Charging an EV can turn into a kind of performance, which is why General Motors is trying to make finding and using a DC fast charger easier. And it’s for regular-person EVs like the Chevy Bolt, as well as ultra-premium cars like the Hummer EV.
If you’ve never had responsibility for charging an electric car you might think, “Oh hey, rock up to a charger and plug it in.” That’s not really the case. Outside of the Tesla supercharger network, it’s all a bit like anything is these days: depending on the charger, you have to find it on an app like ZapMap that covers all chargers, hope it’s free and working, and then use an app-specific to that charger to get yourself clocked in to pay for it. You might have to swipe a card or use a login, you have to hope that the interface on the charger is working as well as the cable and that you can get a signal, it’s a whole lot more involved than is ideal.
For GM customers it could get a bit easier, though. It’s rolling out a program called Plug and Charge where all you do is take your GM because that’s DC, fast-charging capable to an EVgo (more networks will be added, they told me) charger, plug it in and that’s it. The juice will flow. You sign up once for an EVgo account and pay the regular price per kWh, there’s no messing around after that—the car just does its thing.
GM’s manager of EV charging experience, Tommy Doran, told me that it works because the charger recognizes your car. “There’s a unique identifier on every vehicle. So when you connect the cable, that DC cable acts as a data transmission cable and the car shares its ID, the charger also shares its ID and we do a little bit of magic behind the scenes to tell the charging station that it’s what it’s supposed to be and it’s ready to be charged.”
Neat, no more messing around with apps. And the good news is GM is also working to address charger functionality. Hoss Hassani, GM’s vice president of EV ecosystem, told me that along with the Ultium chargers that GM is rolling out itself, partnerships like the one with EVgo have conditions around maintenance and making sure that if you arrive at a charger you’ll get to charge as much as you want and at the speed you expect. Especially for Hummer, Silverado and Lyriq customers, who will be looking to fill much bigger batteries than people with Bolts, there’s a need for fast charging stations that predictably and reliably charge those batteries.
As a weirdo European I’ve been fascinated to find out you guys have the charging cables built into the charge stations, instead of bringing your own to attach. That means the cables are going through more cycles of charging and getting more degradation because fast charging is a major heat stressor to the cable.
For 350kW charging that’s not a choice, though. That cable needs to be attached to the charger and it’s heavy. Cooling elements mean just lugging the cable is a manual task, which doesn’t suit all or maybe even most customers’ needs, even though everyone wants that sweet, fast charging.
“There’s a lot of work to figure out how to make that not just for the mainstream customer, but as you think about folks who are accessibility challenged and so forth, to make sure that using a heavy charging cable is viable,” Hossani said. “A whole lot of work going on the engineering of the materials and the connection points and all the rest and including exploration work that we’re doing as well.”
Doran and Hassani were clear that GM gets how big a barrier to EV adoption the sucky experience of charging is and it’s trying to address it. Like everything to do with the infrastructure, it’s a chicken-and-egg situation for now (you need EVs to justify EV chargers, you need EV chargers to justify EVs) but actively working to make it better will help.
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