EV Charging Station Safety; ChatGPT Aids In Auto Shopping

photo by Tanya Gazdik

I recently spent a week in a Ford Mustang Mach-E, which gave me the opportunity to once again access the state of electric vehicle charging stations in Michigan.

I liked the Mach-E so much that I put it on my consideration list for a future vehicle. I was wondering how it stacked up against another recent favorite SUV, the Tesla Model Y, so I asked ChatGPT to compare the two vehicles.

In less than 10 seconds, I had a pretty thorough and unbiased comparison of the two vehicles, including design, performance, range, charging infrastructure, interior and technology and finally brand and legacy. 

If the popularity of ChatGPT continues, I won’t be the only consumer asking it for comparisons between vehicles.

Back to EV charging: I drove about 270 miles in the Mach-E over the course of the week, including one trip that resulted in a slightly challenging charging situation.

My trip was to Frankenmuth, which is a huge tourist destination in mid-Michigan. It’s a Bavarian-themed city famous for its fried-chicken dinners and a gigantic Christmas product shop, which is crowded year-round, even in July.

I scoped out the charging situation ahead of time (which is something you have to do with an EV; it’s nowhere close to being as simple as pulling into a readily available gas station.) There are two chargers in all of Frankenmuth and they are Level 2, meaning they are not medium-speed in the amount of charge they give you in a couple of hours.

Driving an EV reminds me of driving the remote stretches of the Pacific Coast Highway in California where there are warnings about the lack of gas stations for X number of miles. Except that with EV charging stations, it can easily be a daily occurrence depending on where you live.

I was thankful to find one of the two stations open when I arrived in Frankenmuth. I can see why there are not Level 3 chargers. If you are going in to have dinner, you really don’t want to have to run out in 20 to 30 minutes to move your vehicle to allow someone else to access it. Yes, that’s the polite thing to do. Besides that, if you leave a vehicle on a level 3 charger after it has completed the charge, you are charged fairly hefty per-minute idle fees.

I left home with a 66% charge, or 182 miles of range. That wouldn’t be quite enough for the roundtrip, so we plugged into the Level 2 ChargePoint charger in Frankenmuth, which added 17 kWh, or 59 miles in 2 1/2 hours of charging for $5.05. We stopped on the way home at a convenient Level 3 EVGo charger and added 21 kWh of energy in about 20 minutes for $11.90.

That charger was in a remote corner of a dark parking lot in front of a closed business. It was only 10 p.m. at night, but had I been by myself, I would have been anxious. While nothing bad has ever happened to me alone while charging, it has occurred to me on several occasions that I was in a vulnerable position. Unlike with gas stations, there is no nearby attendant. 

A 2022 Consumer Reports survey of 8,000 adults found of those who indicated charging considerations would hold them back from purchasing an EV, women were twice as likely as men to cite “concern about safety when I charge at a public charging station.”

The companies have got to do a better job of thinking about safety and security, at the very least installing better lighting and perhaps moving them to areas that are not so remote. A British company, ChargeSafe, assesses the safety of charging stations in the U.K. We need something similar in the United States.

Later in the week, I had a frustrating charging experience at an Electrify America Level 3 charger. In 68 minutes, I added 41 kWh, going from 28% to 70%. Had the charger been performing at  true Level 3 speed, I should have been up to 80% in 25 minutes. \

Luckily I was able to eat my lunch and listen to a podcast while I waited. But I’m guessing most consumers don’t want to spend their lunch break and longer sitting at at EV charger.

I’m taking a road trip this year from Minneapolis to the Badlands of North Dakota. I’ve been toying with the idea of trying it with an EV, but I’m not sure my stomach could stand the likely heartburn that would ensue. 

Ford Mustang Mach-E puddle light, photo by Tanya Gazdik

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