Foxes in the wild | EV experience in California

September 1, 2023
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Product Designer at Chargefox Julian Harrington – is back for his second appearance in Foxes in the Wild.

I recently visited home to see family and rented an electric vehicle for a portion of my trip. The adoption of electric vehicles is very real in California. I’m impressed by how many people drive a Tesla, Rivian, Polestar, Chevy Bolt, or VW ID.4. You’re definitely not unique if you drive a Tesla, which is probably why there were so many bright pink, neon green, bright orange, or other custom wrapped Teslas on the road.

Transportation is the leading source of greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States. To combat this, California has mandated that all new cars sold by 2035 must be free of greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide. The rule also establishes interim targets, with a requirement that 35 percent of new passenger vehicles sold by 2026 produce zero emissions. This requirement increases to 68 percent by 2030.

There were 838,000 electric cars on the road in California in 2021, a number likely to have risen well above 1 million by 2023.

Rental experience

Initially I had planned on renting an EV through Turo, a car sharing platform with a good number of EVs available. I ended up renting through Hertz because of the lower in price, and I’m not sure I made the right decision. The online booking process was straightforward. I chose the ‘manager’s special’ so didn’t know what vehicle I was going to be driving. This meant I couldn’t do any research prior to picking it up.

The Hertz in Santa Barbara is at a small airport. When I arrived there were a LOT of inbound travellers. I spotted the Hertz counter and lined up for 25 minutes because there was one person working there. They asked for my information, credit card and drivers license, and as the attendant was typing I started asking what I’d be getting.

“Polestar” they said. Amazing, I was excited. Then the attendant handed me my key and said, “You’re all set, enjoy!” Lol wut.

I asked him if there was a cable already in the car, he said he wasn’t sure and that he just uses the Tesla ones anyway. I asked him if there was anything I needed to know about driving an EV vs an ICE vehicle (testing the waters a bit here), he said it was exactly the same but you don’t go to a gas station.

There was now a large queue of people waiting behind me and I could tell he was stressed, so I said thanks and off I went. Not a great first impression, but thankfully I’m aware of EVs and the process of charging one. I hate to think how that experience would have been for a first-time EV driver.

ChargePoint 7kW experience

I know of a 7kW ChargePoint along the waterfront and already had the app installed, so made that my first charging destination while I went for a run. The ChargePoint app was not the prettiest app, but it was incredible functional. I loved seeing my charge curve, being able to utilise Siri for key events, and the station locator was smooth.

The downside of this experience was how difficult it was to read the physical charging interface.

Electrify America 350kW experience

Electrify America

stations are very easy to spot. I couldn’t download the app because I don’t have a credit card registered in the US, and I wasn’t sure if I could charge without the app. I tested my luck and was pleasantly surprised by the experience at the station.

I stopped at an EA station in a Bank of America parking lot and didn’t have to wait my turn to charge.

I loved that I could find out about idle fees, charging time and costs, what the charging rates mean, state of charge, and more if I needed it, all from the interface on the station.

Everyone charging with me was friendly. I struck up a conversation with a large great dane, and then her owner. I’ve heard about charging infrastructure issues in the US from various YouTube channels and blog posts, but thankfully had no issues.

Upon reflection, the most stressful part of the process was the rental car experience. If I choose to rent an electric vehicle, is it my responsibility to educate myself on the charging process and best practices for driving an EV? Alternatively, should the rental company incorporate a smoother handover and education process?

Regardless, renting an EV for a few or more days is a great way to get accustomed with an EV.

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