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EV Owners Frustrated by Public Charging, Says J.D. Power Study

volkswagen-id4-1st-edition-2021-66-angle--blue--charging--exterior--front.jpg 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

The roster of new electric vehicles is growing quickly, but while automakers are going hard on battery-powered cars, the biggest challenge appears to be customer adoption. Even though EV registrations in the U.S. more than doubled in the first half of 2021, EVs still comprised only 2.5% of all new vehicle registrations in the same timeframe, according to Automotive News. A new J.D. Power study signals that public-charging infrastructure (or lack thereof) might be a significant barrier to electric vehicle owner satisfaction.

Related: What Is Level 1, 2, 3 Charging?

The firm’s first U.S. Electric Vehicle Experience Public Charging Study measured satisfaction, among owners of plug-in vehicles, with public charging stations including Level 2 and DC fast charging. The survey questioned 6,647 owners of all-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles from January through June. Satisfaction factors measured include ease of charging, cost, ease of finding the location, location safety, charger availability and more. J.D. Power ranks satisfaction ratings as a score out of 1,000.

The Good News: Public Charging Is Easy

The study found ease of public charging to be the least problematic factor, with a score of 737 for DC fast charging and 716 for Level 2 charging. That’s despite Level 2 charging being significantly slower than fast charging, the latter of which can add 10 or more miles per minute depending on the vehicle and station.

The Bad News: It’s Not Free

Charging costs play a large role in EV owner satisfaction, the study finds. Owners registered a satisfaction score of 706 for free DC fast charging, while those who paid for DC fast charging had a notably lower score (673). When it comes to 240-volt Level 2 charging, the difference is even more pronounced: Free Level 2 charging resulted in a satisfaction score of 668, while the paid charging score tanked to 585.

Sorry — Out of Order

Survey participants who checked in to charge their vehicles but ultimately did not charge were asked via an app why they weren’t able to power up. A total of 13% of respondents were unsuccessful, and the two most common reasons reported were out-of-service chargers (58%) and no charger was available or it was too long of a wait (14%). While 58% may seem high, it aligns with Cars.com’s experience owning two plug-in vehicles and testing scores of others: We’ve encountered our fair share of out-of-service public chargers, including some in our own test-car parking garage.

Overall satisfaction with public chargers comes in at a moderate 668, while it’s 720 for DC fast chargers and 645 for Level 2 charging. The availability of public charging also varies by region. J.D. Power’s West North Central and East North Central regions are above average in charger availability, while West South Central and Mid Atlantic regions fall below average. The firm’s designated Mountain and Pacific regions rank lowest for charger availability.

tesla-model-y-2021-13-angle--black--charging--exterior--front.jpg 2021 Tesla Model Y | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

Tesla Has a Runaway Lead

Not all public charging stations are created equal, according to EV owner satisfaction ratings. For Level 2 charging, Tesla’s Destination network tops the satisfaction scorecard with a rating of 689, followed by Volta at 674 and ChargePoint at 660. Tesla’s Supercharger network also takes the top spot among DC fast chargers, with a score of 733. Though the J.D. Power study doesn’t specify what contributed to respondents’ overall satisfaction, it’s possible payment factors in — both the ease and the amount. Teslas simply connect to public Tesla chargers and are automatically billed, functionality competing manufacturers and the patchwork of other charging networks are pursuing with the Plug & Charge standard. And the second-ranked provider, Volta, is a source of free Level 2 and 30 minutes of free DC charging. ChargePoint is a combination of pay and free stations, depending on each location and owner.

Although Tesla’s charging network is the most popular, it isn’t necessarily the most readily available in certain areas. From government accounting of the closest 20 public charging locations from Cars.com’s downtown Chicago offices — all of them Level 2 — the vast majority are ChargePoint stations, while only one is a Volta charger and none are Tesla Superchargers.

The biggest takeaway from the study is that ample room exists for improvement in public charging. Factors like cost, payment simplicity, availability and reliability for public EV charging are causing headaches for some owners, especially those without home charging. As Tesla plans to open its Supercharger network to other EVs, more EV owners will have the opportunity to take advantage of the most popular public charging stations.

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