Electric-car charging infrastructure in the United States is getting better, but still has a very long way to go.
While anyone that's given even a passing glance to plug-in vehicles would likely tell you the same thing, I experienced the impact of a charging-free society first-hand while driving a Ford Fusion Energi.
The plug-in hybrid Fusion takes the best parts of a Chevrolet Volt or Toyota Prius Prime—the ability to cover a useful distance on battery power alone—and inserts it into a vehicle with a handsome, much less polarizing design.
As a mid-size sedan, it promises more cabin space and better driving dynamics. It's a winning formula, but only if you have a reliable way to recharge the battery.
During five days behind the wheel, I covered more than 210 miles, but I was only able to recharge the battery overnight, using the 120-volt plug on the side of my garage.
2017 Ford Fusion Energi
In other words, my Fusion Energi never saw a 240-volt Level 2 charging station.
In the car's defense, though, you don't really need one. In fact, I'd go so far as saying that if I purchased a Fusion Energi, I wouldn't bother installing one.
Recharging isn't a lengthy process, even with a normal house plug—the Fusion took just over 6 hours to acquire 19 miles of electric range.
Those numbers clash with the EPA range rating, which comes in at 22 miles—a number I never saw, despite leaving the car plugged in all night. Ignoring the discrepancy, there's just enough juice for my needs.
My home in southern Oakland County, 1.5 miles from the Detroit border, is just over 19 miles from my office in Auburn Hills. With some intelligent driving, I could complete one leg of the journey with anywhere from 2 to 4 miles of charge to spare.
But once I was at the office, I was screwed, because there was no easy way to recharge the car.
2016 Ford Fusion Energi
I downloaded the PlugShare app, thinking it'd help me find a charging location, but all it really did was frustrate me. According to the app, there were six stations within a mile, but the nearest one was three-quarters of a mile away.
Walking that distance might be fine in southern California, but metro Detroit's weather and unfriendly attitude towards pedestrians make it next to impossible.
It left me wondering why, in 2017, this is a thing. Why aren't there at least a pair of 220-volt chargers in every corporate parking lot? Why isn't there one at the McDonald's up the street, or the Starbucks down the street?
Why am I at an office mere minutes from the site, of Chevrolet Bolt EV production and I can't recharge a piddly 7.6-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery for a couple of hours?
This may be more of a problem for the all-electric Bolt EV. For the plug-in hybrid Fusion, it's merely an inconvenience: run out of batteries and you're effectively driving a Fusion Hybrid with less trunk space—the two cars are otherwise remarkably similar.
But is it a big enough issue to dissuade customers from getting behind the wheel? The answer feels like a “yes.”
Battery pack assembly for 2015 Chevrolet Spark EV electric car at GM's Brownstown, Michigan, plant
While the Fusion Energi can easily recharge itself over night on a normal wall outlet, it's hard to ignore that for the same money—$37,690 in my Fusion Energi Titanium's case—I could get a Chevrolet Volt, install a Level 2 charging station in my garage, and erase my fuel consumption entirely.
This is one of the rare cases where a car's flaws have absolutely nothing to do with the vehicle itself. The Fusion Energi is a fine, efficient sedan that's a victim of its environment.
Until that changes, 19 miles of range isn't enough to justify better driving dynamics and a large cabin.