DETROIT—It's becoming a staple of electric vehicle sales: Along with your new EV, you get some sort of public charging assistance.
With some vehicles, such as the Hyundai Ioniq 5 or Mercedes-Benz EQS, you get two years of complimentary fast charging through Electrify America, a nationwide network of more than 600 public stations.
Then there are programs such as General Motors' Ultium Charge 360, introduced in April, and the FordPass Charging Network, which give drivers access to thousands of charging stations across multiple third-party networks through a single app.
It wasn't always this way. The first mass-market EVs sold a decade ago certainly didn't come with any free charging plans—not until Tesla offered no-cost sessions at its Supercharger stations in 2012 and Nissan created No Charge to Charge in 2013. In the intervening years, access to public charging in the U.S. has been hit or miss, with any individual's personal access dependent on location and local EV support.
"That's what you've seen over the last eight years, and that gives the impression that the infrastructure out there is horrible," said Robert Barrosa, Electrify America's senior director of sales, business development and marketing.
For EV drivers, public charging "solutions" often required membership in a multitude of charging networks such as ChargePoint, Blink Charging and EVgo, each of which had a unique access card or app login. In some places, stations were rare and regularly inoperable. Without home charging, which is how most electric vehicle drivers fuel up, EVs may never have taken off.
Jay Friedland, senior policy adviser at Plug In America, has seen all of this chaos in his years of EV advocacy. Now, he said, it's the best of times and the worst of times for EV charging.
The way auto makers are bundling high-power home chargers with their new EVs—the Ford F-150 Lightning can be ordered with an 80-amp Ford Charge Station Pro, for example—the increase in workplace chargers and the long-awaited arrival of EVs that can tap into multiple charging networks using a technology called Plug and Charge all point to a simpler future for EV owners, Friedland said.
"The reason why it's still the worst of times is that the charging industry, while it's gotten better and there are lots of new roaming agreements so you don't need to carry as many [access] cards around, is that, in general, too many are still resisting the minimum common denominator, which is credit cards," he said.