Electrify America and Tesla Superchargers earn top scores in the 2021 EV Charging Infrastructure Benchmark
If electric vehicles are to replace fossil-burners, drivers need reliable fast charging to enable long road trips. For some years, Tesla’s proprietary Supercharger network was the only game on the highway, but other firms have joined the market, and public DC fast charging stations are being rolled out across the US and Europe at an impressive pace.
Above: A Tesla charging at an Electrify America location in Florida (Source: PlugShare)
However, there’s still a long way to go in terms of uptime and user-friendliness. Independent testing is essential to help the charging industry focus its efforts to improve the public fast charging experience, and that’s where the global engineering firm umlaut comes in.
umlaut, part of Accenture, has been performing independent benchmarks from the user’s point of view in various industries for over 20 years. Last year, umlaut adapted its testing expertise and methodology to the US EV charging market and collaborated with Charged to publish its 2020 USA EV Charging Infrastructure Benchmark. Now, a year later, umlaut has conducted a second US study, this time in the Northeast.
For its 2021 EV Charging Infrastructure Benchmark report, umlaut conducted real-world tests of the seven largest fast charging networks—Electrify America, ChargePoint, EVgo, Greenlots, EV Connect, Blink and Tesla—and rated each of them using several criteria. umlaut looked at interoperability, pricing, transparency, functionality and availability, among other elements. How fast, and how simple, is the charging process? How convenient are the charging locations? Is the charging power that’s delivered the same as what’s advertised?
umlaut’s testers covered 2,100 miles to find and test top sites from each network—through seven states over six days during September 2021. They used a Ford Mach-E and a Tesla Model 3 as test vehicles, and conducted nearly 150 tests at 28 stations (four stations from each of the seven networks) in Michigan, Ohio, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
In order to rank the different networks, umlaut split its analysis into two : the charging network’s Digital Platform (website and app); and the Charging Location Experience. The company developed a comprehensive set of key performance indicators (KPIs) in order to compare the most important aspects of charging among the different networks.
Above: An inside look at the findings (Source: Charged)
As you may imagine, all of the networks had their pros and cons, and all fell short in some indicators. None earned a perfect score in any sub-category (although Tesla came pretty close in the Access & Payment metric). ChargePoint was strong in the App Functionality and Charging Location sub-categories. Greenlots got good marks for App Functionality and Price Transparency.
In the Charging Location Experience category, Tesla won by a wide margin. umlaut found the locations of the Superchargers and their immediate environments to be superior, and Tesla’s strong technical performance also scored top marks. One of Tesla’s greatest assets is its seamless access and payment system. To charge a Tesla, you don’t need to fiddle with an app or an RFID card—you just plug it in, and charging starts. There’s now an open-source platform that duplicates this functionality, called Plug & Charge, but at the moment Electrify America is the only major network that supports it.
Electrify America’s support for Plug & Charge earned it a lot of points from umlaut’s testers, as did the strong functionality of its app. EA narrowly won the top ranking in the Digital Platform category, edging out ChargePoint and Greenlots. This, combined with its second-place ranking in the Charging Location Experience category, propelled Electrify America to the top overall score in this year’s Benchmark: 702. Tesla was second overall with 649.
Charged and umlaut expected that awarding Tesla anything less than top ranking would be controversial, and they were right. After the rankings were published, an online howl was heard from Tesla fans. “Tesla’s the greatest! How dare anyone imply otherwise?”
Most of the howlers probably didn’t read the article, which explained umlaut’s ranking system in detail. While Tesla handily won in the Charging Location Experience area, it fared poorly in the Digital Platform area, due to the limited functionality of its web site and app.
Above: A Model 3 charging at a Tesla Supercharger location (Source: Charged)
As Charged and umlaut acknowledged, this is to some extent a case of comparing apples to oranges. Tesla’s app may not be as full-featured as those of the other networks, but it doesn’t need to be, because most of the functionality needed to locate and use Superchargers is incorporated into the vehicle’s infotainment system. Simply put, Tesla drivers seldom need to use the app or the web site for charging, and that’s a good thing.
umlaut set out to compare all the networks on an equal basis, and that led to a result that some may consider unfair. However, before you break out the torches and pitchforks, consider this: Tesla is in the process of opening up the Supercharger network to drivers of other EVs, and at the moment, these drivers (Europeans, so far) have to use the Tesla app to initiate and pay for Supercharging. To provide the best possible user experience, Tesla may need to beef up its app and web site. That’s exactly what umlaut’s Benchmark is designed to do: to provide network operators with real-world, user-oriented data about the weak links in their systems.
“We had a lot of internal discussions about including Tesla Superchargers in this year’s Benchmark,” said umlaut’s Christian Sussbauer, “because we really want to create a testing system that will capture the right metrics and provide the most useful information to the EV industry. To be honest, if you asked me before we conducted the tests, I think I would have predicted that Tesla Superchargers would end up leading in total points because it’s well known that they do a great job in many aspects of fast charging. And actually, our test results show this clearly—Superchargers excel in many important areas. It’s actually a little boring to test Supercharger stations because you just plug them in and they reliably work.”
At the end of the day, who “wins” in the rankings isn’t important. Drivers don’t choose a fast charging network the way they choose a grocery store or a plumber. When you’re on the road, you’re usually going to patronize the charging stations that are convenient to where you need to go. Charging stations are not yet so common that drivers have the luxury of choosing one network over another based on umlaut’s rankings.
No, the real point of this evaluation is to identify the areas in which particular networks are doing things right, and the areas in which they need to improve. As in any new industry, there’s plenty of room for improvement. It’s plain that some of the other networks have a lot to learn from Tesla in terms of making their charging locations and authentication/payment systems easy to use. On the other hand, as Tesla makes its network available to drivers of other EVs, it needs to bring the functionality of its app up to the level of the current in-car system.
Here’s another idea: could Tesla work with other automakers to add Supercharging functionality to their models’ infotainment systems? Or better yet, could automakers and charging networks get together to make it possible for every network’s app to work on every EV’s infotainment system, incorporating both Plug & Charge and Tesla Supercharging? Only once we have a system like that in place will charging up truly be as convenient as gassing up.