There Are Too Many Electric Cars

By · February 20, 2013

Empty EV Chargers

If you build public EV charging, they will come—in droves, according to

I have grown accustomed to reading one media diatribe after another about the shortcomings of electric cars and how they are failing in the marketplace: sales suck, nobody wants EVs, range is too limited, price is too high, government support is wasted, they’re ugly and weird, charging is too slow, they catch fire…But mark Jan. 20, 2013, as the date when you first heard this complaint, courtesy of Anton Wahlman from in a homepage story: Electric cars are too popular for their own good.

Move over “range anxiety.” Make room for “charging congestion.”

Wahlman writes:

With "only" 70,000 electric cars on the U.S. roads, several electric car charging stations are now congested, and the situation is becoming more acute by the day. If nothing is done about this looming calamity, the U.S. electric car market risks grinding to a screeching halt.

As a guy who supports EVs, I see this “calamity” as the best news I’ve heard in a long time. Wahlman predicts that by the end of 2013, there will be about 170,000 plug-in cars on U.S. roads—way too many for the number of chargers. Actually, the best forecast puts the number of plug-in cars at about 140,000 by the end of this year, with the lion’s share as plug-in hybrids that are less reliant on public charging than pure electric cars. In a year, expect about 50,000 pure EVs on U.S. roads.

The best forecasts for public charging is that the number of spots will grow from about 20,000 at the end of 2012, to 50,000 by the end of 2013. In other words, just about one public charger for every pure electric car. (By the way, data presented by Plug In America at the EVS26 conference in May 2012, showed that charging station usage rates for the most popular charging networks, Blink and Chargepoint, ranged from about 8 to 11 percent during the week, and about 4 to 6 percent on weekends.)

What's Wahlman's evidence to support the looming crisis? "I'm starting to see more congestion at chargers," he writes. “Granted, this is not universal. Some electric car chargers are still used very little.”

Nonetheless, the newest scare is that there are not enough public charging locations in city and mall parking lots, to support the overwhelming growth of electric cars. In what apparently is supposed to sound like a doomsday scenario, Wahlman asks us to imagine this scene a year from now: you drive your EV to a desired location only to find “30 to 40 electric cars in that parking garage, waiting and unable to charge.”

A Good Problem

Sounds great to me. Bring it on. First of all, I almost never absolutely need a charge in the Nissan LEAF that I drive, after a full night of charging at home (where 90 or so percent of all EV charging takes place). Second, if I did need that charge, I would plan ahead by firing up apps like Recargo or PlugShare (or ones from charging networks) to find another spot nearby. Increasingly, these locations are smart enough to allow me to see which charging spots are open, and reserve a spot. The number of charging locations, especially in markets where EVs are popular, continus to expand—with the number of DC Quick Chargers swiftly picking up, as well as a growing awareness that in many cases, plain ol’ Level 1 110-volt charging (for drivers planning to park for a long time, or for plug-in hybrids) makes a ton of sense.

But most importantly, this is exactly the “problem” we want to have. If the marketplace sees that there are not enough chargers for all the EVs, I’m confident that charging infrastructure companies, municipalities, and EV organizations will jump in with more chargers. Nissan last month announced that it will add free DC Quick Chargers to nearly all of its dealerships where EVs are popular.

Wahlman also shouts “fire” in a crowded parking lot with regard to Tesla. “Tesla is just selling too many cars!” he writes, and there are not enough SuperChargers. (The network just launched with its first nine locations.) I’ve had conversations with Tesla CTO J.B. Straubel, and other Tesla engineers, about the scalability of its SuperCharger networks—which are designed for road trips rather than daily use.

Tesla’s biggest hassle and expense is finding the best locations for the SuperChargers, and laying down the foundation, such as electrical service, trenching and conduit. Once the first one or two are in the ground, the expense of adding more is relatively cheap. Imagine how thrilled Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, would be to have a queue of Model S’s lined up at SuperCharger locations along California’s Highway 5, just waiting to get a charge. That situation wouldn’t last long before more SuperChargers were added.

Wahlman concludes, “It is really amazing how quickly the goal posts, and the pain points, are shifting in this fast-growing industry.” Despite the rapid rate of change in the EV world, we can count on one constant: observers will find creative new ways to find fault with electric cars.


· · 5 years ago

I think he is right.

This problem will get worse and will actually push potential BEV buyers to more PHEV/EREV buyers b/c they can NOT depend on the public charging stations. This is already happening at both my work place and my wife's work place. Too many electric cars for too few charging stations.

Most work places or public lots are installing spaces based on the "sales rate" of the Plugin cars. That is currently around 0.5%. However, that is 052% per year and they are adding up. So, my work places decides to convert 0.5% of the spots to plugins. That is 5 spots per 1,000 employee. However, that doesn't work. B/c the average income of my work place is much higher than the average income of the average auto buyers so the adoption rate is higher. Also, I work in a fairly "green" county where the adoptation is even higher than normal. So, we have over 12 cars out of 1,000 employee and sharing 5 spots. It will only get worse since more Plugin cars are added each year...

We need 8x to 10x the charging spots vs. plugins sales just to stay on pace with the spread of the plugins.

This is exactly why so many EREV/PHEV buyers didn't buy a BEV....

· · 5 years ago

Anton Wahlman, IIRC, owns a Volt &/or an ActiveE. So, I'm guessing he writes from experience.

I see quite a bit of haggling & screaming about chargers in some popular places. EVSEs that are far away from shopping centers etc obviously get used less.

Not dissimilar to normal parking spaces, I guess.

· · 5 years ago

There are sometimes looooong lines at gas stations - all gasoline cars should be junked! When I'm in a traffic jam, they keep having smoke come out of their tailpipes - crush them all!

My family drives three EV's and I don't think any of them have ever needed to use a public charging station. And I know for a *fact* that none of them has waited in line at a gas station - ever! ;-)


· · 5 years ago

Isn't this kind of like saying "there aren't enough gas stations for all the cars on the road! It's a calamity!"?

This is one of those problems that will quickly fix itself, especially when it turns out there's a dollar to be made on it. It's a capitalist system. Where the demand exists, supply will be filled by *someone*.

· · 5 years ago

The number of newly installed chargers is irrelevant because 99% of the chargers are installed in place where nobody ever would need a charge.

Who is going to hang around Wallgreens for 4 hours to wait for a charge?

We need chargers in parking garages, shopping malls, restaurants and attractions (like zoos). Somewhere you actually want to go and be able to spend a couple of hours.

· · 5 years ago


I think the point is that it is too hard to find a reliable charging station for a pure EV to make a trip that needs a remote charge to make it back home.

In Illinois a very large number charger are broken and have been for a very long time. They show up as available when you check on-line. If on top of that we get a situation where the very few working chargers at popular destinations are constantly in use I can not see how you would ever venture outside your home chargers radius.

· · 5 years ago

I've been driving a 2012 Leaf for about one month. My driving habits may be different than other drivers but I don't need public charging. In fact, I charge mostly at 120V at home even though I have a 240V, 16 A charging station.

· · 5 years ago

Yeah, are they not counting the heavily trafficked charging stations that we all use at home? I've never been even close to needing public charging outside of my own garage.

· · 5 years ago

Aliens landing at LAX would likely agree with Anton Wahlman, due to the market distortions of "free" EV parking and "free" charging in the short term lots 1 & 6. At least until March 1st, when the “Free” perk goes away. Elsewhere, I would be surprised to find an EV charging traffic jam anywhere there is a fee-to-charge. The market will triumph over “charging congestion” in the end.

· · 5 years ago

I like what "dutchinchicago" said. Most of the charging stations are installed at the wrong places with the wrong type of charging stations.

In order to stimulate EV adoption, charging stations "matching need/speed/time" should be installed in the right location.

L2 charging station at work place will stimulate a lot of commuting cars to switch over to EVs.

L1 charging station at airport will be perfect for long term parking.

L2 charging stations at movie theater and shopping malls are correct.

DC fast chargers along the interstate is the key for long range travel.

Installing a Level 1 charger in front of a shop ro restaurant is useless. It should be at least a DC fast charger or L2.

The best way to promote EV adoption is through work place charging. That is the first step.

· · 5 years ago

"A Good Problem" until you can't get home.

Statistically you can't put in enough chargers so that everyone who wants one gets one all of the time. So you have to find out how long is acceptable for someone to wait for a charger,and then put in enough chargers to meet that target time with X% probability. You don't want to install too many chargers, or they go underutilized and assets are wasted. You don't want to install too few, or you lose customers.

· · 5 years ago

"You don't want to install too many chargers, or they go underutilized and assets are wasted."

I don't think an extra outlet is really a "wasted" asset...

· · 5 years ago

Great article, Brad. Just to be clear, Anton drives a Volt and he is an EV enthusiast and investor. He seem to play devil's advocate on occasion. His articles are meant as food for thought, I believe. I was hoping that someone from our SV clique would chime in, but it looks like I have the honors this time.

It's quite unique situation down here: Model Ss are literally everywhere. At this rate, it won't be long before we approach LEAF territory. In the Valley and in South Bay at least. Downtown Palo Alto is notoriously overrun with EVs and PHEVs. A friend of mine drove my LEAF for a while and had to get up at an ungodly hour to make sure that he could plug in at the the City Hall garage. His apartment complex did not have any charging opportunity whatsoever, not even a simple outlet.

Yes, free charging is definitely skewing the market, and many charging stations are installed in locations with marginal demand. Such as the track & field facility at nearby Standford campus. Meanwhile EV and PHEV drivers are duking it out every day just a mile away.

I'm witnessing what could be described as "charge rage" every day at my office. It's a result of free charging and lagging investment in infrastructure again. That, and the misconception that everyone needs a level 2 station, when a simple outlet would be enough in most cases. It's to a point that a refuse to plugin during the day to evade nastigrams both on the car and through email. It's incredible what people will do when there is a sense of entitlement to a perk.

· · 5 years ago

Thanks for sharing, surfingslovak. I'm surprised to hear that Stanford installed EVSEs at the track & field. Seems an odd place to put them; they'll be used for events, sure, but other times they'll be idle.

It's a different world here in CNY. The vast majority of people have no idea that EVs exist, so they don't even realize that pedestal they're blocking with their SUV is an EVSE.

I tend to agree that this problem will likely continue for much of the rest of the decade. In the mean time, it will stifle demand for pure EVs, and push more people into PHEVs/EREVs. Tesla knows that they need to drive their own infrastructure (superchargers) to sell their cars, and Nissan seems to be catching on (they will soon start rolling out more CHAdeMOs).

· · 5 years ago

"I don't think an extra outlet is really a "wasted" asset..."

I don't expect you to be an electrician, but you don't just add an "extra outlet".

· · 5 years ago

Whats the next Junk Media Headline

Electric Cars Give You Cancer!!!!

Really these bullshit articles just get worse and worse

· · 5 years ago

EV-Now: Anton does drive a Volt, but he doesn't have an ActiveE. He does comment frequently in the BMW i3 & ActiveE Facebook groups though so I could see why you might think that he has an AE.

· · 5 years ago

I think there's an opportunity for someone to drastically reduce the price (and increase the convenience) of workplace charging. It's great when companies are willing to spend several thousands of dollars (in hardware costs alone) per L2 charging space, but as @surfingslovak pointed out, most people would do just fine to have a 120V outlet to plug into while the car sits in the lot all day. The problem with installing a bunch of 120V outlets is that it's a pain for cars to have to drag their EVSE out and plug it in, as compared to plugging into a J1772 cable that might be just waiting in an L2 spot.

What I'd love to see (and have been suggesting in various forums) would be a single box, multi-car EVSE unit. It would ideally have four or even eight J1772 cords, able to charge several cars at once. If only one car was plugged in, it could conceivably charge at 6KW or more, but the rate would automatically be reduced as additional cars plug in. Up to eight cars could be charged from a single 240V 40A circuit as compared to the current model where such a circuit is dedicated to a single charging space. It's easy to rapidly run out of available power or circuits when you're burning 6+KW per parking space. The key is that you would just pull in, and plug in to a cable that is just sitting there waiting for you. These devices would not need to be networked or managed in any way, and they would dole out the power, ensuring that all cars would be charged and ready to go at the end of the day -- rather than one or two being charged and six more sitting all day without charging.

I believe the existing Open EVSE project can already support exactly this sort of smart-multiplexed charging functionality. Someone just needs to build this, put it in a rugged outdoor enclosure, and sell it to businesses to install in their employee parking lots. It would only be slightly more expensive per space than installing 120V outlets, but would be much more convenient for everyone to use (and would offer higher speed charging when fewer cars are charging). I wouldn't turn down any royalties offered by whoever decided to productize this... :-)

· · 5 years ago

@· lemketron "If only one car was plugged in, it could conceivably charge at 6KW or more, but the rate would automatically be reduced as additional cars plug in."

May be in some places, this would work. But when I plug-in I expect a certain rate of charge, I don't want that reduced.

In offices they have plenty of power. Pulling in multiple 220V lines shouldn't be a big deal.

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