There’s no question that electric cars are becoming more and more common, and even without a mature charging infrastructure or swappable batteries it’s likely we’ll see EVs commanding a significant percentage of vehicles very soon. All of this just makes this question all the more relevant: why don’t any electric cars have a retractable charging cable?
Every time I’ve wrestled with the thick, heavy, flaccid snake that is most electric car recharging cables, I’ve wondered this. While some may argue that it’s not a big deal to re-coil a charging cable and store it carefully away, I’ll argue that people who don’t think it’s a pain in the ass are liars.
The whole physical approach to charging via cable feels like an afterthought on most electric cars. Nearly every plug-in electric vehicle I’ve been in stores the charging cables in a little compartment under the trunk floor.
This means if you have anything in the trunk, it has to be moved or removed before you can access the charging cable. That’s hardly ideal. Once out, the cables are long, ungainly, and difficult to coil back into a form that fits back into whatever cubby you dragged them out of.
Plus, cables will get dirty, and it’s very likely that you yourself will not wish to be made dirty, or your clothes dirty, by the process of re-packing that charging cable back into the car.
What’s crazy is that there’s an easy and well-understood solution for this, one that’s been embraced by the vacuum cleaner industry for at least 60 years: retractable cables.
Why has no electric carmaker included one, even as an option, on an electric car? The assembly could be housed in a spare-tire-sized short horizontal cylinder under the front or rear of the car, and the cable could be accessed via a panel in the bumper.
A small electric winch could be used to retract the cable, since it’s likely a vacuum-style spring-loaded mechanism wouldn’t be enough for a heavy car-charging cable. The whole thing could be controlled from the key fob, even.
Just think about the process—to charge, you just yank out as much cable as you need to reach the charging socket, then when you’re done, unplug, and push the button to recoil the cable. That’s it.
With this system, cables could be kept in cars instead of on the charger units, which has a number of advantages: public charger cables tend to get a lot of abuse and require periodic replacement. Also, public chargers could be significantly smaller and placed in more locations if they didn’t have to include the cables themselves.
In fact, charging stations for parking areas could be reduced to simple sockets, with most of the hardware out of the way, possibly even underground or in a centralized location in places like parking garages. The more the requirements to build chargers is minimized, the likelier it is that more chargers will be built, and eliminating an expensive and relatively fragile component like the cable is a huge help.
Tesla must know that cable management is an issue, because they’re spending time and effort to develop cool-but-overkill solutions like this:
Sure, that robot-elephant-trunk is cool, but if the goal is to make charging stations ubiquitous, is that really a cost-effective solution? I’m guessing no.
Most plug-in vehicles are already lugging around charging cables for those charger solutions that need them. Why not make the cable use process better, and eliminate the need for redundant cables on every charger?
A retractable cable setup is a bit of extra hardware, but it’s not rocket science. Someone’s going to do this, eventually, and then you’ll see. Then I’ll show you.
I’ll show all of you.