Charging Etiquette Fail: Why Electric-Car Owners Resent Plug-In Hybrids

Follow John

Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrids charging in San Francisco garage [photo: Robert Olson]

Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrids charging in San Francisco garage [photo: Robert Olson]

Enlarge Photo

With almost 100,000 plug-in electric cars on U.S. roads now, congestion at charging stations is starting to crop up.

And that has brought to light an issue of electric-car charging etiquette that may prove challenging: Should battery-electric cars get precedence over plug-in hybrids?

The question has cropped up again in a Reddit post written by BMW ActiveE driver Robert Olson, entitled, "Ford Motor Co should follow their own EV etiquette."

Olson customarily drives to work in downtown San Francisco, and parks and charges his battery-electric BMW in a public garage at Mission and Fifth Streets that has several ChargePoint charging stations.

Monday morning, he found that the spaces had been roped off by garage staff since Saturday (a repeat of a problem he'd had to complain to management about several weeks ago, which was fairly promptly resolved by restoring first-come, first-serve access to the charging stations).

This time, however, the culprit appeared to be Ford Motor Company--or, at least, someone acting on its behalf who needed to charge an entire fleet of 2013 Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid sedans.

That model has just gone on sale in California and a few other locations, with 119 sold last month.

To be clear, there are two separate issues at play here. First and most annoying is that garage staff blocked access to the charging stations for two days to permit a single customer exclusive use of public infrastructure (likely installed with some Federal funding).

[UPDATE: Ford responded: We're really sorry we inconvenienced you but wanted to let you know that we did follow the rules for these spots. They ask for reservations in advance and we both reserved and paid for charging. Again, I know it's an inconvenience to you, but we did observe the policies that the garage outlined for us.]

Electric-car charging stations blocked by garage staff in San Francisco garage [photo: Robert Olson]

Electric-car charging stations blocked by garage staff in San Francisco garage [photo: Robert Olson]

Enlarge Photo

Worse, the garage posted no warning of the impending closure, which affected all customers who drive plug-in electric cars--though it posts alerts about other kinds of work literally weeks ahead of time, Olson says.

The second issue, and the one that additionally irked Olson, is that the cars being charged weren't battery-electric vehicles like his ActiveE (or Ford's own low-volume Focus Electric hatchback), but plug-in hybrids.

The Ford Fusion Energi has a smaller lithium-ion battery pack, giving it an EPA-rated electric range of 21 miles, but can operate as a conventional hybrid at any time if the pack is depleted, using its gasoline engine and regenerative braking to recapture energy.

So, Olson wrote, Ford is actually contradicting its own advice on charging etiquette, proffered in a video that it posted on YouTube last September (see below).

MORE: Your Ultimate Guide To Electric-Car Charging Etiquette

"EV etiquette suggests that [hybrid plug-in drivers] give the spot to the all-electric car," says "EV Charging Etiquette Expert" Tommy Simon in the video (starting at 1:42). "Keep in mind, electricity is his only means of fuel."

In the end, Olson not only posted the story on Reddit but also left the following note:

2013 Ford Fusion Energi

2013 Ford Fusion Energi

Enlarge Photo

Dear Ford Motor Company,

Thank you for inconveniencing several drivers that use these EV chargers for the last two days, they have been BLOCKED so you can park a plug in hybrid that does not need to charge into them… I know of at least 4 people that were impacted by your request to have these chargers blocked off, which resulted in BEV drivers that commute in from San Jose, etc to have to wait several hours at a DIFFERENT location in order to make it home.

And to garage management if you read this, GIVE US A WARNING NEXT TIME! We don’t all have gas generators for backups!

His post is another example of electric-car owners trying to use a little public shame to persuade others to behave more considerately.

Where do you fall on this issue? Is the garage within its rights to block access to charging stations and restrict their use for two days to a single customer?

And, should battery-electric car drivers get preference for charging-station access over drivers of plug-in vehicles that also have a combustion engine?

Leave us your thoughts--politely, please!--in the Comments below.


Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow Us

Comments (78)
  1. The analogy is not perfect, but parking spots in Boston can be taken over for private use for extended periods of time. Here is how it workds.

    You go to the city, make the request, pay the money (if approved), and the city posts signage on the meters (zip-tied) at least one day ahead of time. The signs indicated the dates and times that the spots will be reserved (you will be towed if you don't observe them).

    This has the advantage of there being a "process" and supplying notification.

  2. First, how is a plug-in hybrid driver supposed to know if a pure EV is going to need the space? If this is a "first come, first served" situation, owners with plug-in hybrids have as much of a right to use public chargers as do pure EVs. I don't agree with how the chargers were utilized in this situation though...that was plain rude/inconsiderate. I bought my Volt so I could plug it in whenever possible. If I can't plug it in, I can run on fuel to get me home. I didn't want to accept the risk of being stranded. A pure EV driver purchases their vehicle accepting the risk. Sometimes, the gamble doesn't pay off. Sorry to sound cold but,if there's a charger open, I'm using it.

  3. In the old days we left a note on the dash indicating the time our car could unplug and a way to contact us. We also moved our cars when our charge was complete.

  4. What old days?

  5. Some of us have been driving EVs for many years before the current batch of manufactured EVs came along. EV etiquette has a long history and yes, we did have notes we regularly used.

  6. Link to Ford placard:

    "Old timey" (still relevant) charging protocol page (includes links to protocol cards):

    A cool EV placard an energy company made:

    Example of a courtesy notice to leave when you get ICEd. Specific to california and not particularly polite but you can use it to make your own (DOC):

    ICEd notices from Blink. They go from polite to angry. Pick your mood:

  7. The EV Etiquette Rules are listed here... EV

  8. I never said I resent PHEV at all, I merely resent the fact how Ford blocked the spaces, most of the volt drivers are courteous and move their car in this garage after 2-3 hours when their car finishes. Mine often takes about 2-5 hours depending on how many miles I drove that morning. If I know I'm busy I take a glance at the chargepoint app to make sure that the stations aren't fully utilized and if they are, I excuse myself for a few minutes to move the car. PHEV drivers are actually driving the installation of chargers in my opinion because they need to plug in more often to be able to drive gas free. But they should also not be upset if they are ever unplugged if someone who needs it to get home does so.

  9. I agree with what you said.

    Howevere I don't think it is right to "unplug" a PHEV without the owner's permission. I always leave a note and cell phone number for my Volt. But I will be pissed if someone unplug my Volt without my permission.

  10. Robert - thanks for clarifying your stance. I've already seen too much animosity against Volts from ActiveE drivers (facebook group postings). What Ford did at your garage is completely unacceptable, especially not posting advanced notice.

  11. It's unfair to accuse PHEV/EREV drivers as the sole source of bad EV etiquette. I've seen more BEV drivers monopolize (leaving the car at the charger after it is done charging) a public charging station than any other type of EV. I'm not condoning what Ford or the parking garage did, the argument just goes both ways.

    Since I drive I Volt, I don't mind if a BEV driver has to unplug my car for an emergency if they leave a note. Sometimes I can pull up in a non-EV marked space and the cable will still reach the car so another EV can pull into the designated space if necessary.

    Some people go crazy if someone has unplugged them when their car is no longer charging. It's public charging - if you don't like it, don't use it.

  12. I'm not going to begrudge plug-in hybrid drivers a few kilowatts. But I'm also not going to hide my annoyance when they take the L2 slot instead of the L1 slot on a Chargepoint when they know they'll be there for more than an hour or two. It's almost like the PiP doesn't have a charge state indicator in order to hide the fact they aren't actually charging most of the time they're plugged in.

  13. PiP does have an indicator that is next to the J1772 connector. It's a little light in the shape of an appliance plug. It doesn't show what capacity the battery currently is, but it shows if the car is charging (light is on) or not (light is off).

    So many people don't move their cars after it's done charging. I ended up creating a cheat sheet of all production EV charging indicators so I can know if someone is charging or not.

  14. Can you share that with us?

  15. I asked Plugin America to create something like this a while back and I never heard back from them. So I made one of my own.

    It's nowhere near complete, but pretty much covers all of the EVs that I see on a regular basis. I just updated it to unplug all the Ford Energi models and Tesla.

  16. I'm missing the Accord PHEV, but I can't find the owners manual for that car yet.

  17. Well, "hogging" the spot without charging (plugged in or NOT) is wrong. If your battery is full, move it.

    Leave a number so someone can call you to move it.

  18. Why would someone need to call to move it?

  19. In case you forgot about it (busy day happens). Sure there are apps and emails, but NOT all charging locations are networked. Some of them are nothing more than outlets. Some people still don't use smart phones. So, old fashion phone calls work great in reminding people about it....

  20. The problem with using the L1 is that then you have to get that cord out of the trunk, unwind it, then reverse when you're departing -- and the cord may be dirty from having been on the ground. I could be in a suit, and besides at that point it's such an annoyance that if I ever have to take that thing out of the trunk short of an emergency, I will not bother charging. Life is just too short to have to bother. A nice clean L2 that you don't have to wind and touch the actual cord (just the handle) is okay if it's fast and unbureaucratic and I don't have to think about when it's finished etc -- yes -- but otherwise it's not worth the extra brain cycles. Too much else to think about.

  21. As a Volt driver I need L2 to EV it to a location and back, sometimes more so than a BEV driver who has much greater range. I know that if they push it, they are risking NOT making it back. However, I didn't pay a huge premium to have an electric drivetrain with 16kw battery to operate on gas. I think the most important progression is to begin a system that REQUIRES your car to be actively charging, or moved soon. I would be very upset knowing that I plugged into L2 for anything more than 4 hours which is a full charge for me. I do not understand this growing divide and this elitism that a few BEV drivers are displaying. If the car can accept the juice, then it's irrelevant whether we also purchased a car with a contingency plan.

  22. This situation where they blocked off the cars though... that was just a disaster and really sad and annoying to see happen. I sympathize with that.

  23. I don't think BEV drivers are displaying elitism. Most of us agree with your statement and want you to be able to go electric as much as possible. We are all disappointed when any driver stays on the charger longer than is necessary. I think we can all agree that it's only fair (given the ramifications) that a BEV driver can unplug a PHEV if absolutely needed. Notes should be left regardless.

  24. One of the things I like about the LEAF is that there is a clear (albeit rough) indicator in the dash for anyone to see what the current charging state is.

    There are three lights:
    - If only one light is blinking, they are low. Don't unplug them for any reason.
    - If there is one solid and one blinking, they're in the middle part of their charge. Unplug only if it is an emergency.
    - If there are two solid and one blinking, they're in the last third of their charge and likely have a usable range of over 40 miles. I think it's okay to unplug with a note if needed.
    - If all three are solid or all are dark, the vehicle is not charging any more. You can unplug at will.

    How about with a Volt?

  25. Once the Volt is fully charged, its green charging light (at the base of the windshield) will flash instead of being solid (charging).

  26. I have a great idea!! Have a fleet of Ford F350 (the big guzzling kind) trucks strategically positioned throughout the city so a EV owner can contact one with their EV WHINE SmartPhone app. Those Leaf owners with enough foresight to recognize the potential issue of no power on demand that have bought the power take off shaft option can couple with the gas guzzler F350's PTO and charge their batteries. While the F350 burns up 10 gallons of gas, the Leaf owner can go back to patting himself on the back for saving the world by using emission free electricity. Leave it to the old school to save the day.

  27. First, everybody needs to be able to get to home or their destination. Second, It's all about gasoline avoidance, yes that includes the 11 mile range Plug In Prius. But we all need to cooperate, share and get more chargers.

    Ford's actions in this instance are way over the top and extremely inconsiderate to others. They need to make amends and make sure this never happens again. I do EV events frequently and I MAKE SURE EVERYONE get the charge they need!

  28. This specific issue with Ford in this particular parking garage had a specific reason: Ford is hosting an event in conjunction with the annual Cleantech Forum in SF, which takes place these 3 days. They are making a fleet of plug-ins available for conference attendees (including a related press event) to test drive. So Ford had reserved these chargers for a couple of hours so as to charge this fleet, enabling these conference test drives. Yes, perhaps it should have been advertised better and I see the problem. But this is not an ongoing problem -- it was a specific event which ends today, with Ford shipping a bunch of cars from Michigan so that all the conference attendees here can do all of these test drives. (cont'd)

  29. ...As far as the larger/broader issue of whether a Volt owner takes precedence over a LEAF owner, that's the subject of a separate commentary, but for now suffice it to say this: As a Volt owner, what are you supposed to do -- not plug in? Practically speaking, what do the complainers suggest? I drive into the city for a meeting that starts at 7:30am and ends at 5:30pm. I plug in. Now what?

  30. "Practically speaking, what do the complainers suggest?" Ford should use their contact card, as they correctly suggest. Props to Ford on the savvy EV etiquette video. Now, how to get their marketing department to watch it?!?

  31. Practically speaking, not about this one-time Ford event at the San Francisco cleantech conference in SF, but practically speaking for someone who is going to be in a meeting from 7:30am to 5:30pm, plugging in say at 7am.

  32. This problem can be solved easily by charging owners extra once their cars is full.

    The problem is the free stations.

    Now, as far as priority between BEV vs. PHEV goes, it is NONSENSE. If both of them need charges, it should be first come first serve. Once they are full, neither should park there to take up spaces...

    Now, if a BEV can't get home b/c they didn't plan the trip correctly, then that is BEV owner's responsibility. A tow truck is only a call way. However, if that BEV owner needs a charge and others are "hogging" the spot, then that is wrong. But if others need charge and BEV owners need a charge too, then BEV owners don't deserve any priority.

  33. Yes, I believe in market powers as well. Depending on their SOC level, some BEV owners might be very motivated to get an opportunity charge. Instead of accusing each other of taking up a valuable resource when not absolutely necessary, I think that we should encourage station owners to start charging for charging, and let the situation sort itself out based on supply and demand. This might encourage the installation of additional charging infrastructure, which is what everyone would welcome.

  34. I really like that idea of higher cost for not charging. If there was a $5 an hour charge for plugged in and not charging, it works great, the only issue is when people are parked and not plugged in. At that point, it should be a parking ticket, but difficult to enforce in a private lot.

  35. Parking tickets for unplugged EVs are a good idea in theory, but then you have to account for vandalism. What happens if someone comes up and unplugs you? Are you then liable for a ticket? Seems a little unfair to me. It would be one thing to lock the plug in place, but then that prevents anyone else from using it if the vehicle finishes charging before the owner returns.

  36. That is why I think "unplugging" other cars is wrong.

    Everyone should leave a contact number for others to call. That is also why charging people EXTRA for NOT charging is a good way to encourage people to turn off spots.

  37. Unplugging someone after the charge has completed is fine, even though they should have the courtesy to move their car, but I never unplug someone who is actively charging. I admit it's sometimes hard to not feel animosity towards Prius Plugin drivers since the EV range is so short, but we can't lose sight of the big picture. The more EV miles driven, the better off our air will be and the better off our country will be.

  38. Problem with that is that very few people is going to bother calling some stranger, and secondly, I never pick up the phone anyway if it's an unknown number. Also, if I'm in a meeting for a few hours, I don't check voice mail until the evening. It's probably better to send an email, but then again a response could take a couple of hours because the recipient could be in an intense meeting, which is probably why he has traveled into the city to begin with.

  39. Well, if you unplug a Volt and the Volt's alarm is on, it will go off loudly...

  40. There are more comments in this thread
  41. I have had that happen more than once. But then the alarm goes off, and a blowing horn is a sure fire way to get a ticket.

  42. Ok, so we need cameras, parking tickets, full charge time rates, anti-PHEV signs, and we will all be happy. Except for all those silly Volt owners ;-)

  43. higher cost for NOT charging will help station owners as well. It will increase turn over which draws more customers AND compensate the station owners for space "hogged" by non-chargers...

  44. Charging owners once their cars are full will discourage people from charging at all. When I go into the city, I'm often/typically there to attend some conference or meeting that goes from before 8am until some time after 5pm, but my car is fully charged by Noon at the very latest. If I am to be charged, I will simply not plug in to begin with, but rather drive on gasoline all the time.

  45. And you can't spend 5 mins for break to move your car?

    I am sure you have time to go to bathroom...

  46. Yes, but this is often not possible if you park in downtown SF or in NYC. Your car could be several blocks away, and it could be a major inconvenience, when you have business partners to attend to. I still believe that charging an hourly or per kWh fee would help sort out demand and help put the necessary infrastructure in place. Another possibility in City garages is EV valet. Much like this one:

  47. Agreed, the EVSE's that charge .49/kwh get avoided like the plague, yet if you REALLY needed it, you would use it.

  48. Robert, I think per hour is better than per kW, because once it is full it doesn't cost anything to stay there

  49. There are more comments in this thread
  50. I showed up with a Chevy Volt at the same location on Monday at noon. The entire bank of Charge Point parking spaces was marked off with yellow tape. But a LEAF owner and a Tesla S owner had simply lifted the tape, pulled in, and plugged in. So I did too. I returned at 4pm (about the time the 3-day Cleantech Forum was starting) and retrieved the Volt. No Fords in sight. No parking-garage vehicles blocking the spaces, either. That must have happened Tuesday. I'm not sure if Ford was over-zealous, the garage staff was over-zealous, or both. But I am glad that long ago I learned to "question authority," as the bumper sticker says.

  51. First of all, I'm not going to take the bait as a BEV driver and allow myself to be put in an adversarial relationship with my PHEV cousins, even though the press appears to be egging us on. I applaud all pluggers.

    I look forward to the day when there are enough charging stations installed that no one need worry about finding a place to refuel.

    I remember the gas shortage of the late '70s with long lines, odd/even plate days, and sometimes no gas at all.

    Electric car fuel is abundant and everywhere. We just don't have enough dispensers....yet.

  52. Exactly. The problem is not enough charging stations. until this is resolved, we're like dogs fighting for scraps and bones...

  53. I drive a Leaf and HATE moving my car in the middle of the day. The Washington DC garage I park in has a single L2 (free Juice Bar) EVSE. There are about 5 plug-in vehicles who complete for the EVSE. I need a little over 2 hours of L2 charge to compensate for my morning drive.

    I asked the management if I could just L1 plug into a wall outlet I found and stay there all day. About 7 hours of L1 is the charging I need.

    Doing this I:

    Occupy the L2 less during the day so other cars have more opportunity
    Leave work with a full charge everyday (great for unexpected things)
    Don’t have to move my car

    So far everyone is happy

  54. As an evil person, I hate the idea of a fully electric car and love the idea of feeding on people's fear to require a plug-in hybrid. Really this is just my personal hope. Still leaves my mechanics with oil changes, radiator work and funds my control of government. I love those with resources to get home strand those stupid enough to buy a pure electric car. As a saint sent from realms above I rejoice when I see anyone not use fuel, for each step, every ounce of gas not used, every penny saved. I appreciate the wisdom of those with plug-in hybrids. Yet, I value those with pure electrics that get 250 miles on a charge, the sacrifice they have made - what? -You own a pure ev that gets 40 miles on a charge - Burn!!!!

  55. @Ben: Uhhhhhhh ... WHUT?

  56. @Ben Brown,

    you are disturbed...

  57. John & Xiaolong Li, In this instance you are both right. I apologize. I am at least of two minds. John Porter below illustrates my chief concern. I see the present system as putting pressure on those who own a pure ev to abandon it for a plug-in. I could be wrong but my gut tells me this is not an accident and in spite of the money put into battery research, plug-in hybrids benefits auto makers far more than a pure ev. It bothers me people demand individual rights over mutual obligations to their community. I deserve to plug in because I have more power (money) than you... not I have real need.. 40 mile range ev's exist - but aren't considered. The present paradigm favors only the increase in Plug-in hybrids not investing in pure ev's.

  58. Maybe instead of focusing your anger on PHEVs, you should focus on the lack of infrastructures and lack of viable BEVs that can provide 200 miles range.

    Many of the Volt owners do want to drive BEVs, but it is NOT practical to do so b/c of the exact problem of lacking infrastructure and lack of choice. There isn't a single EV below $45k that would provide you with 100 miles range... Maybe you should go back to Nissan and fault it for delivering a "false promise".

  59. No anger. Simply concern and sorrow. For the future I foresee, it is great business not to have a pure battery electric as long as possible. We can increase chargers all over the place so they are numerous as parking meters, but if underlying paradigm sees more financial profit in plug in hybrids a pure ev will never be practical. Thank goodness, I've been wrong as least as often as I've been right - none of my fears may be valid. Its just a concern of mine. I'm at best only human.

  60. The Leaf is practical for most people, and just about every family. And the Wheego is priced under 45k and you don't have to try very hard to go a hundred miles, like in the leaf.

  61. Ben, DC quick chargers would go a long way to help pure EVs, and they wouldn't have to compete with plugin hybrids for that resource. It's unlikely that any PHEV with a relatively small battery will be outfitted with a QC inlet. It's just not economical; the fuel savings would not justify the extra cost. However, for pure BEVs, this makes perfect sense. It completely untethers the entire experience, to use JB's words, and is well worth it. I would encourage everyone rooting for BEVs to advocate deployment of DC quick chargers.

  62. Tesla is solving that problem by building Super Chargers AND allowing its car to charge on different outlets...

  63. I´ve been testing the Renault ZOE these days in Europe and I can say that its Camaleon charger and ac fast charge (single phase 3 kw or 7 kw, or three phases with 11 kw, 22, kw or 43 kW) it´s awsome and ac chargers are quite cheap. I think it´s the right way to go. I charged form 40% (8,8 kWh)to 100% (22 kWh) with 22 kW charger in less than 45 minutes.

  64. I specifically chose to NOT have the QC port on the leaf, it is 1600 more for that package. Hmm. You make me question that. Oh well, not a single QC in Ohio yet, so I still don't think it is worth it.

  65. Provide enough charge stations to meet demand regardless of EV type.

  66. When I purchased our Miev, my thought was to never need a commercial charger. I limit our trips to the capacity of the battery. I'll never depend on a commercial charger being available because of all the problems mentioned above. Our next second car will be plug-in hybrid, still avoiding dependence on commercial/public chargers. Problem solved.

  67. What is the reference for "With almost 100,000 plug-in electric cars on U.S. roads now"? Thank-you!

  68. @Alicia: 17,500 sold in 2011 + 53,000 sold in 2012 + 11,000 sold Jan-Mar 2013 + roughly 5,000 or so misc + conversions + 1998-2002 CA ZEVs gets us to about 86.5K. I rounded up!

    To your point, we may not reach a documented 100K until perhaps May or June. That make sense?

  69. Hey thanks John! That does make sense. I'm just wondering where you get those numbers. I'd like to reference them.

  70. hello, which is which? it is very obvious that the FORD cars did a misdemeanor as such. as a dealer or manufacturer they should provide their OWN charging stations!!

Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.