Of the non-Tesla EV charging station providers in the United States, Electrify America is the one that seems to be adopting the most “Tesla-like” approach. But building out a charging network that has to work with dozens of different cars is no easy task.
At the Los Angeles Auto Show, we sat down with Rob Barrosa, Senior Director of Sales, Business Development & Marketing at Electrify America, to ask him about that very task, along with overall reliability, customer service issues, and future station plans. As the number two at the company, he has both a firm grasp of where the EA is going, and on the issues that need fixed.
Prior to the pandemic, EA reliability was questionable at best in our experience. Newer stations worked well, but some legacy stations were problematic. Software updates have addressed most of that, but also a deeper integration into the hardware.
“We’re working with our hardware suppliers on a deep level,” Barrosa tells us. Instead of just buying hardware and throwing EA’s software on it, the company is working closely with suppliers on what components to use, the quality of the components, and expected reliability.
Reliability is one pillar of a three-pronged approach for Electrify America. Also helping with reliability is increasing the number of stations and the number of charging ports per station.
“Our first rollout often had four charging stations. You’ll see newer ones have six or more.” The more charging ports per location, the more redundancy built in. If one charging port is broken, you’ll likely find one that works.
“Sometimes Tesla chargers don’t work,” he adds, “but because there are so many at each location, it’s often not a problem.”
Often with our own Tesla Model 3, we arrive at a charging location and a station is broken. But when there at least five others to choose from it’s not a big deal. Unless, of course, the station is fully occupied.
The redundancy also adds to the confidence, which is the second pillar. Electrify America wants you to be confident that when you pull into one of its locations that you’ll be able to charge you vehicle at an acceptable rate of charge.
But what if there’s a problem? EA wants you confident that you’ll be able to get support. In addition to a call center staffed with people to try to help you, they’re also actively monitoring social media.
“Every social media tag triggers a ticket,” Barrosa tells us. So we’d like to apologize for our random silly posts that we tag EA in. “Tickets are triaged and assigned a priority,” he continues “If it can be fixed remotely, we do that. Otherwise we dispatch a technician depending on how severe the outage is.”
Imagine a 12 charging station installation with one charger out. That’d be a lower priority ticket than a four charging station install with the same problem because of less redundancy.
For CHAdeMO chargers, they get higher priority tickets because there’s only one per install. Keep reading for more on CHAdeMO and its future with Electrify America a little later.
Also feel free to open tickets for site issues, too. We asked about charging stations that are snowed in because of a snow removal team. “Send us a ticket. We’ll contact the site,” Barrosa says. Because Electrify America owns the equipment, the deals they have with the property owner requires the property owner to take care of the site and snow removal. The same would apply for litter and other issues. Barrosa want’s the EA team to be point on any issues you might encounter.
The final pillar is customer ease. You might have seen that the Electrify America app now supports Apple Car Play and Android Auto. That’s to make it easier on the customer. Pricing transparency is also something EA is cognizant of. While the pricing might vary by region, from station to station in an area pricing remains the same. Additionally, EA makes it clear on the app and on the charging station how much the charge costs.
As a side note on charging price, EA also offers free and lower-priced charging in areas that aren’t as economically affluent. As we get cheaper EVs, those stations will become part of the plan to get more and more people, regardless of income, to adopt EVs.
Electrify America is also working on improving Plug&Charge. The technology is currently supported with Porsche and Audi, along with Ford and some others, though we’ve personally had issues with getting it to work. That deeper integration with hardware that Barrosa and team are working on should help improve that as time progresses.
Barrosa recognizes the ease of the Tesla charging experience currently, and is working to bring parity there while providing other features and an experience Tesla doesn’t currently offer.
We took the opportunity to also ask Barrosa about charging sites and safety. Each install currently is 100% California ADA complainant, but not as many protect drivers from the elements. Also, in many cases, the charging station is not well lit, which can create apprehension for people charging at night.
Electrify America is working on deploying new stations with canopies and lighting, to brighten up the entire area. Additionally, where possible, Electrify America will be adding canopies to current installs.
The company had a demo of this type of install in the LA Convention Center, and you can see the photo below. These do not have the lights installed, presently. We did see a photo of an active install with the lights on, and it’s noticeably better. Is it enough light to land an Airbus? No. The upgrade is a marked improvement over the current situation.
Earlier this year, Electrify America hinted that they’d be phasing out CHAdeMO chargers in the future. What does that mean for current owners of the Nissan Leaf?
For new installs outside of California next year, EA won’t be installing a CHAdeMO charger. In California, the company will continue to install CHAdeMO chargers.
EA has no plans to remove CHAdeMO chargers that are already installed. EA also plans on maintaining CHAdeMO connectors for the foreseeable future. In fact, as we mentioned above, broken CHAdeMO chargers receive a higher priority than CCS chargers because there’s only one per install.
Barrosa did mention that they won’t be beholden to CHAdeMO forever. With the Ariya going CCS, and no news on whether or not Leaf will get a new generation with CHAdeMO, those cars will slowly work themselves out of the system. Also, Leaf owners are more regional and not taking as many road trips (which we address in our road trip article in a Leaf).
There’ll be a point where supporting CHAdeMO no longer makes sense, even if there are some cars on the road still using it. But after talking to Barrosa, we don’t believe that’s going to be anytime soon.
Our biggest take-away is that Electrify America sees your feedback and is working on making a better experience. The company wants you to have a reliable and consistent charging session wherever you are in the country, no matter what EV you are in.