Electrify America Just Made Electric-Vehicle Charging a Lot More Confusing

Which is faster, hyper or ultra?

Moveable explores the future of transportation, infrastructure, energy, and cities.

In an effort to make electric vehicle (EV) charging less confusing, leading EV charging company Electrify America has introduced a new charger labeling system that makes it even more confusing. It requires drivers to intuit whether “hyper” or “ultra” chargers are faster. This is, apparently, better than the previous system, which was to determine whether 350 or 150 is a bigger number.

Electrify America announced all this in a recent press release along with an accompanying white paper. In the announcement, EA states 350 kilowatt chargers will now be known as “Hyper-Fast” while 150 kilowatt chargers will be called “Ultra-Fast” as part of “an effort to simplify the charging experience for both new and existing electric vehicle (EV) customers.” They are doing this, according to the white paper, after extensive focus group and survey research which “revealed that one of the most significant pain points expressed by EV drivers is confusion over the differences between charging speeds and the charging capacity of their vehicles” because there is no industry-wide definition of fast charging. 

Advertisement

The white paper explicitly states that EA modeled the new charger labeling after gas stations with the traditional unleaded, premium, and diesel fuel types, because those are “simple for drivers to select the type of gasoline best suited for their vehicles.”

Of course, charging an EV is not like fueling up a gas car. Broadly speaking, there are three types of plugs in the U.S. and Canada where EA operates, although one, CHAdeMO, is virtually obsolete and only sold on the Nissan LEAF which is being phased out. That leaves just the Tesla plug and the Combined Charging System (CCS) on all other cars. 

Sign up for Motherboard’s daily newsletter for a regular dose of our original reporting, plus behind-the-scenes content about our biggest stories.

It is possible but not common for Teslas to use third-party fast chargers like EA, where they would at the very least require an adapter not sold in the U.S. So Teslas almost always charge from the more prevalent and much better Tesla Supercharger network (access to the Supercharger network is one of, if not the, biggest selling points of owning a Tesla). 

This sounds confusing, but the upshot is not: If you have a Tesla, EA basically doesn’t need to exist for you and none of this matters. And if you have a non-Tesla EV, you can use an EA charger. Even for LEAF owners, nearly all stations still have at least one CHAdeMO plug.

Advertisement

Charging speeds are even simpler. The bigger the number, the faster it can charge. The number on the charger is the theoretical maximum speed at which it can charge. EVs vary on how fast their cars can charge. Some, like the Chevy Bolt, top off at 50 kilowatts. Others like the Ford Mach-E and Volkswagen ID.4 have max speeds of 150 kilowatts. And a few like the Kia EV6 and Porsche Taycan can take advantage of 350 kilowatt chargers. Nothing bad happens if you plug, say, a Bolt into a 350 kilowatt charger, it will just max out at around 50 kilowatts and potentially annoy anyone with an EV that can charge faster waiting to use it. 

That’s it. It is not complicated, but it is also very different from pumping gas. One does not pull up to a fast charger and select the charging speed they desire like they do with fuel type. Each charger has its own maximum and will charge as fast as it can. But it also doesn’t really matter what speed charger you pull up to. And insofar as it does, it is no more complicated than comparing gas prices.

In fact, trying to make it sound like pumping gas unnecessarily overcomplicates things. To explain the entire fast charging landscape for all electric cars in North America just took me 300 words, or about a minute to read aloud. If someone was buying one specific EV, it would take even less time to explain that one EV’s charging situation. I know this because I explained it to my 72 year old mom who still struggles with her iPhone when she was considering buying a Bolt. I told her she would be able to use any non-Tesla public charger and any charging speed above 50 kilowatts would make no difference to her. That was it. 

But, if EA’s extensive public research is to be believed, that is not the case for the vast majority of the American public. Instead, EA has determined that North Americans struggle with these concepts of numbers and must instead be replaced with words. Even words that are basically synonyms are, according to EA, less confusing than numbers. Now, EV owners must remember which is more, hyper or ultra.

For all of the problems with the U.S.’s electric vehicle charging network—they are expensive to build, profoundly unreliable chargers and charging speeds, constant network interruptions, annoying payment systems, and spotty coverage outside of a handful of dense urban areas—I never considered that the question “is 350 more than 150?” could possibly register as a barrier to EV adoption. Either EA made a baffling decision or this whole electric car thing is going to be a lot harder than I imagined. 

Tagged:

ev charging, Electrify America, Moveable

More
like this
New York City Has to Install EV Chargers and It’s Going to Be a Mess
27% of Electric Vehicle Fast Chargers in the Bay Area Don’t Work, Study Finds
Big Truck-Stop Lobby a Huge Roadblock for Rural Electric-Vehicle Chargers
BMW Wants to Charge for Heated Seats. These Grey Market Hackers Will Fix That.
The Government Said Your Electric Vehicle Can’t Sound Like, Say, Fart Noises
Copper Thieves Are Cutting Electric Car Charging Cables and Stealing Them
The USPS Underestimated the Benefit of Going Electric, Study Shows
The Manchin Climate Compromise Doubles Down on Car Culture