The home base for the U.S. auto industry has long been downtown Detroit. And as much as that industry has wanted to talk the talk about electrification the past several year, it hasn’t walked the walk in its home turf.
Detroit almost made it to the end of the decade without a single DC fast charger. Until recently—like just three months ago—there wasn’t a single publicly accessible DC fast charger in the entire City of Detroit.
Going back to 2011, just after the Chevy Volt was launched, DC fast charging was unheard of in Metro Detroit and publicly available Level 2 charging was as rare as CHAdeMO fast chargers on the West Coast. In eight years, the charging options have blossomed around Detroit, and there are now plenty of Level 2 stations to choose from—most of them clustered around the Woodward Avenue corridor or in outer suburbs, but fast charging coverage, which takes a little more investment generally, is sparse.
Downtown Detroit fast charger - PlanetM / DTE Energy
The four new ChargePoint DC fast chargers in downtown Detroit were installed not directly by a specific charging network or automaker but by a collaborative group called ChargeD. They’re located at Capitol Park, in a project managed by DTE Energy and operated by Blue Energy.
ChargeD gets support from GM, the City of Detroit, and Blue Energy, and it’s one of five pilot projects overseen in 2019 by a group called Project Kinetic—itself supported by GM along with Lear Corporation, Quicken Loans, Planet M (the state’s mobility initiative) and others—that aims to provide more mobility options in Detroit.
Project Kinetic describes the effort as “futuristic public spaces in the heart of Detroit—Capitol Park and Beacon Park—where people can meet and socialize while fast-charging their EVs and learn about the benefits of EVs and mobility technologies.”
To use Portland as an example, it sounds like what that city developed starting in 2010 as Electric Avenue, expanding it in 2011 to dedicate an entire city block to public charging—some of it DC fast charging—amid public space.
Electric Avenue rededication, Portland, July 2015
Electric Avenue - Portland, OR
Electric Avenue charging stations in Portland, Oregon [photo: Portland General Electric]
As of today, according to PlugShare, there are only 16 locations in all of Michigan that provide CCS fast charging (50 kw+) and 17 that provide CHAdeMO fast charging. There aren’t any fast chargers in Michigan’s upper peninsula, or even north of Grand Rapids, which is in the southern portion of the lower peninsula.
As an executive who didn’t want to be named pointed out to Green Car Reports last year, there wasn’t enough range in any of the cars the Big 2.5 (GM, Ford, or Chrysler) produce to be able to make a quick out-and-back trip from the closest DC fast charger, in Grand Rapids, to Traverse City where the annual CAR Management Briefing Seminars are held each August. The only way to do it smoothly is in a Tesla, as there's a Supercharger in Traverse City.
The State of Michigan recognizes the issue, and issued an extensive report last year assessing future needs and best fast-charging locations.
Does Detroit itself deserve a little shaming for this? Perhaps. Or perhaps the real finger-pointing should go to GM and Ford. With electric the future, there are no public charging installations at GM headquarters in the Renaissance Center or at Michigan Central Station and Corktown, where Ford’s Team Edison steers the 2021 Mustang Mach-E toward sales—or at Cobo Hall, the longtime home of the North American International Auto Show. It’s puzzling that GM and Ford don’t make charging a presence in their own backyard. Like Tesla, in Fremont or Hawthorne.