We were somewhere around Mount Pleasant on the edge of Racine when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like...
OK, there were no drugs, beyond caffeine in the coffee — I had to mention them to pay homage to the opening of Hunter S. Thompson’s epic road adventure, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
We certainly were on a road trip, to Milwaukee for lunch. In a somewhat boss ride: a 2022 Porsche Taycan electric sports car, part of a revolution taking place on America’s roads. Merrily blasting north on 94 at ... ah ... umm, yes, the customary speed.
Over 600,000 electric vehicles were sold last year. California just announced they are banning the sale of gasoline-powered cars after 2035, perhaps sounding the death knell for the internal combustion engine that reigned for a century.
Yet electric vehicles all share the same drawback.
“They’re no good if you can’t plug them in and they’re no good if you can’t find [charging stations] and they’re no good if they’re creating all these barriers to actually charge your vehicle,” said Hooman Shahidi, co-founder and president of EVPassport, riding shotgun beside me.
The federal government will pour $5 billion into EV charging stations over the next five years, with $148 million of that slated for Illinois.
EVPassport is one of the smaller players in the scramble to provide those stations. The California company is not yet two years old, with 1,500 chargers in 23 states and Canada.
“We’re hoping to get 10,000 chargers 12 months from now,” said Shahidi.
There are only about 6,000 fast-charging public EV charging stations in the U.S., according to MIT Technology Review, plus 48,000 slower charging stations. A third the number of gas stations. Since EV stations generally have no attendants, they are more susceptible to breakage and vandalism. A recent study of EV stations around San Francisco found more than a quarter out of service at any given time.
Those that do work are not always easy to operate — that was the point of our trip. Shahidi wanted to demonstrate how bothersome his competitors are.
Our first stop was a ChargePoint Station outside Aurora Medical Center in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The idea was for me, a novice, to try to use the industry leader, the “900-pound gorilla” of charging stations.
“So you arrive at a charging station,” Shahidi said. “I’ll let you go through the motions and won’t say anything.”
I tried to grab the electrical cable. It wouldn’t release. There was a screen, but I could barely read it in the fierce sun. I phoned the help number. Cowboy music played. While I was on hold, I downloaded the app. Minutes dragged by.
To be fair, it might also be hard to pump gas if you had never done it before.
The gas station model involves pulling up to a pump, inserting a credit card and putting gas in the tank. You don’t have to join anything. Why do you need an app to charge your car?
“They want to be able to gather driver data,” Shahidi said.
Driving my van, I usually wait until the needle is on empty before filling up. That doesn’t work with electric cars.
“People don’t want to get really low,” said Shahidi. “Range anxiety kicks in.”
Though potential electric vehicle buyers worry, most charging happens at home; 85% of car trips are less than 15 miles.
Concerns about charging are bound up with, I believe, the myth of the open road. Unlimited possibilities, the same reason speedometers go up to 160.
“There’s such a great need for EV chargers, if we’re going to get to mass adoption,” said Shahidi, who drives a BMW i3 electric.
Space doesn’t allow me to describe a fraction of our day, thankfully. Two more stations, much talk about kilowatts, much traffic, a total of seven hours, ending downtown with the Taycan snugly charging at an EVPassport station in Millennium Park Garage. Shahidi ordered an Uber. I didn’t mind not driving the Taycan back to Northbrook. Without a manual transmission, driving an electric sports car is... a somewhat underwhelming experience. A Lincoln Navigator pulled up and I gratefully climbed in. My guess is, before we know it, cars will be something we summon, not own. They’ll mostly drive and charge themselves, the way robot vacuum cleaners do now. And about as romantic.