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Oops! EV technology showcase fizzles. Or is it the user’s fault?


Maybe a little humor with this one after hearing all the auto writer EV angst at Traverse City.

By Martha Hindes
Senior Editor
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

Having a corporate-owned plug in electric vehicle at an high-level automotive conference would seem to make one an A-lister. And if one is an automotive journalist, it’s something that should work just right. One would think.

So when a handful of EV’s lined up at the premium parking location with EV charging stations directly in front of the posh Grand Traverse Hotel Wednesday during the annual CAR MBS conference focusing on the future of auto technology, it would seem an ideal venue to show tomorrow’s advances today.

There they were, a row of EVs lined up nose to curb with charging cables attached as they quietly refueled. Well, that was the general idea. Except it didn’t work.

One EV driver and veteran auto writer – we’ll call him “Bob” -- fiddled with the cable and complained that he couldn’t get it to work. Nothing. Not even a trickle of juice was filtering through the specialized plug designed to quickly refuel with a 220-volt jolt. It wasn’t working at all with GM’s all electric bright orange Chevrolet Bolt. A plug reportedly worked briefly with BMW’s Black and White i3 then faded to nothing. We can’t verify if it worked with the dark navy plug-in Chrysler Pacifica or the obviously privately-owned older gray Chevy Volt, with external wear and tear, a collapsible bike in the rear and no manufacturer’s plate.

Grand Traverse officials seemed puzzled about the problem. The only complaint they had gotten in the four-some years the charging stations were in place was no accommodation for Tesla cars. Two of those since have been converted to jump charge Tesla's, leaving a single generic plug for all the rest.

Before we blame the auto companies for providing test vehicles that won’t charge, we’ll relate what Christopher Unger, the hotel guest services manager told us after we were transferred from IT to Engineering then back to guest services.

A guest or attendee sets up an account at the front desk with the contracted firm that owns the charging stations. He or she gets a card to activate the station, then using that for entry swipes a credit card to pay for the charge. No pay, no play.

Of course auto journalists are widely known for taking advantage of freebies such as hotel rooms, test cars, dinners and such. Our confident mused that even if the cars weren’t charging, a few drivers had copped the prime parking spots – available only when charging is active. As long as they were plugged in, no one would tell them to move. And with a thousand conference attendees clogging every available hotel parking spot in three vast parking lots, maybe not knowing the answer would make an OEM look bad but would shorten the walk.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

As for having a full charge for the 300-plus mile return home to Detroit, we know Bob will make it. He found a standard 110-volt plug in a light post and trickle charged his car for days. We can’t speak for the rest of the drivers about having power other than the one with the extended range Volt that still has a gas tank for such situations. Especially since no one had a Tesla there during he conference.

Copyright, Martha Hindes, Automotive Bureau. All rights reserved.