You know that Cadillac ELR ad with that smug jackass who struts around his house braying about how hard America works before insta-changing into a suit? Then he unplugs his ELR and climbs in to go to work in the Smug District, where he's VP of InsuffraDouche, LLC? That stupid ad revealed the Achilles' Heel of EVs: cords.
Really, that ad revealed the problem by attempting to avoid it entirely. Admiral Dipshit walks out to the ELR, unplugs the recharging cord and then CUT! And he's sitting in the car. We never see the cord again. Why? Because the people shooting the ad know an influential go-getter like that guy is not going to coil up and hang up that cable like some kind of drooling child putting away his Nintendo in 1988.
This sounds like a really trivial thing — how hard is it to put a cable away? And, technically, in an ideal world, yes, it absolutely is a trivial thing. It takes mere seconds to pick up the plug, neatly coil the cable, and place it back on the charging rig.
The problem is that in the real world, people are lazy jackasses for whom the idea of having to walk all the way over to the charging thing and put the cable back on it sounds like a complete death march. We're used to decades of getting in our cars and leaving, and that's it. Once EVs become more common, I think we're going to see that the current cable charging system is woefully underdeveloped for real-world use by people who aren't passionately motivated to drive an EV.
For EVs to be successful, they need to be driven by vast numbers of people, not the small clique of people who feel a rush of self-congratulatory glee every time they plug their cars in. People will see the cables as an extra step they never had to do before, and they'll resent it.
Right now, there's almost no thought given to cable management in EV charging stations. The times I've had an EV to drive around and encounter public stations, the cables were laying on the ground at least half the time. How do those connectors like being driven over? How do the cables feel about it? I guarantee you it's happened already, and will be happening more.
The cables themselves are thick, awkward, and not terribly flexible. I understand why this is, since they require a lot of insulation and shielding, but these are also things that are going to be handled by a huge variety of people — bodybuilders, pregnant women, people with armloads of kids and stuff, woozy waifs, people with missing limbs, drunk assholes — and the system isn't nearly well thought out enough to work well in many of these cases.
Most of the cars lock out driving when charging, but what about rolling away because of forgotten parking brakes? What if the driving lockout system fails and someone drives off with the cable attached? What about not seeing the cable stretched across a parking spot and driving into it? Apple figured out how to avoid most power-cable-yanking damage with their MagSafe system. EVs could use something similar.
There could be easy solutions to many of these issues. Vacuum cleaners have been using self-retracting cables for years. and there are some EV chargers that have this, which is great.
Again, I get that these, independently, aren't huge issues. But for electric cars to take off, the infrastructure has to grow. And the experience of charging the cars has to be so painless and simple that people won't mind giving up their gas cars at all. Right now, the infrastructure isn't even close to being competitive with gas stations, and in one way that's good: before chargers are built everywhere, standards need to be agreed on. Better standards.
Tesla, for example, won't agree to the current SAE J1772 plug standard because they say it can't effectively handle their Supercharger loads and, less directly, that it's a big, clumsy, ugly plug. And, they're not wrong — it's not a great plug at all. But for this electric car thing to work, there has to be a universal standard, and that includes Tesla. Can you imagine having to deal with separate gas stations depending on the brand of car you have?
Everything started out with such promise, too — GM's EV1 had an inductive paddle charger that just slotted in a big slot like bread in a toaster, and it was cool and futuristic feeling. They even used it in Gattaca for all those great electric Citroëns and Avantis with their greenish headlights. Sadly, it was also pretty inefficient.
If lots of people are actually going to buy 500es and electric Sparks and i3s we can't expect that all these people have homes and garages and charging stations. Curbside chargers are needed, parking meter chargers are needed, easy, anywhere chargers are needed. If the chargers can't be as fast as a gas fill up, then they have to make up for it by being easy, neat, and requiring minimal effort. Current chargers, with their long, sloppy cables and clunky connectors and so many points of failure and ass-pain aren't going to cut it.
Again, I'm sure many commenters are going to tell me how trivial this issue is, and I should just learn to deal with cables, like a grown-ass man. Which leads me to ask this of my fellow grown-ass-men-and-women: remember video games before wireless controllers? I have a bunch of vintage consoles, all with long, black cords. Technically, managing those cords is a trivial process. But would you go back to that?
So, back to that ad — there's two big lessons to be learned there. First, if you're that guy in the ad, shut up already, and second, unlike GM we can't jump cut to avoid tiny annoyances like putting away cables. Now's the moment to design these systems and design them well, with a full, loving understanding about the disgusting, honest, and lazy nature of humankind.