Hardly a week goes by when I’m not forced to waste an hour or more dealing with the dishonesty and disrespect of companies hoping to rip me off and making it as difficult as possible to speak with them. I’m talking about the legions of companies who stored my credit card and renewed a service without my permission, the credit card companies who told me I’m not responsible for unauthorized charges but then insisted that I am, and the companies whose services I no longer want but I need to speak to the one person in the Philippines taking customer calls to cancel the service.

I’d welcome a study estimating the percentage of an American’s lifetime wasted listening to a recorded message instructing to “please listen carefully because our menu options have changed.”

Electric vehicles provide a new frontier for time-wasting frustrations.

This became apparent to me after reading this column by Detroit Free Press writer Mark Phelan talking about the issues he’s encountered with public charging stations. Listen to some of the horrors Phelan recounted:

In the last three weeks, I’ve had a charger — located in a Meijer parking lot — start, then quit moments after I walked across the parking lot into the grocery store, expecting the battery to be full when I returned. Instead of the 120-odd miles of range I expected, the charger gave me juice for about 10.

The charger, an EVgo 350kW DC Fast Charger that should be an EV owner’s best friend, packed it in again when I tried a couple of days later. It worked as advertised on my third attempt, delivering 31.3 kW in 29 minutes. I sat in the car the whole time this time, reading a novel I brought with me. Fool me twice, shame on you; fool me three times, I may not be able to drive home.

So much for the convenience of shopping or getting coffee while my car charged. Not to mention that the smartphone app I used for the transaction crashed repeatedly on earlier attempts to charge.

Or that Electrify America, the biggest charging service, recently charged my credit card twice for a single charging session. Electrify America’s customer service promised to rectify the error, but has that ever happened to you at a Shell station?

Phelan is not alone in his frustrations. According to J.D. Power survey of 1,554 drivers about charging EVs at public stations, the experience ranges from bad to awful.

“The current state of public charging really isn’t very good,” Brent Gruber, J.D. Power executive director of global automotive and managing director of electric vehicle experience, told Phelan.

Tesla’s secret sauce

According to J.D. Power’s survey, Tesla’s supercharging stations have considerably higher customer satisfaction ratings, which is especially impressive given that there are more of them, making it statistically more likely that they’d engender more complaints.

The genius of Elon Musk is that he appreciated from the get-go that electric vehicles weren’t practical without a nationwide network of reliable charging stations. In Southern California, Tesla’s second biggest market, the company is expanding its network with a vengeance.

As I exited the Cloverfield ramp off the 10 freeway into Santa Monica this morning, there were about a dozen Tesla supercharger stations under construction strategically located at the edge of a gas station. As I drove less than a mile further, I came across a massive lot where there were more than two dozen Tesla Supercharger stations under construction. The lot on Santa Monica Boulevard was on a strip where there are about a half dozen auto dealers, including where I get my Subaru serviced.  

When all the stations are up and running, I estimate there will be more Tesla Superchargers in Santa Monica than there are gas pumps.

More than just Elon

When thinking of Tesla, one immediately imagines Elon Musk. But what’s become apparent to me is that a critical part of Musk’s genius was attracting and retaining a highly innovative and motivated workforce that’s unrivaled in the EV space. It’s doubtful that Musk was responsible for finding the Santa Monica sites, arranging the permits, and building the Supercharging stations.

Southern California isn’t the only place where Tesla is thinking big. The company in July announced plans to build a massive Supercharging station with 51 stalls in a tiny Oregon town called Sutherlin, with a population of just over 8,000 people.

Why Sutherlin?

“Other than this being the greatest small town in the United States, we happen to be strategically located almost exactly halfway between San Francisco and Seattle,” Sutherlin City Manager Jerry Gillham told Jefferson Public Radio.

In yet another sign of brilliance, Tesla has applied for permits to build a 9,300 sq. ft, 24-hour diner with a drive-in theatre and 28 Superchargers. While other EV owners are cooling their heels dealing with chargers that don’t work, Tesla owners can dine, watch a flick, and charge their EVs simultaneously. Musk came up with the idea in 2018, but others likely were responsible for the execution.  

In still another sign of brilliance, Tesla managed to convince Mexican state Nuevo Leon to create a dedicated Tesla lane that allows its suppliers from the country to cross to and from the United States within minutes. The state of Nuevo Leon borders Texas where Tesla has moved its headquarters; Tesla is increasingly relying on several suppliers from Mexico.

Ford’s electric truck

What I’ve also come to appreciate is the EV technology gap between Tesla and Ford and GM. While Ford CEO Jim Farley has repeatedly baited Musk about beating him to market with an electric truck, Farley’s Lightning is just a Ford F-150 gas engine truck Jerry-rigged with an electric battery. Musk’s planned Cybertruck will be a pioneering pure electric truck.

Electric vehicles are essentially smartphones on wheels. Ford is partnering with Google to develop more robust software to power its electric vehicles, but in the company’s zeal to rush some EVs to market it is relying on stopgap software that’s not yet ready for prime time.

From a review of the Ford Lightning in The Verge.

The software experience of the Lightning often feels trapped in the past, with no clear path to the future because Ford’s real software efforts lie elsewhere. The instrument cluster features the same cryptic icons and fundamental menu layout Ford has used in its cars forever. That huge portrait infotainment screen is woefully underutilized and the menu layout can feel like a randomly generated maze with no destination. (I’m serious: the top two menu panels are labeled “Controls” and “Settings” but then the screens for individual tabs under “Controls” have buttons labeled “Settings,” as though Ford’s designers all attended a seminar about the relative and evolving nature of all language.)

The screen is laid out into four zones: there’s a menu bar area; what you might call the app window; those widgets; and then the climate controls. Once you start using Sync 4A in the Lightning, you quickly encounter two main issues: one, the whole thing can feel extremely slow; and two, the screen is wildly underused compared to how big it is. You can do one thing at a time on the 15.5-inch screen, and that’s really it. There are oceans of pixels here, but for some reason, you can’t have the map and the radio open at the same time.

There’s a quick action button to navigate back home on the map widget, but it just opens the map app full-screen, defeating the purpose of the widget entirely. I’d love to have CarPlay open to handle my phone and messaging alongside the radio, but that’s not possible, even though the display is clearly big enough to show both at once. 

All of that is made worse by how slow everything is. Switching between the radio and the map or the map and CarPlay is… slow. Swiping along the cards is pretty slow. The display can be responsive, and the games are certainly playable, but in most instances, it’s just slow.

A Bloomberg reviewer was less than complimentary about GM’s electric Cadillac Lyric, and the company’s electric Hummer already is having issues. Volkswagen just fired its veteran CEO because of problems with the company’s EV software. Hyundai’s and Kia’s electric vehicles are getting rave reviews, but unless you live on an island there’s still the issue of having to deal with public charging stations.

At the end of the day, Tesla is offering its buyers the equivalent EV experience of high-speed internet. Buying any other electric vehicle is making do with dialup.

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