Opinion: Without Decent Electric Car Rapid Charging, What Range Is Really Enough?

The whole concept of the car bringing freedom is hard to remove from the collective consciousness. Just look at most conventional car adverts; the blurred or soft focus mountains, the car flying down the open road. People like to think that the car can take them away from all of the drudgery of, to borrow a phrase, ‘their drab, wretched lives’ and out to a world of fashion and excitement. At least, that’s the way they’re still advertised, despite the fact that most of them will spend their lives sat on the M25, or I5, sat in what feels much like a mobile parking lot.

The Chevrolet Bolt EV has an impressive 60 kWh battery pack, but will it be enough without decent DCQC?

The Chevrolet Bolt EV has an impressive 60 kWh battery pack, but will it be enough without decent DCQC?

Although one of the first things that most people learn when they start driving an electric car is how few miles they actually do, the other thing that you rapidly learn is how many more miles than you expect are taken up by errands. If you group these little jobs together; a quick run to the post office, another to a supermarket, and perhaps dropping off your friend’s tablet that they left behind; suddenly you’re way further through your battery than you expect. In many parts of the electric car owners life, a quick plug-in to top up your battery is enough that even with realistic ranges of 60 or so miles, an EV can fill most needs. If that ability to top-up can’t come from plugging in while parked, people use rapid charging to make sure that they’ve enough to make the trips that often even the car’s manufacturers would suggest were impractical.

It’s hard to market people on the open road concept when your range doesn’t really make it into triple figures. So when General Motors’ marketing team were given the gift of selling the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV — a car with a predicted 200 mile range — they must have been pleased. No more the need to demonstrate the polar-bear loving, tree hugging, at home in city streets nature of the shorter range electric car. No, they can go flying down the freeway, slipping down the open road.

Except there’s a tiny fly in the ointment.

CCS is GM's preferred standard for the Bolt EV. But there are few CCS charging stations nationwide.

CCS is GM’s preferred standard for the Bolt EV. But there are few CCS charging stations nationwide.

Whilst in Europe a few manufacturers have thrown their hat in the DC Combo (aka CCS) connector ring and have made appropriate infrastructure investments to back that charging standard up; a quick look at the U.S. EV charging points map quickly reveals a completely different picture. Across the whole of the U.S. landmass there are fewer CCS chargers in total than are in just mainland Europe. There are fairly large numbers of CHAdeMO DC quick charge stations — CCS’s biggest competitor — and of course, there are plenty of Tesla Supercharger sites.

GM could, if it had wished, chosen any of those three standards. But in the U.S., an area so much larger than Europe, GM has opted for the least widespread option, either because that was the standard it agreed upon along with the rest of the mainstream U.S. automotive industry, or because it thought it would be the best. And rather than support the growth of the CCS charge standard as other automakers have done with CCS and CHAdeMO infrastructure investment, GM has said it plans to spend not a dime on improving charging for its customers.

As we’ve personally transitioned back from EV owners to potential EV buyers, we’re evaluating our options on the charging front regularly. The presence or absence of DC Rapid charging is, in our opinion, a deal breaker. The word that springs to mind when examining cars without rapid charging is ‘hobbled’. There are currently scads of compliance cars lurking in the market place which will never leave the city to which they were delivered, because they simply can’t, except on the back of a low-loader.

But add that all important rapid charging plug and the world becomes your oyster. Even our pre-first-generation iMiEV, with a real-world range of around 60 miles on a good day, could tackle ridiculous feats because of the prevalence of quick-charging stations on many of England’s major roads.

Charging stations like these made the short-range i-Miev a reasonable long-distance car.

Charging stations like these made the short-range i-Miev a reasonable long-distance car.

Drive it back from Liverpool to Bristol? Done.

Drive it to remote countryside for a holiday? Done.

Drive half way across the country for a family trip? Done.

Rapid charging makes it possible, even when the car’s on-board range prediction ‘guessometer’ disagrees.

If you’ve got DC Combo charger as your DC rapid charging option, things don’t look quite so rosy. While the UK’s CCS deployment is catching up to CHAdeMO, CCS in the U.S. is woefully under-supported. So it isn’t that surprising that some automakers have followed the path set by Nissan, which has invested in CHAdeMO DC quick charging infrastructure — the standard chosen for both its LEAF and e-NV200 electric cars — across Europe, Asia and North America. By throwing the vast mass of the corporation behind providing a charging network, Nissan proved without a doubt that it was serious about EVs, and in addition made the Nissan Leaf hundreds of times more useful than it was without that convenient place to plug in.

It seems, however, that GM isn’t quite there yet. Although 200 miles is enough that many places where the Bolt EV will be sold will ensure you can get quite far and do quite a lot, it’s still going to feel a niche-market vehicle if you can only realistically travel in a 100-mile radius of your home before having to turn around and head back. More than that, it’s going to lead to a resurgence in the ever popular “where do you plug it in” question; a question that has largely disappeared in much of Europe as charging stations have become increasingly ubiquitous.

As Toyota has recently found out with the 2016 Mirai hydrogen fuel cell sedan, relying on third parties to implement essential refuelling infrastructure ahead of launch is rarely a good idea. Unless the refuelling infrastructure is in place when the car hits the market, the car and its technology will invariably get bad press.

Moreover, as Volkswagen discovered with the e-Golf in Britain, assuming that a car is compatible with a charger because it meets your reading of the standards doesn’t mean that it actually is compatible. The last thing you want to risk is leaving your buyers stranded at the few theoretically compatible chargers that do exist.

You tell us: is 200-miles with limited charging enough?

You tell us: is 200-miles with limited charging enough?

Which raises the question: how much range is enough for an electric car with no or little usable infrastructure for quick charging? Would the Tesla Model S and Model X electric cars have been a success if Tesla had not invested so heavily in its own rapid charging network?

And will the Chevrolet Bolt EV, with its 200-miles of expected range, really be a useful car that sells well if you need to stop every 200 miles for five hours to recharge because there are no CCS charging stations in your area? Probably — but if GM joined in with Nissan, Volkswagen and BMW and committed to funding charging infrastructure deployment that works with its car, it would sell a heck of a lot better.


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  • vdiv

    The really sad part is that according to GM’s own press release on the Bolt EV the DC Combo charging will be optional. Without DC charging capabilities and infrastructure no range is enough because it becomes self-limiting. With 7.2 kW AC charging at home one doesn’t have enough time to fully charge an EV with much over 200 miles overnight (9 hours for the BoltEV). At 25 miles per hour of charging it is not really practical during the trip.

    If 3-phase 43kW AC charging was available it could replace the current crop of DC fast charging, but alas it isn’t in the US and it is rather rare in Europe and elsewhere.

    • Joseph Dubeau

      “With 7.2 kW AC charging at home one doesn’t have enough time to fully charge an EV with much over 200 miles overnight (9 hours for the BoltEV).”

      How often do you drive 200 mile in a day before returning to home?

      • vdiv

        I’ve taken multiday road trips every weekend for the past month that would not have been possible to fit within the weekend without DCFC. Next week I am going on a work-related trip that is over 480 miles one way and we decided to drive rather than deal with regional flights and car rentals. That would also not be possible with L2 charging as we need to be in the office at certain times.

      • …Several times a month? Which is why we didn’t get the Leaf.

        But my car will sit in my driveway between trips a bit longer than overnight.

  • JH

    I think it will be a niche car just as all the other compliance cars it likely will kill off. It could have been a great car but I think we will have to wait until the modell 3 for that.

    • I’m curious as to why people are putting a car they’ve not seen yet above a car which has been specced up and will enter production this year?

      • JH

        A good and valid question indeed. At this point in time the deal breaker is the supercharging infrastructure. If the modell 3 can get that, even as an option, it would be vastly superior to the bolt even if the car in itself is only matching it feature for feature.the car in only half of the job. Gm seems intent of learning this the hard way.

        • Chris O

          Agreed, the car is only half the job and I’m sure half a job will only net a fraction of the sales a complete job would have generated.

          • JH

            I am with you with on that one. This could have been a game changer. I still think it will sell. But it will mostly kill of the current EV complicance car competition. And it wont sell as well as it could have.

      • Chris O

        You definitely have a point that people haven’t actually seen Model 3 yet but it is clear it will come with proper quick charge support. As for the car: it has been described as “3-series competitor” albeit “less conventional “by Tesla. from this I expect a car that’s bigger and has more street cred than a sub compact hatchback like the Bolt, handsome hatch though it might be. If so, the Osborne effect that GM has so effectively wielded against rivals like Leaf will instantly turn against it.

        Just speculation of course, come presentation of the prototype 2 months from now we’ll know more.

      • Ed

        Nikki – You are right on one point: the Bolt is fully tooled and looks nicely finished. I saw it at CES and was very impressed. But, I think folks are saying that while GM has taken a nice step forward, the organizational still has a “compliance car” mentality. Without a charging infrastructure, an electric car is a simple “city runabout.” Why they would so boldly announce their intention NOT to be involved in charging infrastructure is beyond me.
        The Bolt is also styled, some will insist, not to impact sales of the broader Chevy product line. For sure, the Model 3 is a much more exciting car, appearance wise, even if the Bolt may be more practical for many.
        And…not too many months down the road, I expect to see a “wagonish” Model 3 added to the line that will answer the needs of yet another group of buyers.
        Audi, BMW and Mercedes will be compelled to react. Maybe the Japanese, too. And here comes China.
        All of this activity is positive or the EV cause.

  • Chris O

    Tesla shows what sells: high output quick charger supported long range EVs. Bolt is only the long range part, GM just doesn’t have a vision on support infrastructure. That means that Bolt has two problems: not only scant availability of CCS chargers, but what chargers are available only have 50KW of output which will make quick charging a 60KWh battery anything but quick. Maybe enough to sell in compliance numbers but I don’t see any vision beyond that.

    Bolt’s success should be short lived once superseded by Model 3 that does come with proper quick charge support.

    • David Galvan

      Will definitely be interesting to see what happens when Model 3 is available.

  • Richard Glover

    Every vehicle has it’s limitations. If the Bolt is perceived to offer value for money, it will sell.
    The Leaf purchased outright is a short trip, high mileage car and as such is value for money. Nissan have proved with attractive pcp deals it can also be seen as such to low mileage users.
    Where you read range anxiety, think price anxiety.

  • One thing to consider is that DC Rapid charging may be an extra option, and not standard on the Chevy Bolt. This may not be a concern for some, but will be forbidden my one wanting to quickly extend the Bolts range.

    This reminds me of a difference between the Renault Fluence and Nissan
    LEAF … both having similar range (~75 miles in 2011), but one having DC Rapid charge range extending capability.

  • BrianKeez

    DCQC is a requirement regardless of battery capacity. After so many years of driving a LEAF and with so many CHAdeMO chargers in Southern California, I rarely even bother to look for L2 stations. They are only useful if they are installed at my exact destination. If I had a 200 mile range, it would be the same. While 200 miles is a huge improvement, DCQC must be available at least every 50 miles.

    • David Galvan

      Agreed. I also have been driving a Leaf the past 21 months. The fact that there are a decent number of CHAdeMO stations in SoCal means I simply filter out all L2 stations on the plugshare app. I only quick charge maybe a couple times per month on average, but when the presence of the port and the availability of charging stations pretty much eliminates range anxiety.

      CHAdeMO charges the car at 7x-8x the speed of a level 2 charger. I would never consider purchasing a 100% BEV without a QC port.

  • Surya

    I’ll never consider buying an EV without quick charge capability. I use my EV to commute, but also to travel. I don’t have nor do I want a car with an ICE for longer trips. I guess it only would be an option if the car had a 1000km range at highway speeds in winter. I don’t expect to want to travel more than that in a single day. But the car should of course be able to recharge that pack in one night. But I’d rather have a more affordable car with half that range and quick charge capability.