Do we need a universal charging index?

The latest news from the world of EVs

Good morning and welcome back to The Fast Charge, the electric motoring newsletter. My name is Tom Riley and I’ll be your host.

I’m afraid I have to begin this edition by saying that there won’t be a Fast Charge on Friday. I am unfortunately going to be indisposed but will return from next Monday.

In the email today, I’m suspicious of Elon’s mucking about and I have a small rant about inconsistent charging times being sold by manufacturers.

Do drop me an email at tomrileylondon@gmail.com if you have any questions or comments. And if you enjoy The Fast Charge, please share it.

In the news…

DRAMA QUEEN: Yesterday, Tesla updated the US Securities and Exchange Commission to announce that Elon Musk’s title had changed to ‘TechnoKing’. Meanwhile, Tesla’s Chief Finance Officer became ‘Master of Coin’. While most of the world interrupt this as “Elon being Elon” - which is how one investment firm put it - I think it’s actually more telling of the state of Tesla. The electric car manufacturer under Musk’s leadership has become the most valuable car company in the world. However, while it is tremendously placed for the EV revolution, it is facing huge competition every day now from other manufacturers switching to EV. And unlike Tesla, they have supply chains and relationships going back decades. There’s also been a chip shortage issue recently that has hit Tesa badly. Plus, 135,000 of their vehicles have just been recalled. And not to mention that Tesla is still extremely slow at shipping their cars - orders to the UK can take up to a year. In many ways, the only truly competitive advantage Tesla has at the moment is brand Elon. He’s idolised by retail traders (such as WallStreetBets in Reddit) and has created a global network of Tesla zealots - both of which keep the stock solid. To me, when Elon is having to call on his brand - which he does an increasing amount at the moment - then it’s an indicator of trouble at mill.

ORGANIC BATTERY: There have been reports this week, following a study by the EU’s Joint Research Centre, that if countries enforce rules so key minerals for EVs, such as Cobalt, come from ethical mines, then it could inflate the price. At the moment, most Cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. While most mines play by regulations nearly a third of production is from small mines that often work in dangerous conditions. By having tougher rules for countries sourcing from ethical factories, there is a concern prices go up. On the flip side, you’d hope tighter enforcement would level up the bad eggs and in turn return the market to an acceptable level. The reliance on Congo is causing many miners to look elsewhere, such as out in the ocean and Australia.

POOR PLANNING: Wolfgang Schäfer, the chief financial officer of the German components group Continental, has said the current supply issues in the automotive industry are partly caused by unreliable estimates from carmakers themselves. Schäfer told the Financial Times: “Part of the problem was the auto industry was not reliable in forecasting over the last three years . . . They always ask a lot and then always order less.” Read more.

MAINS MOTORWAY: The Motor Fuel Group (MFG) in the UK, which operates 918 service station forecourts, plans to install 3,000 “ultra-fast” charging points. This will come at a cost of £400 million but will be great news to many motorists plagued by poor set-ups on the UK’s key roads currently. Read more

DOWN THE PAN: Panasonic’s CEO has told the Financial Times that the firm will move on from it’s ‘one legged’ approach working with Tesla. For over 10 years, Panasonic has supplied batteries to Tesla. While for a time there was an exclusive partnership, the CEO has now said they will need to diversify their business. It comes as Pansonic restructures its board - with long-time CEO Kazuhiro Tsuga stepping down to become Chairman.

MINI REVOLUTION: According to Automotive News Europe, this week BMW CEO Oliver Zipse will unveil a plan for the Mini brand to go all-electric from 2030. Mini already sell one electric car but have plans for more, including a tie-up with Great Wall Motors - the brilliantly named Chinese carmaker. Apparently, the last Mini combustion engine car will be produced in 2025.

SIX GIG: Volkswagen has announced it will build six factories capable of producing 240-gigawatt hours of batteries a year in Europe over the next decade. This is enough to provide batteries for 4 million cars. The plan will cost close to £20 billion but will ensure VW don’t have to rely on external providers. On the news, CEO Herbert Diess, said: “E-mobility has won the race. Our goal is to secure a pole position in the global scaling of batteries.”

Do we need a universal charging index?

If you asked a scientist where the periodic table came from, they’d probably explain it dates back to 1869 when Russian chemist, Dmitri Mendeleev, started organising elements by their atomic mass. It was the first table of its kind and, being a forward-thinking fella, he even left out space for new discoveries.

Dimitri was right on the money and his table is now used worldwide. Every child going through education will probably have one plastered on their classroom wall. 

However, that doesn’t really explain where it came from. But, many years ago, one of my very eccentric Chemistry teachers did: for better communication and understanding.

The periodic table is universal, he explained, meaning a scientist in Switzerland can share findings or research with an institute in China. Both have a foundation that joins them together - which is critical in science.

Despite the value to be gained by universal standards, there are very few things on Earth that align, but where they are it can be immensely valuable. For example, Morse code, USB ports, or even that yellow branding every airport seems to have. They give confidence to people and provide consistency.

However, there is sadly a long list of things that aren’t universal that really should be. And, in the world of electric cars, that thing is charging.

While the easy item to call out is the differing plugs for cars - motors from Asia have a different shape socket to those from Europe/America - in reality, it’s very hard to change. But, there is one thing we could do quickly and would have huge benefits to consumers.

Introduce a vehicle charging index.

Range anxiety is one of the key reasons people don’t buy an EV. Despite this, from manufacturers to dealerships, explanations on charging times are all over the shop.

From setting unrealistic expectations to being inconsistent with timings, it needs a universal touch.

Take the latest Kia EV6. It’s just been revealed ahead of a full announcement later this month. One of the key attributes of this new car is that it has the capacity to be charged to 220kW, meaning a 10% to 80% charge should take 18 minutes.

Many consumers who hear or see facts like this from Kia could be very impressed. Perhaps charging times aren’t a problem at all? Whereas, back on planet earth, there are only 29 charging points in the UK with the capacity to deliver on this. 

In reality, 99% of charging points - both at home and in public - are going to take you from 3 to 10 hours to fill-up.

On the other side

Elsewhere, the lack of a universal database is leading to dealerships and sellers producing an array of inconsistent charging figures.

Take AutoTrader. If you were to find an EV you liked on it, the website produces details allegedly ‘provided directly from the manufacturer’ to explain it’s charging times. For example, it states a Tesla Model X would take 38.8 hours to charge normally. And a quick charge will take 14 hours.

Hmmm. Those figures might be true if it was being powered by a toy windmill. But at a Tesla supercharger, a home charging point or even at a supermarket charger, those times are woefully misleading. 

Other websites confuse the picture further. ZapMap, for example, says a Tesla Model X can be charged up in as little as 40 minutes. But, if you look at further websites, which use different benchmarks - like measuring from 20-80% rather than 0-100% or 150kW rather than 120kW - they change again.

While this makes sense because different charging points have different speeds etc. When you’re researching a car, it can muddy the waters deeply. For one car model alone you can get hundreds of charging times thrown at you, just depending on where you look.

If the UK wants to grow the number of people owning EVs, surely we need some standards by which we can all benchmark cars. Scientists in the 1800s realised this, so should manufacturers.

Consumers ultimately need to make decisions based on the facts, and they’ll be able to do that far more easily if they can understand them and their realities - rather than being sold a pipe dream.

By Tom Riley