The Electrify America charging network operates with all the rigor, quality and user-friendliness you’d expect from a product that a car company was forced to build after getting aggressively sued by the U.S. government for cheating on diesel emissions. So if you’re wondering why so many automakers have announced a switch to Tesla’s electric vehicle charging standard, rage at Volkswagen may be a good place to start.
That leads off our morning roundup today. Also on today’s menu: Porsche has a new fast hybrid, Alfa Romeo has a new supercar and it’s workers vs. C-suite executives in America’s auto union fight. Let’s have at it.
Electrify This, Why Don’t Ya
I don’t know how many folks here have taken a road trip in an EV yet, but when you do, an Electrify America station is a welcome sight on the roads. You then get the exact opposite feeling when you realize how many of those EA fast chargers are down, working too slowly or have a huge line of cars waiting for the few ones that might be functional.
Thus, every time an automaker has joyously announced “Three years of free Electrify America charging!” with the purchase of some hot new EV, rooms full of journalists in my line of work would erupt in audible groans. Or expletives. Sometimes both. I hear the same complaints from owners, too; EA’s persistent quality issues, recently knocked again by J.D. Power, make it not up to the task of powering some EV revolution in this country.
I’ll say for the record that I blame the automakers here, too. They’re too used to a century of making cars and engines and letting the ecosystem around them handle everything else, including fueling. They’ve never wanted to be in the charging game. Except for Tesla, of course, and not only building out their Supercharger network but making it functionally the best one, period, is possibly the smartest thing that company’s ever done.
A new report in ChargedEVs from Autopian contributor, longtime EV expert and known Isuzu Impulse enthusiast John Voelcker dives into the drama behind the other automakers’ Tesla turn. JV spoke to more than a dozen executives, engineers and analysts from the car business and around it, and while none would go on the record, they all had plenty to say:
Overall, this year’s developments reflect deep dissatisfaction among automakers other than Tesla with the state of US fast charging—accompanied by fear that Tesla’s ultra-reliable and deeply integrated Supercharger network has given it a permanent competitive advantage.
It’s hard to overstate the disgust and anger at Electrify America among virtually every person we interviewed. The network has come to be viewed, fairly or not, as the most minimal effort VW Group could have exerted to comply with the 10-year, $2-billion settlement it jointly negotiated with the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB).
Five years after its first fast charging station went live in May 2018, Electrify America continues to have sites down for weeks or months and other locations where only one or two cables (out of four, six or eight) actually deliver a charge. While a majority of its stations will recharge an EV, the widely touted standard uptime figure of 97 percent still translates to 11 days a year of downtime for every location. Would you have confidence in your local gas station if you knew it might be dark almost two weeks a year—at random?
Now, very few of these (non-Supercharger) EV charging stations are great, honestly. Even the ones that start well inevitably suffer from downtime or speed issues. So is EA really that bad? Turns out maybe:
While EVgo, Shell Recharge (née Greenlots), ChargePoint and others were included in reliability complaints, those networks are seen—rightly or wrongly—as less unreliable than EA. “EA is by far the most difficult network for us to work with,” said one automaker employee. “It’s just not clear they believe in it, or that they’re in it for the long haul.”
In other words, non-Tesla automakers have had it with EA. Initial hopes that EA would provide a new, large-scale, nationwide network of fast charging stations have now curdled into a desire to see EA out of the game altogether—with “lots of bad blood” directed at the VW Group as a whole. One engineer and one executive even suggested that Volkswagen deliberately did a subpar job. “Remember Dieselgate?” said one. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…”
Basically, they all just hoped EA and a few other companies would handle the “charging” thing while they just focused on making cars. And it’s not going well.
For Part 2 of this series today, JV dives into the future of Tesla’s NACS plug standard, which may not be as simple as every Ford and Chevy and Rivian on the road magically getting access to all those Supercharger stations.
Here’s the important part: Engineers are still figuring all that stuff out. And many modern EVs are built to handle faster charging speeds than the current max Superchargers can provide:
It’s clear that the decision to ally with Tesla was one made at CEO level, then foisted on the engineers who must integrate it into future EVs within a 3-year deadline. Indeed, three days after the press release, the lead vehicle engineer on one highly publicized future EV from a large maker said, “The announcement caught us off guard and we still don’t know exactly what was in the agreement they signed.”
Tesla is said to have a document with roughly 40 non-negotiable technology requirements—or what the engineers would have to do to incorporate NACS into their largely complete vehicle design.
You Could Do A Lot Worse
Nowadays many of us are thinking more about our carbon footprints. One way to do that is to consider a hybrid for your next car purchase. And here’s a very good hybrid: the new 2024 Porsche Cayenne Turbo E-Hybrid, which has a combined 729 horsepower and 700 pound-feet of torque and is now the most powerful version of Porsche’s big SUV.
Here are the specs from Car and Driver:
The previous Cayenne Turbo E-Hybrid was a rocket ship for the road, and Porsche appears to have fine-tuned that road-going missile with the updated plug-in-hybrid powertrain. It starts with the twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 that has been extensively revised to make 591 horsepower. The hybrid system has been upgraded too, as the electric motor now makes 174 horsepower—up from 134 in the outgoing Turbo S E-Hybrid. Combined, the new system produces 729 horsepower and 700 pound-feet of torque.
Compared to its predecessor, the new Turbo E-Hybrid has nearly double the battery capacity, increasing from 14.1 kWh to 25.9 kWh. Porsche claims the increased battery capacity provides more pure-electric range. It didn’t give specifics, but the last generation was capable of 20 EV-only miles, so we expect the new car to be closer to 30 miles. Along with the bigger battery, a new 11.0-kW onboard charger brings charging times down to a claimed two-and-a-half hours for the new version.
Unfortunately, saving the planet at such a tire-destroying level will set you back at least $148,550, or $153,050 for the “coupe” version. Sounds fun, though. [Editor’s Note: To be clear, this large V8-powered hybrid car with probably under 50 miles of EV range isn’t actually going to save any planets. But if you can make your commute fully electric everyday, and do that for many years so you can offset emissions from building this thing, that’s a step in the right direction. -DT].
Alfa Romeo To Debut A New Supercar Tomorrow
Speaking of hybrids, Alfa Romeo has one debuting tomorrow and it’s an electrified car of the exotic variety. Our friends at Motor1 say it’s expected to be called 33 or 6C, both historic race car names, and its debut will be livestreamed from the Alfa Romeo Museum in Italy:
Alfa Romeo has done an excellent job of keeping its supercar under wraps. The rumors suggest that the model might share underpinnings with the Maserati MC20. The powertrain allegedly consists of the twin-turbo 3.0-liter Nettuno V6 with an electric motor. This would result in a total output of around 800 horsepower versus 621 hp from the MC20, which is not a hybrid.
Alfa Romeo CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato said the supercar looked “iconic, super-sexy, and recognizable,” and described it as “something that I could put aside the 8C in the museum of Arese.”
Not bad. But as the story notes, this one could be rather limited-production and nearly all are spoken for at the moment.
In The UAW’s Fight, It’s C-Suite Execs VS. Workers
Executive pay has become a real sticking point in the United Auto Workers’ ongoing contract negotiations with the Big Three, which could lead to an unprecedented strike on the entire American auto industry. As Bloomberg reports, workers are seeking a 46% pay increase, a 32-hour work week and a restoration of benefits they had before the Great Recession.
Naturally, the auto execs (current and former) say that’s insane:
In fact, higher labor costs contributed to Chrysler, Ford and GM’s lack of price competitiveness against foreign brands in the 1990s and 2000s. But pressure is on [UAW President Shawn Fain] to deliver a good deal, since his margin of victory was so slim.
“The car companies cannot possibly agree to his demands and even if he succeeds, his members still lose because the car companies will go bankrupt,” Johan de Nysschen, a consultant and former GM and Volkswagen executive, said in an interview. Fain, he added, is “promising the sun, the moon, the Earth and the stars to people who are, frankly, easily impressed.”
But as the UAW points out, those same claims are coming from executives who are literally admonishing workers from their beachside vacation homes:
Fain bristles at the notion that his blue-collar members are asking for too much. He sees the companies’ arguments about being competitive as code for “a race back to slave labor.” He points to Stellantis North American Chief Operating Officer Mark Stewart, who recently lectured workers on economic realism from his vacation home in Acapulco, Mexico. Stellantis declined to comment on Stewart’s whereabouts.
“When your CEOs are making 300 to 400 times more than the average worker, and they want to talk to you about economic realism, that’s pretty pathetic,” Fain said.
Fain displays particular contempt for the company he worked for and its CEO, Carlos Tavares, who’s been outspoken on the need to cut overhead and people. Their only meeting, Fain said, came before official bargaining began where the executive used the word “brutality” about 40 times to describe government mandates on the transition to EVs.
“I came back and said, our workers have had a brutality imposed upon them,” Fain said. “You close plants and they have to uproot their lives.”
As contract talks come down to the wire, Fain’s ambitions go well beyond the meat and potatoes issues. He is out to change the way people think about — and treat — factory labor.
“Workers are fed up,” Fain said. “If Covid taught anybody anything, it taught people what’s important in life. And it sure as hell isn’t living in your workplace seven days a week so you can scrape to get by and barely survive.”
Hard to disagree on that part.
Who is ultimately responsible for making EV charging work? I don’t think this is something the auto industry can just outsource anymore. Not if they truly want this technology to catch on.
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