Ask anyone what kind of fuel their next car will take, and you'll likely get one of three answers: regular, premium, or diesel.
Ask that same person what kind of charging an electric car takes, and you'll probably get a blank stare.
Ask a salesperson at a car dealer how he explains the different kind of charging available for that brand's electric cars. You'll likely get the same blank stare.
CHECK OUT: Chargeway: the best electric-car idea you've never heard of (Jun 2017)
Then ask car shoppers what they want to know about electric-car charging, and there's only one answer: how long does it take?
At that point, electric-car advocates usually explain that Level 1 charging via a 120-volt wall socket takes 9 to 20 hours depending on battery size, but Level 2 charging halves that time or better, and while DC fast charging has three incompatible types, different makers use different plugs, and of course Tesla is entirely separate ... only to find the shopper had tuned out around the "120 volts" part.
Seven-plus years after the first Nissan Leaf was delivered to a buyer, most carbuyers still have no idea what to ask about electric-car charging. the general confusion among mass-market buyers and car shoppers over EV charging has not improved.
Nissan Leaf electric car with eVgo quick charging station. [courtesy eVgo]
In fact, a case can be made that the gobbledygook hurts sales of electric cars to mass-market buyers who are more interested in the transportation than the technology.
A year ago, at the Roadmap 10 conference in Portland, local graphic designer and Chevrolet Volt driver Matt Teske quietly showed an idea for a simple system of labels for charging stations.
It would use only colors and numerals to make it simple, quick, and obvious to everyone what kind of charging each car used, what kind was available at any site ... and how fast that charging was.
This week, Teske will update Roadmap 11 attendees—as an official panelist no less—on the progress of his Chargeway system since receiving enthusiastic reactions last summer. He'll also lay out exactly what will be included in the system's first real-world test, starting late this year.
On June 4, Chargeway announced its system would be used in a pilot program for charging stations along the state's I-5 and I-84 highway corridors, to launch late this year or early in 2019.
Most important to that test are the partnerships Teske has assembled. The Oregon Department of Transportation is fully committed to the project.
So is the Oregon Automobile Dealers Association, representing hundreds of dealerships. Two huge electric utilities in the area, Pacific Power and Portland General Electric, are also on board.
The final partner is Forth, the Oregon nonprofit whose mission is to advance electric, smart, and shared transportation. (The group also sponsors the Roadmap conference.)
Chevrolet Bolt EV being charged outside Go Forth electric-car showroom, Portland [photo: Forth]
That news release previewed a piece of the update Teske will give Roadmap attendees.
Now, in a wide-ranging two-hour interview, he has given Green Car Reports an exclusive look at his year's worth of progress.
A Chargeway presentation Teske has given dozens of times over the past year is titled "The Language of Electric Fuel."
It starts with the premise that drivers need to know only two things about powering (or "fueling") their cars: How long does it take? And what plug does it need?
Petro-Canada gas station, Crossfields, Alberta, with electric-car charging station
Every driver knows how to pump gas, and that it takes 5 minutes or so—or 10 or 15 minutes if you use the rest room or buy a soda.
To prove that point, Teske and colleagues surveyed 384 drivers of gasoline cars at the Portland Auto Show, asking them what kind of fuel their cars took.
The drivers overwhelmingly said either "regular" (68 percent) or "premium" (21 percent), with another 4 percent using the antiquated term "unleaded." Diesel came in at 3 percent.
Very few accurately identified the octane numbers associated with their choices, and fully 87 percent said it was more important to know how long refueling would take than what that octane rating meant.
Similarly, smartphone owners had no idea how many kilowatts their phone used when charging: they cared only about how long it took.
The lesson: a low number of commonly used names is important to understanding how to fuel a car, but numbers, ratings, and specifications are not.
Chargeway electric-car charging schematic
As for ease of use, for cars that use "electric fuel," plugging in a charging cable is easy to explain or imagine. How long the charging will take ... is not.
Electric-car advocates tend to insist on detailing standards, technologies, and the various ratings and specifications, leading to a horrendous word salad: J-1772, Level 1, Level 2, 120 volts, 240 volts, Tesla, CHAdeMO, CCS, Combo, 50 kilowatts, 125 kw, 350 kw, Supercharger ... and more.
None of those explains which terms apply to a specific car, or how fast they recharge relative to each other.
That's where Chargeway's red, green, and blue circles with numbers inside come into play.
Replacing the words and specs with a simple system of colors and numbers, Chargeway's low numbers indicate slower charging, while the higher numbers show faster rates.
Mockup of Chargeway system in charging-station locator app for electric-car drivers, June 2018
Drivers just want to know how fast the recharge is—and the system's scale of 1 to 7 encompasses all of today's existing and announced charging standards, plus room to expand on the top end for even faster charging not yet developed.
In Teske's view, the graphic labeling system meets the needs of all parties in the electric-car charging ecosystem:
- DRIVERS get a simpler way to filter an app that locates charging stations, without having to know the jargon, names, and ratings of the different standards
- DEALER SALESPEOPLE desperately need to understand "electric fuel" to explain easily and simply to mass-market buyers how the cars can be charged
- ELECTRIC UTILITIES get a much easier way to explain to their customers why they should consider "fueling" their next vehicle not with liquid hydrocarbons but with plug electricity
- CHARGING NETWORKS get a simple, universal, and easy-to-implement labeling system that all drivers will come to associate over time with electric-car charging
What he'll discuss this week includes the dealership angle specifically, with designs for a standardized Chargeway kiosk or "beacon" in showrooms that brings together all the information a novice electric-car shopper will need to understand how charging works.
It lets a salesperson and a shopper walk through the menu of charging options (blue, green, red) but quickly zero in on that maker's standard: "This car only uses blue stations, anywhere you go, and because it has fast charging, you can use any number up through 4."
Matt Teske, creator of fictional Chevrolet Jolt EV electric car website [photo: Transport Evolved]
A large local map will show all the relevant ("blue") charging sites, and include a trip planner so a car shopper can prove right there that it's possible to travel between two locations in an electric car, with a fast-charging stop or two added in.
Local utilities will provide electric rates and simple calculators will do the math on running costs, showing how much money drivers will save by substituting "electric fuel" for gasoline every 1,000 miles, say.
It's worth noting Teske now has a business model for Chargeway, a small amount of funding, and far more agreements in the works than he can talk about today.
Last year at this time, he was a random graphic designer with a sense that consumer-oriented thinking was sorely needed to make electric-car charging comprehensible to the mass-market buyers who don't have the dedication, passion, and inquisitiveness of the early adopters who've been the EV buyers to date.
Electric Avenue charging stations in Portland, Oregon [photo: Portland General Electric]
Teske has previous marketing experience in the auto industry. In 2016, for fun, he'd created a product concept—the Chevrolet Jolt EV—that got him the not-altogether-pleased attention of the largest carmaker in the U.S.
But the theme of that project—that marketing electric cars should be a whole lot simpler and alluring than it is—led him down the road to the ideas and partnerships that make up Chargeway.
Now, state dealership groups outside Oregon have started to ask about Chargeway and how they can get in on it.
Oregon electric-utility executives have quietly mentioned it at their own conferences and industry events, to considerable interest from other utilities struggling to explain electric cars and their benefits to residential customers.
2012 Ford Focus Electric launch, New York City, January 2011 - Bill Ford Jr.
Even automakers, which Teske suspects will be slowest to warm to the concept, are starting to ask about the system and the stir it is starting to create.
Best of all, the dozens of friends, colleagues, electric-car drivers, and random shoppers who've heard the pitch and seen his designs, mockups, and prototypes all seem to "get it."
Teske has a sense that with Chargeway, he can help ease several thorny problems that have held up electric-car sales.
Primary among those are dealer salespeople ignorant of how charging works, and mass-market car buyers who don't want or need to learn about volts, kilowatts, CHAdeMO, and all the rest.
This year, Matt Teske thinks he could be onto something big.