The Playbook For The Modern Man

Rude Electric Vehicle Problem Australians May Soon Face

Sparking debate.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are still a rather nascent technology – at least in Australia. Unlike many developed and even developing nations, we’ve been quite slow to adopt EVs, and we’re still trying to wrap our heads around how an electrified future might look like.

The Victorian state government is – not without a great deal of criticism – introducing an EV road-user charge, to make up for the fact they avoid the fuel excise. Most EVs are more expensive to insure than the national average in Australia because insurance companies still say they’re unfamiliar and uncertain of the technology, Mozo relates.

In short, the pace of change is slow. But one benefit of that is that Australians haven’t encountered a growing etiquette issue; one that’s the subject of fierce debate in other countries with a greater market penetration of EVs, as one Reddit thread relates.

The thread on /r/electricvehicles – which has since been ‘nuked’ after VICE wrote an article about it – was started by a disgruntled American motorist who found that around 20 minutes after plugging in his PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, i.e. it has an electric powertrain with a supplementary petrol/diesel motor), they found that a Tesla owner had parked in front of their car, unplugged their car and started using the charging point themselves.

Image: Adelaide City Council

This kickstarted a wide variety of ethical debates about when it’s appropriate to unplug someone else’s car to charge your own – like the classic trolley problem, but with Porsche Taycans, we suppose.

Is it ‘first come, first serve’ as it would be at the servo (you wouldn’t dream of whipping a petrol pump out of someone’s hands) or does it work on some sort of unspoken priority system? If you have 20% charge and they have 60%, is it ok to swap plugs then?

Part of the debate also raised the PHEV vs. pure EV dichotomy, too. If a PHEV runs out of charge, it has an internal combustion engine (ICE) as backup, so it’s probably going to be ok. If an EV runs out of charge, it’s a much more difficult scenario, therefore should PHEVs defer to EVs when it comes to charging priority?

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The VICE article also raised a very salient point: “what we’re really talking about here are Level 2 chargers which take hours to fully charge a vehicle. These will most commonly be found at offices, public parks, municipal buildings, apartments, parking garages, and similar locations.” That is, we’re not talking about fast chargers.

Image: Audi Australia

It also highlights that this etiquette problem “exhibits yet another difference between [the] US and Europe electric vehicle infrastructure, because plugs which lock into place are much more common in Europe where drivers supply their own cords for Level 2 chargers. In these chargers, the plug locks into place to prevent plug theft.”

Australia is somewhat in the middle between the US and Europe. While a majority of EVs sold on the Australian market have locking plugs, some older EVs such as the Mitsubishi i-MIEV lack a locking capability entirely.

More to the point, Australia doesn’t really have enough EVs or public charging stations to make this a commonly-encountered etiquette issue… Yet. As more and more EVs inevitably take over our roads, it’s something that we as Australians probably have to take a stand on as a society. Hopefully common sense prevails and the ‘first come, first serve’ rule remains king.

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Another issue that neither VICE nor the Reddit thread discussed is how that there’s no unified EV charging plug standard, which further complicates things. Some charging points carry a number of plugs (or you just BYO plug with your car), whereas others might only have a single or a few different types.

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In Australia, there’s four main types of plug: J1772 (a.k.a ‘Type 1’), Mennekes (a.k.a ‘Type 2’), CHAdeMO and Tesla.

As Carsales relates, “unlike a petrol bowser, where it is still possible to fill a diesel-powered vehicle with unleaded gasoline (which causes catastrophic engine damage), it’s literally impossible to connect the wrong charger to an electric car in the same way you cannot plug an American or European two-pin electrical device to an Australian three-pin powerpoint. They don’t fit.”

The Type 1 plug is an older, Japanese standard used for vehicles like the aforementioned i-MIEV, Type 2 is the standard fitment for all EVs and PHEVs sold in Australia and CHAdeMO is a less-common format designed for faster charging. Complicated, we know.

Image: The Driven

There’s also another system called CCS which is available in both Type 1 and 2 formats which allows for DC fast charging. Tesla’s plugs resemble Type 2 plugs but are capable of DC fast charging using Tesla’s Supercharger stations.

Here’s an interesting fact for you: non-Tesla vehicles can’t use Tesla’s Supercharger stations, but Teslas can use any charging station. Now that potentially opens up a whole other etiquette debate…

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