The 9,000-pound behemoth that is the GMC Hummer EV dominated the news cycle this week after some light testing showed it would take the owner four days to recharge using the most basic setup at home.
The resulting craze has divided the media landscape and left electrification acolytes arguing with combustion-minded infidels in automotive crusades. But the real tragedy seems to be the complete abandonment of nuance when discussing the matter, as much more is at stake than the new Hummer taking the better part of a week to fully charge. Neither side seems to see the whole picture and has chosen to ignore some of the pros and cons associated with fully electric vehicle charging.
Innocently, this all started with a seemingly obvious home test done by the fast lane (TFL) to determine how quickly the Hummer could acquire power. But the resulting video clip was immediately converted to reject or confirm people’s preconceived notions about fully electric vehicles. Breitbart shared the story and framed it as proof of the many dangers EV users face, building on an earlier video shared by Hoovie’s Garage which showed the substantial amount of range the Ford Lightning had to sacrifice to tow a loaded trailer weighing 3,500 pounds.
Both tests offered useful information that could be useful to consumers. Nevertheless, Breitbart it tended to focus on the drawbacks of electrification, encouraging pro-EV outlets (which also have an obvious bias) to take the opposite position. Although they were quickly outnumbered by the press at large, realizing that focusing on the four-day load test made for juicier headlines, something that would have been fine if given a broader context.
This continued, rolling into more posts, with even Alex Jones weighing in on the matter even though it was obvious he hadn’t seen any of the videos before giving his assessment.
Overall, it was a disappointing situation, and not because I have an affinity for electric cars. To me, electric vehicles have always seemed designed for modern people who lead exceptionally structured lifestyles and don’t have many places to go. The torque-prone nature of the powertrain is appealing, but the rest of the electric vehicle ownership experience is not. With the notable exception of the Ioniq 5, none of them have managed to hold my attention for very long.
But it’s still important for people to know all the facts, whether or not I’d park one in my own driveway if money wasn’t an issue.
That is full disclosure on where I align myself on electric vehicles. But let’s leave out one very important element before we dive into the relevant data and technical jazz. The Hummer is an intentionally ridiculous luxury vehicle that harkens back to the gas-guzzling H2 and mimics its power consumption when it comes to electricity. It starts at $110,295 and weighs so much that there will occasionally be roads and bridges with signs prohibiting access. If I burned gasoline, I’d have a 60-gallon tank and environmentalists would give speeches about how people shouldn’t be allowed to have one.
GMC cannot claim to have built this vehicle because it is good for the planet, nor has it. So it seems a bit unfair to reprimand him on those grounds, even if the parent company (General Motors) often talks about electrification as if it were a moral good and an essential part of protecting the environment. But the Hummer’s status as a six-figure hype car also means it’s loaded with some of the most advanced technology any US-based legacy manufacturer has dared to pack into a modern car. It’s stupidly fast for how heavy it is, it looks like it’ll actually be good off-road, and it’s loaded with more bells and whistles than you’ll ever need.
Depending on the capabilities of the charger you’re using, the Hummer can handle charges that dwarf almost anything on the market today. This is impressive and essential for a vehicle that has a whopping 2,923-pound battery to tow. Due to the ridiculous weight of the Hummer EV, GMC basically had to fit the largest Ultium package it could put together to ensure the vehicle could maintain a desirable range. The battery pack’s 212 kWh of “usable capacity” is supposed to be capable of 329 miles between charges. Testing has shown that it’s actually possible to exceed the EPA-estimated range under ideal conditions, which involves modest, steady speeds hovering around 70 mph on an exceptionally mild day.
However, deficiencies remain. All that extra weight makes the Hummer one of the least efficient electric vehicles you’re likely to come across, which means the SUV (or truck, if you prefer) needs to spend more time plugged into electrical outlets. That four-day charging routine is real, but it only comes up when you’re trying to recover power from the most basic 120-volt outlet (Level 1).
Customers who splurged on an extravagant vehicle like the Hummer EV will presumably also have spent a bit more for upgraded 240-volt home charging capabilities (Level 2). This allows drivers to recover from a near-dead battery in less than half the time, with early tests suggesting an average of 24 hours.
While it’s not blazingly fast, that’s to be expected from a 212 kWh battery pack and can be further mitigated by taking advantage of 800-volt DC fast charging (something most EVs still lack). This of course requires the battery to be pre-conditioned before charging for optimal results and you need to have one of these stations located close to your route for it to have any real value. But in theory, it’s possible to get nearly 100 miles of range in the time it takes to go to the bathroom, check your phone, and enjoy a snack.
In a previous video, TFL tested the Hummer using DC fast charging and saw the vehicle regain 73 miles of range in about 10 minutes. Of course, that’s absolutely pathetic compared to filling up a car with gas. But it does show that EV technology is heading in a more useful direction, assuming you can afford to buy the latest hardware and live in an area where 800-volt DC fast charging is widely available and well-maintained. But things start to change the longer you leave the car plugged in. Like most electronic devices with a fast-charging option, the Hummer begins to draw power more slowly as its state of charge increases. TFL noted that the vehicle’s ability to absorb energy was more than halved when the battery reached 50 percent and speculated that it could be due to GMC programming, limitations with the charging station, or the possibility of creating excess resistance heat through sustained fast charging.
I think the above highlights how little the average person understands about electric vehicle charging, while also underpinning shortcomings of electrification that some people (myself included) have been insisting on for a long time.
But there are other issues to consider. While new electric vehicles can accept power at a higher rate than their predecessors, resulting in shorter recharge times, continued use of fast charging will also shorten overall battery life. The real challenge is determining how much. Despite advances in charging technology, exchanging electrons as quickly as possible has some drawbacks. High load chargers often have to incorporate additional cooling features to ensure they do not burn out. The same is true for your electric vehicle, though we’re not aware of any long-term EV tests where identical batteries were tested to see how fast or slow affected their condition.
Listen, I don’t like the blind drive for electrification as much as the next cunningly paranoid person. But the overheated rhetoric coming from both sides of the fence needs to take a backseat so that a more comprehensive analysis can take place. While worth mentioning, the Hummer’s four-day charging period is meaningless if the owner has a second vehicle or can afford to upgrade their home charging solution and isn’t representative of the overall Hummer experience.
Editor’s note: TFL Car was also stuck in traffic when the Hummer died unexpectedly and inexplicably. The full video can be seen here.
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