Has the EV landscape gotten any better in the past year?
A little under a year ago, we set out to learn what it was like to own an electric vehicle while living in an apartment without access to at-home charging. As we quickly found out, the harsh reality is that driving an EV is quite inconvenient unless you own your own home with access to its own plug. Of course, some areas are more well-equipped than others, and massive investments are being made to improve the charging infrastructure in the US. So almost a year on from our original test, is it any easier to live with an EV if you don't have a house?
To find out, we borrowed another electric vehicle, this time a 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5. Our tester was the dual-motor version with a 256-mile range and quick charging capabilities up to 235 kW. On a quick enough plug, the Ioniq 5 can charge from 10 to 80 percent battery in just 18 minutes. As we learned though, this isn't always a convenient option.
Where I live in Orlando, there are fewer public charging stations than a more EV-conscious city such as Los Angeles. From my apartment building, there are only a handful of DC fast chargers within a 15-mile radius and only one Electrify America station that could reach the Hyundai's peak charging speed. Thankfully, there are several Level 2 plugs scattered around the area, though these can only charge at around 6.5 kW speeds. In other words, it would take the Ioniq 5 nearly eight hours to complete the aforementioned 10 to 80 percent charge. That's an impossibly long time to spend waiting at a charging station, but luckily there is an L2 station right across the street from my apartment so I could plug in, then walk back home to work during the day.
Our closest charger across the street is operated by Greenlots, which was recently rebranded to Shell Recharge Solutions. This is by far our most reliable means to juice up our electric test vehicles, as it only requires a five- to six-minute walk across the street. Unfortunately, one of the two available plugs was not working for the entire week of our test. We've reviewed a few EVs between our last big test and now, and can confirm this plug has been inoperable for more than a few weeks. A Shell Recharge representative told us over the phone that "a work order had been placed," but could not confirm when that order would be fulfilled. Based on how long we know the plug's been broken, it seems like a low priority.
On several occasions, we drove across the street only to find the lone working plug taken up by another EV, or worse, a PHEV that could easily do without the charge. Not all was lost though, as there are two more Shell chargers positioned outside of my mother's neighborhood that were completely free to use. We say "were" because in the time since our last test, these plugs now cost money to use. Somehow in the past year, our reliable Greenlots stations have become worse.
Because the nearest Electrify America station is nearly 20 miles and a one-hour round trip away, we rarely use it when we review new EVs despite it offering the fastest 350 kW plugs. Over the weekend though, we happened to be driving past the Florida Mall where the EA station is located to take a peak at the new Rivian R1T, which had been delivered at the local fulfillment center. We've never had trouble finding a plug at this EA location, but the Florida Mall was completely mobbed on a Saturday and the number of available EVs has ballooned since our last test.
Every single plug was occupied with a wide range of cars including a Chevrolet Bolt, Jaguar I-Pace, Kia EV6, another Hyundai Ioniq 5, Volkswagen ID.4, and a Porsche Taycan waiting for an open stall. Since we weren't in desperate need of a charge, we decided to simply drive home and rely on the slow (but convenient) Shell L2 station.
Though our local Shell charger bore the bulk of the charging duties during our time with the Ioniq 5, it's not the only local charger we used. We drove to the local AAA location because we knew it was within walking distance of a Moe's Southwest Grill. But when we arrived, the charger was no longer there. Isn't the number of chargers supposed to grow, not shrink? A quick search online revealed that a new ChargePoint charging station at a bank just came online catty-corner from the AAA.
While finding a new charger wasn't difficult, this situation underscores a key difference with EV ownership. Most drivers remember where the local chargers are in the same way they'd remember a gas station location. If that location suddenly changes without any announcement, you may waste valuable range driving to a charger that's no longer there.
We got lucky because this bank was across from a lovely Mexican restaurant for lunch and a grocery store for a quick shop. Otherwise, we don't know what we'd do at the bank while the car charged. EA says it wants to build stations that are destinations on their own, but no such location exists in Orlando.
Our stop at the ChargePoint location revealed another interesting element to EV ownership: bad etiquette. The bank only had two plugs in the parking lot, one of which was occupied by a Tesla Model Y that wasn't plugged in. With the limited reach of the charging cable, this means an incoming EV would not be able to access the second plug with the Tesla blocking it. Sometimes owners will even plug in their vehicle to make it look as though they are charging so they can access a better parking spot. With public EV charging already so limited, it's important to make sure you don't hog a space you aren't using.
Any time we test an EV and complain about public charging infrastructure, the Tesla owners emerge from the woodwork to tell us these problems wouldn't exist with that company's cars. So how would our experiment go if we used a Tesla vehicle rather than the Hyundai? Well, we'd still be able to plug-in at our local Shell L2 plug, but the nearest Supercharger would be less than two miles away at a Wawa gas station, which is far more convenient than EA. Tesla is clearly ahead of the curve with its charging network, but as we've pointed out in previous articles, this Tesla's strategy isn't furthering the overall push towards EVs.
That's because only Tesla vehicles can use the Superchargers, at least here in the US. Tesla is experimenting with opening the network in other countries where it already uses a standard CCS plug, but here in the states, it uses an entirely different proprietary connector. This creates a walled garden effect where Tesla can control every aspect of the experience. It's a great benefit for Tesla drivers, but does nothing to help convince buyers to consider any other EV. Wasn't Musk's goal to democratize the EV?
Nearly a year removed from testing public EV infrastructure, we can report that the situation hasn't improved at all, at least not here in Orlando. Elsewhere in the US, charging stations are popping up rapidly, located in convenient locations such as highways to make long-distance EV travel easier. Sadly, local chargers in suburban areas like mine remain few and far between, and the ones that are built are often out of order without any timeframe on repairs.
Our original conclusion still stands; owning an EV without reliable home charging is highly inconvenient. The best part of owning an EV is never visiting a gas station ever again, waking up every morning with a full charge in your garage or driveway. Without that benefit, an EV becomes a harder sell. So if you live in an apartment or house without even an L1 charger, we'd probably recommend getting a conventional hybrid.