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Electric cars’ biggest problem isn’t lack of range: It’s shoddy charger location mapping

(Pocket-lint) – The number of electric cars on the road is visibly increasing, with more models on offer at more price points. We’ve seen a movement toward electric car sales in the UK and some big announcements from charging networks about the expansion of charging stations too.

Both these things go hand-in-hand: to support increasing cars on the road, you’ll need more places to charge them. As an EV will need about 30 minutes on the fastest chargers to get any sort of range in the batteries, being able to find these charging stations is a huge part of the EV experience.

Many electric cars are failing on the most basic principle: finding places to charge.

Pretty much every electric car on the road offers satnav that will guide you to a full range of locations, but usefully finding a charging station could be the biggest problem you face.

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That’s because many are using satnav systems that were designed, without much thought, for combustion cars – and use a system that was invented before Google Maps and smartphone existed.

It’s the POI system – points of interest. Let’s not beat around the bush: “interest” is the loosest possible definition as many of the locations it will guide you to aren’t interesting or even relevant. Local helipad anyone?

No. What you need is a section of the mapping system that’s dedicated to charging, that offers live data on whether those chargers are working or are occupied, and perhaps more importantly, what type of charger it is and what network it is on.

You should be able filter the results, so that if you want BP Pulse or Ionity chargers over 50kW that should be the option. Because let’s be fair: when you’re hunting for a charger, a 7kW charger at the back of a supermarket car park isn’t any use, unless you can connect to it for 6 hours.

Many electric cars will show charging points on the map (VW will show you the charging speed too, which is great), but having to dig into the POI system to search for a charging point should never need to happen – especially when you have to scroll through a list of helipads and podiatrists, botanical gardens and laundromats, to get to what you want.

Many of these databases aren’t very up-to-date either: we’ve found ourselves directed to a 7kW charger in a race course car park, rather than the local Lidl, which has a 50kW charger – but is too new to appear in the list (it’s been there at least 6 months).

On one long drive on the motorway, the car returned lots of charging points in the city behind us because they were the closest, rather than being able to highlight those in the direction we were travelling. Indeed, some cars will let you search for charging stations along your route, but again, it’s a very mixed bag of results, thanks to out-of-date information and fitting old systems to new demands.

This is where services like Zap-Map really come into their own. Zap-Map is a great smartphone app and is pretty much essential to navigate the diverse charging situation on the UK’s roads – and it will let you filter the results to remove everything you don’t want to know about. But we don’t want to have to ask the passenger to fire this up to get accurate information while driving.

Those in the car industry should be looking at the sort of information Zap-Map offers and thinking about the service they offer through their own software. Because if you are offering a list of POIs that doesn’t have access to all the electric charging stations at the top of the list, you’re already doing it wrong.

The Tesla experience is better, with the advantage that comes with having one company supplying both the car and the charging solution – but when it comes to charging on the go, the other manufacturers are a long way behind.

Writing by Chris Hall.

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