DC Fast Charge Rollout Upsets BMW I3 Owners – But Why?

Saturday 21st November 2015

On the 18th November BMW announced that along with EVgo it will be adding an additional 500 DC Fast Charging Combo units across 25 major US markets.

This is fantastic news and will hopefully make journeys a lot more doable for us and all the other i3 drivers. They hope to have almost 50 up and running by the end of 2015, and the rest by the end of 2018 – that seems like such a long time away. I guess I am a little impatient and would really like to see all these charging stations up and running sooner. After all I have already had my i3 for over 18 months and have yet to use it at a CCS charger as there are none that we can make use of for a journey right now – the only ones are quite close.

Ample opportunities to charge
Ample opportunities to charge is great

When the news broke, the Internet went wild but not, good wild, the news upset an awful lot of the i3 owners – But why?

Let’s just take a step back for a second and consider the landscape. As we know (we being the owners, not the manufacturers), owning an EV is a special thing, be it environmental, political or just for the fun of it, we’re all swimming against the tide and doing something different. We put up with the problems and celebrate the good things about EV ownership. Our payback is two-fold, we feel good about our cars and, we feel good about being different. The whole ownership experience is so different from the traditional petrol or diesel car and one manufacturer gets that whilst the rest seem to be missing the opportunity. Of course, the one that gets it is Tesla. Whether you love them or hate them, Tesla is changing the way we think about the experience of owning a car. ‘Tesla’ cars don’t go to petrol stations or drink any oil. They are cleaner than regular cars, some are so different that they even drive themselves. But, the biggest difference is that, when you buy one, it doesn’t stay the same. Like a smartphone, it actually gets better the longer you own it (up to a point). Tesla owners are living in a perpetual state of excitement just waiting to see what’s coming next! And, they are telling their friends about it… a lot!

Let’s contrast that to the old school petrol car vendors. They, instead, sell you a product and, that’s that. It’s normal and ordinary. Next years model will probably have some new features added so, if you were on the fence this year, maybe you’ll buy next years model.

So that’s how it works, and has done for decades. A steady raft of updates and ‘Special Editions’ that can be sold to test options and entice new owners.

So where did it go wrong?

Charging at WholeFoods Market in Cupertino
Charging at WholeFoods Market in Cupertino

BMW added to the announcement that new owners would be entitled to free charging at these stations. Oh dear, out with the pitchforks. BMW just upset its most hard working sales team – the ones that have paid top price for their cars, the ones that quietly put up with with drive-train malfunctions, the ones waiting patiently for the DC fast chargers that plug into that extra-cost plug on the side. So, my friends and me then!

Hang on! I’m only half done – it gets worse or better, I don’t know!

I am more than happy to pay for my charging needs and certainly don’t expect to get free charging – that’d be nice of course, but I certainly don’t feel that I am entitled to free charging. I do expect the cost for charging to be a reasonable amount and I’d be more than happy if BMW had done the same as Tesla and offered the option to pay an upfront amount to be able to use the charging network. After all, paying around $2,000 as the Tesla S owners did for the Supercharger network usage is less than adding a REx to an i3.

There are two, bigger problems though:

The first problem I have is a concern that with offering free charging to new i3 drivers, they will be sat hogging the chargers and less likely to move on when they have enough charge or, leave their car connected whilst they have lunch because they are not paying for it and therefore have no incentive to do so – they don’t know about charging etiquette yet and, guess who’s behind them in the queue? Yes, my friends and me – the ones that helped get this going.

The second problem is the biggest of all. We need to encourage companies to install fast chargers and the only way is by paying for it – they’re in business to make money and, if we teach new drivers that fast charging is free, how will we persuade them to pay to install new stations as we need them?

If there is a cost involved in charging then people will charge up for only as long as they need and then move on, business owners will see the benefit of installing fast chargers, petrol stations and motorway rest stops will see the benefit – we will see the charging stations that we need.

What should we have done?

I don’t mind incentives to encourage new drivers but why not turn the whole of the existing i3 owner group into one big excited bunch of sales people and have them telling their friends that owning an i3 means owning a car that gets better with age, not worse. How about offering one or two 15 minutes free charging sessions for everyone at a DCFC unit, that’s enough to top your car up and then move on. If you need more that 15 minutes then a charge would be levied to pay for the next lot of charging. Most of the time 15 minutes will be enough to get people charged up enough and on their way to tell their friends about how convenient it was.

If we want DC fast charging to go away, we just have to give them away for free.

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  • Michael Pasternak

    Pamela, a closet market economist/behavioral scientist!

    In the scheme of things this too will pass as noise. Battery prices are declining so rapidly, along with off peak electricity prices, that almost all urban and subsurban “transport/mobility” consumers will choose to go electric within the next two decades.