The electric vehicle fast charger debate is universal

By Sammie Eastwood
Electric vehicle manufacturers can’t agree on a universal solution for DC fast chargers. What does this mean for charging infrastructure and sector growth?

Opinion piece by Sammie Eastwood, Guest Editor.

You can say what you want about internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, but one thing you can’t disagree with is the ease with which you can refuel one. Yet, this fundamental expectation is not being carried over to their Electric counterparts. While universal solutions have been agreed for Level 1 and Level 2 charging, there is no industry consensus for the much faster DC charging option.

Considering how fundamental driving is to the modern lifestyle, having this kind of charger war is really detrimental to the consumer. It serves to increase range anxiety since not only will you need to look for a charging station, but unless you want to carry a multitude of adapters, you will also need to look for one that fits your particular car. An inconvenience that many drivers will be unwilling to suffer and likely mean they resist the switch to electric vehicles (EVs) for as long as possible.

There’s no incentive to standardise

So, why are car manufacturers so reluctant to agree on a standard for fast charging? Simply put, there is no incentive to do so. Fast charging is not the only option for consumers, who still have access to Level 1 and 2 chargers. DC Fast Charging could be considered an added bonus exclusive to particular models. Why would car manufacturers want to give up their competitive advantage by creating universal infrastructure that would enable another brand to sell at a lower price?

Apple Inc. argues that forcing a universal solution also hinders innovation. If car manufacturers aren’t rewarded for finding better technologies there is less incentive to invest in research and development (R&D). This has huge implications for the market as a whole, since competitive advantage is an essential driver of innovation. Other manufacturers aren’t necessarily forced to conform to standards that allow their products to be compatible with competitors purely for the sake of convenience. 

However, it could be argued that universal access to fast charging is not only convenient, but a vital component in the daily usage of EVs. ICE vehicles already conform to a universal fueling standard, and considering the EU has created legislation to force phone companies to use universal chargers by 2024, there is definitely precedent to enforce this in the EV market. Refusal to agree on a universal standard could leave car manufacturers shooting themselves in the foot by forcing obsolescence in models that don’t conform.

How this affects the consumer

Today many consumers, particularly outside of major cities, are barred from switching to EV by a lack of adequate infrastructure. Add to this being forced to buy certain brands because that is the only option served in your area and it becomes catastrophic. Not to mention it locks consumers to certain areas, potentially forcing them to change vehicles any time they move house, or risk extreme inconvenience.

Consumers feeling that EVs pose a hindrance to their daily lives will be less willing to make the switch. With carbon reduction being a major concern across the globe, any perceived barriers to adoption are detrimental. Not only this, but consumers who are unable to use fast chargers are at a distinct disadvantage on long journeys or when going abroad, which severely impacts quality of life.

Poor access to fast charging will impact lower income areas that might not receive as comprehensive services, leaving many people without transport once ICEs are outright banned. This disadvantage further entrenches some into generational poverty and directly contravenes steps taken by policy makers to make EVs more affordable. The EV solution only works if everyone uses it, democratising the industry is the only option for widespread adoption.

The lack of choice and fluidity with charging infrastructure could have serious implications for the acceptance of EVs in the short-term. In the long term, it could create a monopoly on infrastructure that limits consumers to buy certain brands. This could potentially price a lot of people out of the market and leave them reliant on other means of transport. 

While this could be better in terms of CO2 reduction and congestion, the reason many people choose to keep their own vehicles is by and large due to convenience. Many people’s lives are not conducive to being reliant on public transport, particularly in rural areas where access is less reliable. If convenience isn’t considered in the equation, it could severely impact adoption and the acceptance of EVs into the market. Thinking you have the upper hand because consumers will have to accept EVs at some point no matter what is extremely shortsighted.


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