Tuesday, February 9, 2016

EV Charge Ports: The Quest For The Ultimate Location

Like all of GM's plug in vehicles, the charge port on the upcoming Chevy Bolt is located on the front left side of the vehicle. Did GM get this right?
Over the past six years I've interviewed and had discussions with electric vehicle product managers from just about every company selling EVs today, and a few that will be selling EVs in the near future. One of the more interesting topics I've found has been the subject of where they've decided to locate the charge port, and how they came to that decision.

For example, last month at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, I sat down with Daimler's manager of electric motors and power electronics, Franz Neitfeld to discuss Daimler's current plug in Hybrid offerings, and where they are going in the future. When I brought up the topic of the unusual charge port location that Mercedes is using on all of their PHEVs, he told me they gave this much consideration, and after doing so they decided the right corner of the rear bumper was the ideal location. He went on to explain that the majority of the cars they sell are to left hand drive markets, and when a driver of a left hand drive car pulls into the garage they usually leave more room to the right side of the vehicle, so as to make sure they don't hit anything on that side as they pull in. So they concluded the placement of the EVSE would be best on the right side wall of the garage, where the customer can easily plug in. Also, by placing the charge port there, the customer would be able to walk back around the car and into the house without the cable being in their way. I think the assumption that most Mercedes owners have a private garage for their cars, since it is a premium brand, played a role in this decision making. 
The entire line of Mercedes PHEVs have the charge port located on the right corner of the rear bumper
That's the first time I've heard anyone give me that reasoning for their charge port location. Clearly, there really is no consensus among the OEMs as to where the best place is, with just about everyone finding their own unique place, with their own unique reasoning for why they placed it there. This can't be the best practice. There has to be a location which suits the majority of the people who drive EVs better than the other locations, right? 
All of Ford's electric vehicles, whether pure BEV or PHEV, have their charge ports on the front left side of the car
A few years ago Ford announced that they had researched this topic and after an extensive study, they decided the front, left side of the vehicle was indeed the ideal place. At the time, Susan Curry, Ford Electrified Vehicle Technology Integration supervisor said: After benchmarking multiple competitive vehicles, we found there wasn't much consistency in charge port location. We wanted to give customers a location that made the most sense for them and would seem as simple as filling up at the gas station." And Mary Smith, Ford Electrified Vehicle Technology Integration supervisor said, "The left front fender location keeps the charge port in sight, before the customer enters or exits the car, for an easy reminder to unplug or recharge. It creates an intuitive placement for owners that also has aesthetic appeal. "It's worth noting that GM also locates the charge ports of all their plug in offerings on the front left side of the vehicle." 
BMW decided to locate the charge port of the i3 on the rear right side of the vehicle
For the i3, BMW's first all electric vehicle, the charge port was positioned on the rear, right side of the vehicle. I asked BMW product managers about this at the vehicle launch ceremony in 2013 and was told that there were two main reasons for the positioning. First, this location made the most sense because the car will be sold all over the world, and in many European countries curbside charging would require the port to be on the left side of the vehicle. It would be too expensive to have different carbon fiber passenger cells made to accommodate different charge port locations so they needed one location for all i3s made. Secondly, having the charge port in the rear of the vehicle, close to the power electronics, meant weight and cost savings. During the development process, i3 engineers would fight to cut every gram of weight they could, and having a three foot long high voltage cable instead of one that was eight feet long made the decision easy. However the charge ports of BMW plug in hybrids are located on the front left side of the vehicle, as they are on Ford and GM vehicles. 
Nissan & Audi chose the front of the vehicle for their charge ports
Other OEMs like Nissan and Audi decided to go front and center, using the center of the front bumper and grill for their charge ports. Initially I was concerned that even a minor bump on the front end would result in a disabled charge port, requiring the vehicle to be immediately serviced. However that hasn't been much of a problem for the Nissan LEAF, the world's best selling pure electric car, so I guess my concerns were unwarranted.
Tesla uses the left rear of the vehicle for their charge ports
Then there's Tesla. All of Tesla's cars have their charge ports on the rear left side of the vehicle. The Roadster's charge port is right behind the driver's side door, but the Model S & Model X have their charge ports integrated into the rear tail light lens, where it wraps around the side of the car. It's undoubtedly an elegant design, but it is the best place for it? Some Tesla owners say it isn't, and it can make plugging in difficult on many public chargers, especially if they are in a parking lot that prohibits backing into the parking space. 

I realize the answer might be a little different for European drivers as compared to electric vehicle owners in the US, because unlike in Europe, the US has very few curbside public charging stations. Here in the US just about all public EVSEs are located in parking lots, not curbside on public streets. There's also the fact that most countries which were once British colonies still have right hand drive so that would impact one's preference. Still, I'd like to pose this question to everyone who has experience driving and charging an EV, and I'd appreciate it if you took a moment to answer the poll below. Once the polling is complete I plan to send the results to my industry contacts. 

27 comments:

  1. I drive a Volt. I mostly prefer the front left where it is. But I must say that the right rear bumper has merit. Being able to walk around the drivers side and the rear hatch without potentially tripping or bumping into the plug is a nice idea.
    But I would have to stay with front left since its there as soon as you get out, and right before you get in.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The front grill/bomber has merit too. Probably, just as good to be out of the way as rear bumper yet just as accessible and visible as front left.
      And I had a weird experience with an EVSE which I was using the left of a dual pedestal which stretched weirdly and tightly around the front. Which would not have been as bad using the front grill/bumper.

      Delete
  2. My preference is the front bumper or grill. In the majority of public charging stations you pull into them. Having the port anywhere else requires you to drape the cord around the car or if back in.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Both sides is best. Should have had the choice of two ports. It's just wires, so why not?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I like this, There should be two ports. Tom, I haven't voted yet, can you add another option for two ports?

      Delete
    2. I can't change a poll after it's open for votes. However I really wouldn't add that as an option anyway. There is no chance any OEM will even consider multiple charge ports. I've talked to product managers from Nissan, Mercedes, BMW and Ford specifically about this and I know for certain they would never install multiple charge ports on a vehicle. The added cost and added weight make it a non-starter.

      Delete
    3. I've always pushed for 2 ports since ActiveE days... One on each side. Even if it isn't standard and make it "an option" with a charge on it, I would opt for this. It also gives redundancy, just in case.

      Delete
    4. Maybe a single port that swivels left, back, or right like on an iron ;)

      Delete
  4. The location Mercedes chose scares me, I've been hit 3 times in 36 month on my bumper. I guess it'll generate more work for the Mercedes Auto-Body dept.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I can't see that there's a "right" answer for this, as people will all have different situations. I always back into my garage, and the charging cable would be on the back wall, so I would vote for the charge port being at the rear of the car, either left or right. But probably most people put the front of the car in first.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed Chris. I'm not looking for what's "right", just what most people prefer. Thanks for participating! ;)

      Delete
  6. If I had a Leaf, I would have to back it into my garage (down a long driveway) every single time I parked my car in order to charge. As we start to think of electric cars for more than the elite, we have to remember that many families short on space in the house, use their garages for storage and that includes the space in front of the car. Many people have garages with just enough room to pull in and park. The back of the car and one of the sides, if not both, will be clearer than the front of the car.

    I like the location on the i3 because my mind matches it to the place where I would fill a tank on a car. Somehow that just makes sense to me.

    ReplyDelete
  7. No wires would be better!
    Or please at least as a pull-out-the-wire. Just like we do on our vacuumcleaners! lol

    ReplyDelete
  8. To add my voice and vote to another person above, I like the i3 charge port right where it is. I've set up my garage so that I can charge it with the vehicle fully parked in the garage. Further, it is familiar to me as that is where I used to fuel in the bad old days. No changes please.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I have been driving my Nissan LEAF for 5 years. I like the charge port location on the front bumper for a number of reasons: (1) If you ever need to charge from an electrical outlet at a remote cabin, it is easier to get the front of your car between the pine trees. (2) I park nose forward in to my garage, and the charge port is conveniently located on my way into the house. (3) It seems that a well located EVSE unit cord could easily reach 4 cars instead of just 2, because it is customary to park headfirst in parking lots.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I was initially annoyed with the i3's plug location. I have to back in to my parking space at home. But I used to have to back out - so there really is no difference.

    ReplyDelete
  11. The Right rear fender of my e-Golf is perfect. Back in, cord and EVSE is on the side wall, no cords, nothing to trip over. Very happy with how it works out on the VW. Should one ever forget to unplug in a hurry, the system won't engage drive and wont' disengage the parking brake.

    ReplyDelete
  12. ​I don't believe there is a single ideal location, but I do think there are some poor locations, specifically the driver's side locations. I say this because as the charging infrastructure expands, we may see more curbside chargers in parallel parking spots (already in Europe and some cities in the US), and ports on the driver's side aren't suitable for curbside charging in a parallel spot - you have to drape the cord over the hood or roof and stand in traffic while plugging in/out (especially an issue if handicapped).

    Front and rear are ok, but don't give the driver an option on whether they want to pull in forward or back into a parking spot. In some locations you can legally only pull in forward (most diagonal on-street parking) or back in (e.g. Seattle's diagonal on-street parking).

    This leaves the passenger side locations as the ones that support the widest range of charger locations (personal garages notwithstanding), as well as providing the safest place to stand when plugging in and out.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Front and center, right in the nose like the EV1 and the LEAF

    ReplyDelete
  14. I voted for left side front, but really anywhere in the front would be preferable to the rear locations. My garage is tight and harder to back into than out of. I also have neck mobility limitations that developed recently and make backing in to charge a real pain in the neck! I am tempted to buy a charging cable extender to solve the problem of backing in, but I'm not sure how safe that is ...

    ReplyDelete
  15. My EV, a Fisker Karma, has the charge port also located on the Left/Driver's side rear quarter panel, similar to where the Tesla connector is. I've gotten used to it, and I placed my home EVSE where it makes charging convenient, but I don't think this is ideal placement. Like the Model S the Karma is a long vehicle, and public charging where the EVSE is mounted in front of the space is very difficult. I back-in to charge at my workplace. I think toward the front, but not the grill, makes the most sense. I think the Volt location is logical.

    Also, You forgot to mention the Kia Soul, which is another front-grill charger.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment. I didn't forget about the Kia Soul EV, I just didn't think it was worth mentioning. In 16 months of availability, Kia has sold less than 1,500 of them. That's about 80 per month. It's such a low volume compliance EV I don't think it's worth mentioning here.

      That being said, I think Kia did a nice job of it - it's a cool EV. But if they only make it available is a couple markets, and have such limited stock, it's not really worth talking about IMO. Plus, I didn't mention every EV, I just gave examples of how different manufacturers dealt with charge port locations. :)

      Delete
    2. Fair enough. I'm in Atlanta where the Soul EV is sold and I see a few around so I forget that they are a low volume car nationally. I mentioned the KIA for the same reason you brought up: I think they did a nice job of it, and I particularly like the way they did the charging port location and camouflage.

      Delete
  16. First and foremost I must say that I believe there isn't an universal right answer to this question.
    As an engineer, I weight both the technical and practical aspects of this.
    Having said that, I do consider automakers should account the aspect LHD and RHD when they decide to locate the charging port on the vehicle sides: nothing demonstrates better the not-fit-for-purpose than a charging port on the left front fender in a RHD car... same as with the LHD Japanese cars with exhaust tail pipes to the nearside of the walk way.

    Solutions as those implemented by GM/Ford have several merits because they allow better engineering packaging on vehicles of the FWD plug-in hybrid type.

    The solution proposed by Daimler on plug-in hybrid Mercedes-Benz vehicles make a lot of sense in terms of practical aspects with either good results on LHD and RHD variants, especially when recharging at home, in the garage.

    In many situations, like at company parking lots, recharging outlets have been installed were previously were (or still are, but slightly reduced) flower gardens and it is not unusual for company on-site driving rules requiring reverse parking. In these cases of perpendicular parking, the GM/Ford solution isn't the most desirable.

    The solution adopted by the Nissan LEAF appears to me the most unlogic one, but that car has long been in the market and if the next version, due to come soon, does not address this engineering aspect, it will be a major failure (other than the current car having a huge charging flap to accommodate 2 different types of plugs). In this specific case, being a japanese automaker I do not expect them to drop the CHAdeMo and opt for the CCS standard, but I do hope that apart US and Japan, they adopt the CCS, although it might be unlikely.
    As much an automaker argue otherwise, a frontal charge port is more likely to be damaged during the vehicle life and it is one of the least practical ones were parallel parking is the norm.

    ReplyDelete
  17. ok where NOT to put it:- bumpers.... My rav4ev was in a front end accident and it was weeks before it went in (for too many bad reasons), but even to get it home and to the shop needed charging.

    I Have live(d) with 3 options.. Volt, ActiveE and RAV4EV - front diver, back passenger, back diver side respectively. I have found the front driver side to be the most natural. This is due to easy access, typical less cord dragging, tripping . I am far more likely to be messing around the back of car for trunk access and you often need to pass by the.back to get out of a parking space when front end in parked.

    Thanks for this - and all your support Tom!

    ReplyDelete
  18. While I was reading your text I found myself thinking about the warning board on our BMW dealer's parking lot. This board recommends the visitors to park backward and kindly provides a justification sth like "in case of an emergency evacuation this purposed tactic will save important seconds for us".
    Therefore the German decisionmaker might have considered in such a logical pathway when eliminating the front bumper port choice which particularly implies/compels the driver parking in a frontward style.
    PS: I support right passenger side rear port as/like BMW's choice since we are used to coasting our vehicles by this side for replenishment purposes over decades.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I think that, for esthetic reasons, the charge post should not be located on the front of the vehicle, unless it is hidden.

    ReplyDelete