Guilty as slowly charged: Electrify America site lazily energizes a Ford Mustang Mach-E

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As Ford touts its electric Mustang Mach-E, the company is also promoting its owners’ access to an existing public-charging network built by ChargePoint and Electrify America. Ford calls the network, with some 13,500 stations and 35,000 total plugs, the nation’s largest.

This is a welcome start, including a smartly designed “FordPass” phone app designed for easy, pay-as-you-go access to the network. But not every charging network is created equal, as suggested by my underwhelming, time-sucking experience with Mach-E charging.

First: Unlike with Tesla’s vast Supercharger network, only a tiny fraction of FordPass’ purported 35,000 plugs support DC fast charging. The vast majority remain 240-volt Level 2 chargers -- ideal for overnight home charging, but nearly useless in my book for public fill-ups, unless you’re actually spending six or eight hours on interstate bathroom breaks or shopping at Whole Foods. Secondly, where many Tesla owners continue to receive a year of Supercharging (and previously, “unlimited” free charging) as a perk and incentive to buy, Ford is offering only 250 kilowatts of free DC juice, enough for three to five fill-ups.

I would have been thrilled to pay anything for a fast top-off when I pulled the Mustang Mach-E Premium AWD — with 60 miles of remaining range — into a Target store in Clifton, N.J., on a miserable, rainy night in December. It’s one of nearly a dozen Electrify America (EA) stations in New Jersey, as the Volkswagen-owned EA expands a DC network whose chargers range from 50 kilowatts to a mighty 350 kilowatts. I drove miles out of my way just to check out one of EA’s 150-kilowatt machines, eager to see if the ‘Stang SUV (with an official 270-mile range) could really add 47 miles of range in just 10 minutes on the plug. Ford claims a Mach-E in rear-drive, 300-mile-range form will juice even faster, adding 61 miles in 10 minutes.

The reality at this Target was so wildly off-target that I might as well have gone inside to load up shopping carts with housewares and snacks. Pulling up, I was met with one of the most impressive-looking (non-Tesla) charging arrays I’ve seen in America: Six tall, Electrify America chargers stood sentry, each brandishing two plug-in arms, for a total of 12 DC outlets. (One was out of commission, so make that 10 outlets). Their user-friendly touchscreens flashed ads for Ewan MacGregor’s latest motorcycling adventure. I stuck the charger’s heavy, bulky cord into the Mach-E’s fender-mounted port. The station instantly recognized a “Ford owner” with FordPass, and the charge initiated automatically, without me having to futz with a thing. My phone’s FordPass app began tracking the charge. This is going to be great, I thought: Child’s play, just like charging a Tesla.

If only. Working on my laptop in the driver’s seat, I looked up after 10 minutes, and realized (according to both the app and the Mach-E’s driver’s display) that I’d only added nine miles of range to its 88 kWh, 376-cell lithium-ion battery — nowhere near the 47 miles in 10 minutes that Ford is touting via these 150-kilowatt, Supercharger-style stations.

Hopping from the driver’s seat, I saw the charger screen insisting electricity was being delivered at 74.2 kilowatts. That was only about half the 150-kilowatt rate touted on the machine’s placard, and I would have happily taken it. The actual trickle of juice going into the Ford was 20 kilowatts at best; a fraction of the expected rate, and only about twice as fast as a piddling, 11-kilowatt Level 2 home charger. Ambient temps were in the 40s, and there are always some transmission losses from electrical resistance and heat (typically on the order of 10 to 20 percent) but this was ridiculous.

I plugged into another outlet. Then I moved the Mach-E to another charger further down the row. Next, I called EA’s customer service, where a rep named Justine — working out of Auburn Hills, Mich., the former site of VW’s North American HQ — couldn’t have been more helpful. Justine even rebooted one of the chargers to see if we could pick up the glacial pace. But no dice, fuzzy or otherwise. Justine couldn’t offer any real explanation on what was up, instead promising to get the tech department on the case.

My reporter’s curiosity piqued, I eventually plugged the Mach-E into five of the 10 working outlets, hopping back-and-forth from the driver’s seat into a steady rain, and becoming steadily more frustrated. No matter which plug I tried, the alleged “fast charger” delivered the same weak stream, adding about one mile of range for every minute on the plug. The convenience-factored price of 43 cents per kWh was stiff as well, more than three times the national-average rate of 13.2 cents per kWh for home electricity. If I had hung around long enough, adding 220 miles to the Ford’s “tank” would have cost about $30, more than the price of unleaded gasoline in an SUV that slurps at 20 mpg.

Ultimately, I cut my losses after more than 90 minutes (including time wasted switching plugs), five outlets and a pathetic 76 miles of added range, barely enough to drive for an hour on the highway. I pulled out of Target with the Ford’s battery boosted by 40 percent, showing 136 miles of range — plenty for my trip home to Brooklyn, but again, nowhere near Ford’s claim of a charge from 10% to 80% in 45 minutes.

Of course, one driver’s experience at one bank of chargers isn’t an indictment of the entire network that Ford has partnered with, rather than going the Tesla route and building one of their own. But while I’ve had good experiences at both ChargePoint and EA chargers, I’ve encountered a distressing number of their chargers that are out of service, unable to initiate a charge, or underperforming in charging rates. In contrast, though I’m hardly a regular user, I’ve never plugged into a Tesla Supercharger that didn’t work, first time, every time.

As I wrote in my review, the Mustang Mach-E is one impressive EV, one that stands tall against the Tesla Model Y in most competitive measures. But Tesla’s foresight and investment in its own proprietary network remains a key competitive advantage, right up there with its edge in electric efficiency and range.

While I was standing in the rain at Target, twiddling my thumbs, I had ample time to mull that over — and realize that Ford and the rest still have some catching up to do.

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