What would happen if you drove to National Plug In Day in your EV, stopped at a Walgreens afterwards to charge, then found out you couldn't unplug the J1772 coupler? Not a good way to end the day.
According to one Think City owner, who posts by the user name "brkannd" on a Yahoo Group for fellow EV owners (called "think_ev"), he drove 65 miles to Philadelphia for the second annual Plug In Day and used the SemaCharge network to find this particular charging station. After being unable to disconnect, he asked for help in the store, but of course they knew nothing about the charger. He was given an 800-telephone number for SemaCharge, where he left a message with their answering service, and was told he wouldn't be called back until the next day. The SemaCharge website, on the other hand, proudly reads "Call us! We're here, 24/7/365!" We've asked SemaCharge for a comment
He ended up calling his contact at EuroStar, where he'd originally purchased his Think, who handed his phone to a colleague named Lanny. Lanny had had experience with this type of problem before and his solution was to "man-handle it," putting extreme upward vertical pressure on the nozzle, breaking it free. Brkannd then jimmied with his charge coupler until the car was released. He did receive a callback from SemaCharge four hours later, and they said a technician would be sent out to look at it, adding that they are looking at making some changes to their nozzle in order to improve them.
Lanny posted some photos on the Yahoo group showing the problem – that the latch didn't open as far as the connector on the adjacent station when compared side by side. He also wondered if there's a problem with inconsistency, such as the threshold on the J1772 receptacle in the Think being higher than other EVs, creating a bent connector latch. Reader Jim M., who sent in this tip, let us know that other Think City and BMW ActiveE owners have had problems in the Washington/Baltimore area disconnecting chargers as well.
Chelsea Sexton, best known for her role in "Who Killed the Electric Car?", recently wrote a column for Wired expressing concerns over inconsistencies in charging station technologies. She said she thinks Tesla Motors' new Supercharger is admirable to an extent, but doesn't appreciate the proprietary functionality for Model S owners only. Sexton wants to see automakers come out of hiding and commit to building and marketing all kinds of EVs. Then, she says, the infrastructure will follow. When it does, we need it to be reliable, and stories like this one show that just having the chargers isn't enough. They need to work as advertised, too.
*UPDATE: Naly Yang, marketing communications manager for SemaConnect, told AutoblogGreen that the problem is with the J1772 connector that SemaCharge bought from a supplier she did not want to name. "We are currently working with the supplier to find out what the issue is," she said, adding that, "We have over 500 stations nationwide, and less than one percent have this issue." If the problem can't be solved, SemeCharge might change manufacturers. She said that she personally has seen other vehicles charge at the station in question without problem, and wonders if the issue might be with the Think City. Other EV charging companies use the same supplier, but widespread reports of this problem do not exist.