🔗 How to Ruin the EV Experiencetext Ido Perlmuter
First published: .
I've written about electric vehicles in the past, although the text was mostly about autonomous vehicles. I touched about how these vehicles are part of a new class of consumer products: owned by the manufacturer/seller for all purposes other than liability, in which case it is owned by the buyer, with functionality hidden behind subscriptions.
I have finally been able to drive an EV for significant enough time and distance to be at a better position to opine about them. For the past three weeks (and for the next couple of weeks or so), I've been driving a rental Polestar 2 in my travels of the United Kingdom. I did not wish to get an EV, and initially rejected the rental company's offer, but it was the only vehicle with automatic transmission available, and I figured so long as it's not a Tesla, I might as well try.
I picked up the car in Aberdeen, Scotland, took it with me to Northern Ireland, then back to Scotland, and now to England. In a few days I'll be taking it to Wales.
Overall, my negative thoughts about EVs only strengthened. The benefits of an EV over an ICE vehicle are small, if any. The car is fine, it's comfortable, roomy, and offers a fairly smooth ride, but nothing I'd never experienced with an ICE many times before. The acceleration is nice, I guess, but probably the last reason to choose an EV over an ICE. I'm not a race car driver, and this isn't a race. The fact that it has Google Maps as a navigation app rather than something terrible provided by the manufacturer is a plus, and it seems to work offline fine when the car cannot get a cellular signal, which happens a lot when you're driving to nature preserves and remote locations. The fact that there's no on/off switch, and that you can simply enter the car and it's ready to go, is nothing to be excited about, but does lend to the whole comfort thing. This is all the good about it, from here on it's all bad.
Let's start with the center console, which like in Tesla vehicles, is a big touchscreen tablet. The vast majority of what are physical buttons in an ICE vehicle is only available in the touchscreen. And it is a big pile of shit. Want to turn off the air conditioning or change other AC settings? Touch a button to bring up the menu, touch the air conditioning button, miss, touch again, think you missed again because nothing happens, touch again, and watch the AC screen show up and then hide again, because turns out there's a lag, and your second touch did register. And of course, you absolutely cannot do all this without taking your eyes off the road.
The car is also "smart", with an array of cameras and sensors surrounding it. Sounds good, but these things are mostly there so the car can get angry and distract you for no reason. British roads are narrow. Very narrow. Your clearance to the sides is often just a few inches, especially when there's oncoming traffic. This angers the car, and it will incessantly blast its alarm at you about something you're already well aware of, confusing you into thinking maybe there's something else you should be aware of, or that you're just about to crash, which you're most definitely not. It's an absolute pain, especially when it's only some shrubbery, who cares?
The real issue is the charging, and this is where my previous objections with EVs come into play. Filling your car with gas is easy: there's a ton of stations, you never have to worry, you can pay with cash, a credit card, an app, whatever. No gas station will ever turn down cash for a fill-up. And you always get a receipt.
Enter electric vehicles. Cash? Forget about it. Credit card? Maybe. There's relatively a lot of stations that accept credit cards, but only contactless ones (those that have an NFC chip), but many—if not most—do not. Some even claim to accept a credit card, but when you arrive, they conveniently do not accept them temporarily. What the chargers do want you to use for payment is a smartphone app. And they don't work with every smartphone app, no, every charging company has its own shitty app. And boy, are the apps shitty. First of all, the apps themselves usually do not accept credit cards. You must have a UK bank account. Let that sink in: you cannot charge in many chargers without setting up a payment plan through a UK bank account. Are you a tourist? Fuck off.
The only app that I was able to work with was ChargePoint. It accepts PayPal, but only if the credit card is British, which mine isn't, but I was able to fool it into thinking it was somehow, don't even remember how, probably a postal code trick, or maybe I gave it the address of a British mail forwarder, I really can't remember. And the app sucks. But first, here are all the ways you can start charging an EV in a public charger:
- Tap your credit card against a scanner, if the charger accepts a credit card.
- Tap a "charge card" against a scanner, if you have one and/or the charger accepts such a card. Where can you get a charge card? Fuck off with those questions. They're basically like the app, only for bank account holders.
- Tap your smartphone against a scanner, while the app is open, if your smartphone has NFC and the charger's scanner isn't misbehaving, which it often is.
- Press the "Scan & Start" button in the app and scan the barcode on the charger, if it has one, which it doesn't.
- Press the "Select & Start" button in the app and select the charger (you'll probably need GPS to find it on the app's map).
Sounds like a lot of options, but there's problems aplenty:
- If your smartphone can't get a cell signal, you can't charge your car. This is the most ridiculous bunch of crap ever. I've been to two charging stations where cell signal was nonexistent. Couldn't charge. Fuck me I guess.
- If the charger itself can't get a cell signal, you can't charge your car. Yes, the chargers themselves are connected to the Internet, and refuse to work without it. One charger I used lost its Internet connection in the middle of the charging session, and simply stopped working. Fuck me again.
- When you choose "Select & Start" (because most chargers do not have a barcode), the app will always say that it failed. Always. But the charger will actually move to the "ready" state and you'll be able to plug the vehicle and charge. Your app, though, will have no idea that your car is being charged, and part of the app's point is that it can show you the charging progress while you leave the car and go do your shopping or whatever.
- ChargePoint doesn't charge your payment source after every session, nor at the end of the month. That would make too much sense. Instead, they charge you an amount of money completely outside of your control whenever your "balance" drops below 5GBP, so that "you're never without money for a charging session." If this is not illegal I don't know what is. Today I charged my vehicle, and the app decided to take out 70GBP out of my credit card instead of the usual 20 it did until today. What happens when I return the vehicle to the rental company and don't need to charge anymore? Will I get those 70GBP back?
- None of the chargers provide a receipt. None of them. You want a receipt? The helpful chargers tell you to send an email with your car's plate number, the station ID, and the date to some email address. So you send an email with those details, and of course the first thing you get back is an email saying the address doesn't exist. So you call the customer service telephone number and get the actual email address from the representative. You resend the email, and get back an answer that in order to get a receipt, it's not enough to send the details they told you to send. Why would it be? No, you also need to send the exact amount of kilowatts you've charged, the exact amount it cost, a notarized copy of your birth certificate, and the exact time you've last taken a shit. And of course, you don't have that information, because many of the chargers do not even show you how much kilowatts you've gotten and how much the session cost when the session ends, so forget about that receipt.
Charger doesn't work? There's nobody to talk to. Gas stations at least have attendants. The chargers do not, even those inside gas stations. If you ask the gas station attendant to help you, they'll give you the only answer they can: "we are not affiliated with those chargers." Your only form of support is a phone number, with a representative who will literally use the words "my ability to assist you is very limited."
And I haven't even touched on the time thing yet. Those chargers are slow. Even the fast ones are slow. In Northern Ireland, the number of fast chargers was ridiculously low. Often, there was only one fast charger available in a radius of many miles, and of course, it's always taken, because it's literally the only one around. The slow ones can take hours. As in three or four hours. The fast ones can get you down to 30 minutes at best, but more often than not I spend an hour or so charging. I don't mind it too much, I usually go hang out somewhere, but it gets old really fast.
All in all, they've made it quite certain that you'd regret getting an EV. I don't care that the touchscreen tablet in the car has YouTube, that's not a good reason to buy a car, there's nothing innovative about it, and I'm definitely not saving the environment by buying a car that weighs like a truck and hauls a dangerous battery made of a not sustainably sourced material, and that can blow up if you look at it wrong. At least the Polestar has real mechanical door handles, unlike those fucking Teslas. Stick with an ICE, and let all those people buying a subscription-based, disposable electric vehicle at ridiculous prices know full well that the only thing they're saving is some billionaire from being a millionaire.