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Google Maps and Charging Stations: A Long Journey Starts with a Single Step

by Chris Schreiner | Apr 25, 2019

One of the biggest challenges of moving from internal combustion engine ownership to battery-powered EV ownership is the drastic change in refueling UX, and the ripple effect that has on other behavior.  Petrol refueling typically entails a quick 5-minute stop, while EV charging requires a stop of at least 4 times that amount, and likely longer.

EV owners in the US, UKand China tell Strategy Analytics that many factors are crucial in deciding when and where to charge their car away from the "safe harbors" of home and work.  Availability of charge ports, types of charge ports, speed of charging, ease of use, cleanliness, and proximity to points of interest are all important.  These factors then affect a myriad of other behaviors, from commuting routes to shopping choices.

But in 2019, as operational petrol pumps remain plentiful and charge points remain less ubiquitous, the needs of EV owners remain unaddressed.  For EV drivers, finding all the relevant information they want is like preparing to travel the Oregon Trail.  It requires extensive research, mapping, and cross-referencing across multiple sources.

This week, Google Maps (used by almost half of all internet users worldwide) announced updates to their app which finally help address many of these issues.  Charging stations shown in Google Maps can now also show...
- Availability of charge ports
- Details on the types of ports available
- Charging speed
- Station reviews
- Station photos
- User ratings

In other words:  Multiple data sources have been combined and packaged in a way that allows EV users to search for charging stations, evaluate stations, and get directions to stations, all within the same app.  Kudos to Google for listening to its users, and taking a few small steps toward creating a BEV-centric experience by including several pieces of useful information in one place.

Charging station search results     Charging station details     Charging station review

However, this is merely one step of many required to bootstrap the charger-finding experience.  According to Google’s blog post, users must specifically search for “EV charging stations."  The added feature identifiers are still not incorporated into a more advanced destination or waypoint search.

This augmentation of Google Maps could possibly result in lower utilization of specialized apps for charge stations (such as PlugShare or Chargemap).  But for now, within Google Maps there are still missing links within the EV user's journey.  For example, there is still no way to search for a destination with an option to check EV stations along your route.  (This is currently an option aboard embedded nav systems in certain EVs, most notably Tesla.)

Google is to be commended for making an effort to improve their Maps product for a set of oft-ignored use cases.  That being said, the pain points of EV ownership are numerous.  And the only pain point Google's new integration resolves is the switch between specialized charge-finder apps and Google Maps.  In other words: If driving a battery-powered EV is like traveling the Oregon Trail with a pile of written directions, Google has simply removed the need for one item in that pile.

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