet Bolt EV is just as crippled as any other electric car when it comes to long-distance trips: despite a nationwide launch plan, the Bolt EV will only make sense in markets where there’s plenty of CCS quick charging.
At the current time, despite the best efforts of BMW and to a lesser extend Volkswagen, deployment of CCS charging infrastructure is about two years behind CHADeMO charging infrastructure. While Nissan LEAF and Kia Soul EV drivers can travel between certain major cities on the U.S. West Coast, for example, those with CCS-compatible cars are still struggling to get out of the suburbs.
Without a suitable quick charging network to back its long-range Bolt EV up, GM risks losing the market advantage it will gain from being the first to bring a sub-$35,000 long-range, 200-mile electric car to market. And while it may have a year (or possibly two) to rectify this problem before the Tesla Model 3 launches, Nissan’s next-generation LEAF — which is also expected to have a 200+ mile range — will likely launch in late 2017.
And if that happens, GM’s electric car revolution could be very subdued indeed.
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