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4 things to know before you buy an electric vehicle

Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

The Mach-E’s extended range battery pack consists of 376 individual batteries wired together. When all the cells are near empty — let’s say at 5% charge — fresh electricity pours in and immediately finds an open cell. As the cells reach capacity, the battery controller has to find the ones that still have room for electricity and monitor as they top up, like when most of the ice tray’s compartments are full.

Charging to 80% is easy and fast. Finding space for the last 20% could take as long as the first 80. The most time-effective thing is filling to 80, getting back on the road and filling to 80 again in 216 miles, rather than charging for three to four hours and only getting an extra 54 miles.

There’s another factor: the onboard charger. It regulates how fast the battery can accept electricity. A vehicle with a higher-capacity on-board charger accepts electricity faster. For instance: The 216 mile charge in 45 minutes for the Mach-E, which has an 11 kW on-board charger.

In contrast, the Bolt EUV has a 7 kW on-board charger. Connected to the same 400v, it adds 95 miles charge in 30 minutes. You don’t have to be an electrical engineer to know the Mach-E’s 216 miles in 45 minutes equals quicker refueling and more time on the road.

Further complicating matters, some vehicles, like the Porsche Taycan, can accept 800v. That means 5-80% charge — 184 miles range in a rear-drive Taycan — in 22.5 minutes. Expect 800v charging capability to become common.

The holy grail all automakers chase is a full charge in 10 minutes. They’ll probably achieve it, but nobody knows when.

3. Where public charging spots are on your route

But where can you charge?

Public 240v charging stations are pretty common in public parking lots and at businesses. DC fast chargers are increasingly common Meijer, Walmart, Target, Dunkin’ Donuts and more.

Good route-planning apps will help you find DC fast chargers on a road trip. A Department of Energy website, for instance, says there are 45 DC fast chargers near I-94 between Detroit and Chicago.

Ford’s proprietary app will pick the charging spots where it makes most sense to stop along your route for optimum driving time and range. It will even tell you how many charging points are open at a location.


“Most people have no idea how many public charging stations are within, say, a 10- or 15-mile radius because they're small, people don't look for them or even know what to look for, and they're rarely signposted,” said journalist John Voelcker, who has studied EVs and charging exhaustively.

Even during the COVID-19 economic downturn, charging stations continued to grow, according to the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab.

NREL says the U.S. is already nearly halfway to having the number of public DC fast-chargers that would be needed for 15 million EVs in 2030.

It’s virtually certain infrastructure initiatives under the Biden Administration will encourage more charging stations, and investment to make charging faster and more convenient.

4. Gas stations aren't going anywhere

Despite all the attention on EVs, internal combustion engines and vehicles will be around for a long time.

First of all, there are scores of millions on the road today. Some — and not just cherished classics, but daily drivers — will still be in service 20 to 30 years from now.

Second, automakers are shifting investment to EVs, but they're not going cold turkey on internal-combustion engines, also called ICE. Some types of vehicles may remain better suited to gasoline for quite a while. Utilities need to field service vehicles when storm or disaster disables the electric grid. The same goes for emergency vehicles, and many used in wilderness and very rural areas.

If an EV doesn’t meet your needs now, watch this space. They’re coming closer, but large numbers of ICE vehicles will remain in production for years. Beyond that, companies will keep making spare parts for oil-burners for decades.

The same goes for service stations. If you own a gasoline vehicle today or buy a new one tomorrow or next year, you don’t have to worry EVs will render it unusable.

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