The technology to do most of this exists now. Pasquale Romano, the CEO of Coulomb Technologies, which has a network of charging stations, including one that’s just over a mile from our offices, says all the infrastructure to identify the charging station location, provide directions, and reserve the spot is already built into his charging network. He’s waiting on the automakers to enable the technology in their cars. GM says it’s working on a system, but hasn’t yet announced firm plans to include it in an upcoming model.
For now, subscribers to GM’s OnStar service, which costs $300 a year, can use it to get driving directions to charging stations, and in fact the Volt comes with a three-year subscription. But given how crucial charging locations could be to Volt drivers, being guided to nearby ones should not require the extra step of activating OnStar—and you shouldn’t have to pay extra for it.
GM could also make the car friendlier by redesigning the console, which looks like a spreadsheet, with its rows and columns and inscrutable abbreviations (I had to look up “AS 1-2” and “TP” in the owner’s manual). Also, it should lose the cumbersome black charge indicator that’s wired to the charging cord.
Having the Volt for a week also made something else clear—this is no car for city dwellers. It’s better for someone who parks in a garage with an outlet. Although there happened to be a charging station not too far from the office, charging stations are still rare in Boston, and a garage with a handy outlet is almost as rare. I had no place to plug in overnight, and although I work in a building with a parking garage, the building makes no outlets available to tenants.
Until charging stations are more widespread, the market in cities will be limited. That’s too bad, because in other ways—including the short driving distances and the good performance of electric motors—electric cars are perfect for cities.
This map, creating using data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, shows the location of registered electric charging stations across the United States. Raw data.