A Top-Notch EV Fast-Charging Station Mirrors the Qualities of a Superior Gas Station

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A Top-Notch EV Fast-Charging Station Mirrors the Qualities of a Superior Gas Station

Despite the advancements in electric vehicles, the charging experience leaves much to be desired. Far from the idyllic vision of enjoying quick snacks and gourmet drinks while waiting, EV owners are more likely to encounter long queues, malfunctioning stations, compatibility headaches, and a maze of payment applications. Moreover, these charging stations are often relegated to less desirable locations, such as the far corners of mall parking lots or isolated urban areas, where dealing with an unreliable charger becomes an added frustration.

However, it’s undeniable that any additional charging option is a boon to the current inadequate infrastructure, signaling a growing recognition that EV drivers are in dire need of a more reliable and convenient charging solution.

During an unexpected road trip in a Hyundai Ioniq 5, I discovered a significant step forward in addressing these issues: a new GM-branded Ultium DC fast charger at a Flying J truck stop, marking one of the first installations of its kind.

The charging experience wasn’t perfect but definitely surpassed many other DC fast-charging options I’ve tried. Experts suggest that replicating a gas station-like environment could enhance our DC fast-charging network.

Automakers realize that waiting alone in a deserted lot for an EV to charge isn’t appealing. Recognizing that electric cars and their drivers have needs, efforts are being made to create a fuller charging experience.

Supporting this shift, AutoPacific’s recent study indicates that EV drivers seek basic gas station amenities at charging sites, like windshield wash stations, air pumps, or even car washes, noting the lack of shelter at many charging stations as a drawback.

Being located at a truck stop, the GM Ultium charging station offers more than the typical charging spot, with access to an air station, convenience store, and a Denny’s nearby, offering a more convenient and comfortable experience compared to other locations.

The charging stations, with a 350 kW rating, promise swift charging times, especially for vehicles like the Ioniq 5, which can utilize speeds over 200 kW. Designed with convenience in mind, the stations are positioned sideways next to drive-through spaces, making them accessible for all EVs, including those pulling trailers. A canopy offers some protection from the weather, mirroring the comforts we’ve come to expect at traditional gas stations.

However, the question arises: do these similarities to gas station amenities significantly improve the EV charging experience? Not quite.

Amaiya Khardenavis, an EV Charging Analyst at Wood Mackenzie, emphasizes that reliability is just the start. The overall experience matters, as drivers will spend 30 to 45 minutes at these locations. Expectations include not only basic needs like clean restrooms but also additional services like food, convenience stores, or lounges with WiFi.

The Flying J’s I visited wasn’t the most appealing, with its outdated and lackluster appearance. It offered the basics for a quick stop but wasn’t a place to linger. My visit to the attached Denny’s for breakfast was mediocre, reinforcing my long-standing preference for other diner chains over Denny’s for better quality dining options.

Despite some hitches, the charging station functioned. Arriving with a 16% battery, my charge initially hovered around 78 kW, then increased to 175 kW, before dropping to 125 kW. Although these 350 kW chargers are designed for quick charging, the presence of another EV—due to one charger being out of order—meant we had to share the capacity, affecting the speed.

This slight delay extended my stay at the less-than-ideal Flying J’s longer than anticipated. It wasn’t just about charging; it was also about how to spend that waiting time. Opting for a meal at Denny’s over hanging around the convenience store or staying in my car, I found the experience lackluster.

Yet, this scenario underscores a broader point about EV charging infrastructure. It’s not solely about the functionality of the chargers but also about the surrounding environment where drivers spend their time during charging. For EV charging networks to thrive, they must offer a pleasant and convenient setting, not just a technical solution. My hope is that future implementations can refine this concept for a better overall experience.

Khardenavis points out that the key to financial success for public EV charging stations may not lie in the charging service itself but in ancillary sales. “The real revenue potential is in leveraging store purchases while people wait for their EVs to charge,” he explained. According to him, some locations see as much as 60% of their profits coming from convenience store sales rather than direct charging fees.

However, Khardenavis also conceded that my less-than-stellar experience might not be reflective of the entire charging infrastructure’s future. He highlighted that there are examples of well-executed partnerships between gas stations and EV charging services, such as the collaboration between Mercedes-Benz and Buc-ee’s, which point towards a more promising and well-maintained charging ecosystem.

Buc-ee’s, a favorite for road trippers in Texas and now beyond, stands out from typical gas stations. Known for its own branded merchandise and house-made delicacies like barbequed brisket, Buc-ee’s represents a significant departure from the usual gas station fare of hot dogs and nachos. It’s not just Buc-ee’s that’s redefining the convenience store model; chains like Sheetz, Wawa, and 7/11 are also thriving by focusing on unique food offerings and a superior customer experience rather than fuel sales.

Khardenavis highlights a gap in the current approach to EV charging infrastructure, noting that the emphasis has largely been on functional aspects like charger reliability and strategic placement rather than on customer service. However, as the industry evolves, successful EV charging stations may need to adopt a dual focus. Emulating the model of successful gas stations, which prioritize customer experience alongside their core offerings, could be key to becoming profitable in the EV charging space.

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