🔗 How to Ruin the EV Experience


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:

  1. Tap your credit card against a scanner, if the charger accepts a credit card.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Press the "Scan & Start" button in the app and scan the barcode on the charger, if it has one, which it doesn't.
  5. 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:

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.