Home » This Truck Stop Brand Realized It’s Better To Build EV Charging Stations Like Gas Stations

This Truck Stop Brand Realized It’s Better To Build EV Charging Stations Like Gas Stations

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As electric vehicles continue to follow Americans home, America’s charging infrastructure will have to be up to the task of keeping everyone juiced up. Sure, most EV owners charge at home, but EVs are supposed to replace everything, from your local commuter to the road-tripper and even the semi-truck. Pilot Flying J, best known for its large highway travel center fuel stations, has teamed up with General Motors and EVgo to provide gas station-style charging solutions, and it’s a genius idea.

If this seems familiar to you, it’s because I wrote about a similar idea last month. Thor Industries, one of the largest camper conglomerates in America, wants to install rest areas with pull-through chargers for electric RVs. As of right now, Thor’s plan is still in the concept stage and requires government action for implementation.

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General Motors, EVgo, and Pilot Flying J just installed their first 22 of 500 charging stations, showing that a future of pull-through charging can be done. Let’s take a look.

Charging In Public Has Caveats

EV charging has an annoying limitation right now. The vast majority of chargers are found in parking stalls. You pull or reverse your EV into a parking space and then plug it in. This style of charging has largely worked since the rebirth of electric vehicles. There isn’t much difficulty pulling your Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model X, or any electric motorcycle into a space like this to get your charge on.

However, EVs are now expanding beyond motorcycles and passenger vehicles. Various companies are developing or producing electric trucks, travel trailers, and motorhomes. Not all of these vehicles will be expected to return home every night. Instead, some will be charging in public. That’s the only way you’ll be able to take anything resembling an actual vacation in an electric motorhome.

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Mercedes Streeter

This presents a problem. An electric motorhome can’t fit into a parking stall. It’s even worse if you’re towing an electric travel trailer with an electric vehicle. Now, it may sound silly to tow a travel trailer with an EV. Range testing, such as a test from Car and Driver, has shown that EVs like the Ford F-150 Lightning and the Rivian R1T may see their ranges drop to just 100 miles when towing a camper. However, companies including Airstream, Pebble, and Lightship all have campers in the works that have their own EV drivetrains. These campers will help their tow vehicles retain range by helping to pull themselves along. The campers aren’t out on the market yet, but they’re in active development.

When these trailers do hit the road, their owners will have to figure out how to charge both their tow vehicle and their trailer. The current EV charging stalls just aren’t going to work for that. They also won’t work for people towing regular unpowered trailers with their EVs.

Mercedes Streeter

Ok, so that’s just one problem. There’s another problem and it’s where you’ll find charging stations. A lot of charging stations are placed nowhere interesting. You’ll often find them at hotels and other odd spots. My city has a few charging stations. Almost all of them are in entirely boring places. What are you going to do as your car charges up next to city hall? Juicing up at an auto repair shop nowhere near any other store is hardly a fun activity.

General Motors, EVgo, and Pilot Flying J realized one solution was simple: Just give EV owners the same infrastructure as ICE owners. Why charge at a hotel when you can fuel up at a place with a restaurant, restrooms, showers, and shopping just like ICE owners can?

The Gas Station Solution

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Pilot Flying J

Back in July 2022, Pilot Flying J, the purveyor of those Pilot Travel Centers and Flying J truck stops that you see on the side of highways, announced a grand plan with General Motors and EVgo, a provider of EV charging stations. The three companies planned on joining forces not just to add chargers to America’s charging network, but to enhance the charging experience.

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The brilliance, I think, comes from the Pilot Flying J-side of the equation. Chances are, you’ve stopped at a Flying J or Pilot Travel Center before for fuel, a restroom visit, or food. They are convenient places to stretch your legs, take the dog for a walk, and maybe scarf down some pizza before you hop back on the road again. People use EVs for road trips, too, so there’s no reason why EV owners can’t have the same experience. Why should they have to stare at a Holiday Inn for 30 minutes at a time?

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Pilot Flying J

Now, EV owners will be able to do the same as ICE owners can. But the good ideas don’t stop there. The stations being constructed by this trio of companies resemble a typical gas station. Instead, you get EV chargers instead of fuel pumps. At first glance, it seems like a waste of space. You could charge far more vehicles in parking spaces. These charging canopies will be great for people with larger EVs such as trucks, camper vans, travel trailers, and motorhomes. There would be no need to unhitch your trailer. Just drive up and hook up, not much different than you would with an ICE vehicle.

Pilot Flying J explains what each company is doing in this partnership. For General Motors, these charging stations are a part of its $750 million investment in EV infrastructure. GM wants to install up to 40,000 chargers in dealership communities and collaborate with EVgo to provide another 3,250 charging stalls in large cities by 2025. EVgo is providing the technology. Each of these new gas station-style charging stalls will be branded as “Pilot Flying J” and “Ultium Charge 360.” Underneath the branding sits EVgo eXtend 350 kW chargers and all EVs will be welcome.

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Pilot Flying J

Part of the plan behind partnering with Pilot Flying J is to provide charging along highways in and near rural and urban communities. That way, more people could take EVs on road trips and more people in rural areas could feel more confident in buying an EV. Here was Pilot Flying J’s expectation in 2022:

By the end of 2023, it is expected that at least 25 Pilot and Flying J travel centers will feature EV fast charging, with approximately 200 locations targeted by the end of 2024. In total, the network will include up to 2,000 high-power fast-charging stalls at up to 500 Pilot and Flying J travel centers across the U.S., connecting urban and rural communities. Expansion sites for this network have been strategically selected for continued electrification of highly traveled corridors in every corner of the nation.

The new stations first started coming online in September. Click here to see one in action by mikethecargeek on Threads. As of Pilot Flying J’s most recent update, there are currently 17 Pilot Flying J locations across 13 states with online Ultium Charge 360 stations. The trio of companies expect to hit their goal of 25 locations by the end of this year. Pilot Flying J’s website currently shows 22 stations up and running.

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Pilot Flying J

By the end of next year, they expect to have 200 stations. When the network is complete, Pilot Flying J, EVgo, and GM expect to place a total of 2,000 fast-charging stalls at 500 Pilot and Flying J travel centers dotting America. Of course, 2,000 chargers isn’t a lot, but they will help make towing with an EV make more sense.

If you’re interested in charging at one of these stations, they will show up on major charging apps including GM’s apps, the Pilot myRewards Plus app, EVgo, and PlugShare. Next spring, GM EV owners will be able to reserve a charging stall and may see a discount as well. For me, I love that double shot of pull-through chargers and an accessible location. You can make 30 minutes pass by quickly when you have a bathroom, a restaurant, and free Wi-Fi. It’ll also be nice to have ample lighting at night and not be all alone in the corner of a parking lot.

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Uncle D
Uncle D
7 months ago

The biggest issue I have seen (besides dead or poorly working charges) is the queue. Several charging sites I have seen have no way for people to get in line to wait. There’s either no space or just confusion.

The last time I tried to charge during a trip we arrived at a charging location that Google said had 8 chargers, but it only had 4 and only 2 of them were working. Two police vehicles were parked in front of the charges and were telling someone that he had to leave and let the lady in the car next to him charge. Turns out she was parked in front of a dead charger waiting for the person connected to the working charging in the next space to finish. That person finished and left and before she could connect, a guy in a VW pulled in front of the working charger and connected his car. She explained she was waiting for the charger, but he refused to disconnect so she called the police. They eventually made him disconnect and leave. BTW, they told him he could go over the Tesla chargers and charge their with an adapter (no true).

Since there’s no place to queue I parked in front of one of the dead chargers waiting for the working one to open up. While waiting I noticed there was a Mach-e parked nearby and realized they were waiting, as well. I went over to talk to the driver to let her know I had noticed her and that she might want to line up next to the other working charger which would open up first.

Charging stations need to be laid out to facilitate queuing to reduce confusion and conflict. As more people move to EVs, it’s only going to get worse. I went over to talk to the other driver to let her know I saw her and knew she was first, but I don’t expect others to be that considerate (based on overwhelming evidence/experience). Everyone already knows how to queue up at gas stations so I like the idea of making EV charging stations in the same fashion.

Last edited 7 months ago by Uncle D
Farty McSprinkles
Farty McSprinkles
7 months ago

It’s brilliant. The main reason is they don’t have to make a huge profit to justify the chargers. There is a reason that almost every gas station is now a convenience store. The money is in the retail, not the the gas. EV companies get the space and infrastructure, Pilot gets the retail sales, and it’s a win/win.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
7 months ago

“This presents a problem. An electric motorhome can’t fit into a parking stall”

They can however fit just fine in RV camping spots, especially camping spots set up with shore power. They can also fit on the owners driveway with an extension cord instead of selfishly being a semi permanent fixture on the street.

Pedro
Pedro
7 months ago

This is good. One thing, beyond convenience for EV owners, is that the chargers are at a location ICE owners also use. The sight of EVs will become more common in a familiar surrounding, people can ask questions and look at the cars, and maybe realize that EVs aren’t weird, and *ssholes just like them drive them. It’s a good thing.

OnceInAMillenia
OnceInAMillenia
7 months ago

I’m really interested to see how the idea of “reserving” a charger works in the US. I would expect in Japan or Germany people would respect the process and leave said space open, but here? People would still park in them, assuming the charger is broken

Black-Villain
Black-Villain
7 months ago

Mercedes has started doing it at their Charging Hub in Georgia. When navigating to the station, you can “reserve” a spot I believe 10 minutes before you get there, via the infotainment. The car knows when you’re almost there, the light above the charger turns orange, and it doesn’t allow any car other than yours to plug in and charge. If you’re not there within that 10 minute window, you lose the reservation, the orange light above it goes off, and it’s available again.

As for people parking there… I guess you could just use an overhead security cam, and be able to list if a spot is available or not depending on if a vehicle is parked there, should be pretty easy through software. Mercedes’ hub is right in front of their HQ and is for EV’s only and there’s no reason to be there other than to charge, so… I don’t foresee that particular location having that issue

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