TheStreet.com: 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 TheStreet.com.

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 TheStreet.com 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.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
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  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
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  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.