For more than a decade, automakers have struggled to develop
vehicle interfaces that are as simple and rewarding to use as a smartphone. For
electric vehicles, another challenge exists: making the EV experience as easy
and convenient as with traditional vehicles. While both vehicle range and
charging speed have come a long way, the overall experience may quickly leave
the new EV customer wondering if they’ve made a big mistake.
Traditional fueling stations are never far away, and it only takes a
couple minutes to extend your range by several hundred kilometres. Charging an
EV takes much longer, and it can be difficult to find a charging station. OEMs
have been integrating charging station search functions into their
navigation-equipped EVs for years. Yet a charging station is not useful if it
is occupied, out of order, impossible to locate, or requires a specific RFID
card. This is especially frustrating if onboard live information showing that
the station should be ideal.
All of these problems were experienced by SBD
Automotive’s vehicle testing team on a recent 1500 km trip through Germany,
Austria, and Italy testing the latest EVs.
Perhaps a more important factor is knowing that you will
safely reach your destination and whether or not you will need to charge en route.
Many EVs appear to use a simple algorithm to determine the remaining driving
range of the vehicle, not taking into account driving styles, elevation
gain/loss, traffic congestion, or anticipated HVAC demands. While an ICE may
experience a modest range adjustment due to these factors, EVs are highly
optimized and small adjustments can mean a drastic reduction or increase in the
range of the vehicle. Furthermore, if your EV unexpectedly runs low on battery
charge, it may take a while to find a charging station, adding to the
frustration and inconvenience.
However, some automakers are beginning to implement
solutions that truly support the customer’s journey, providing accurate
charging information and surprisingly accurate range predictions as well. During
SBD’s test of the Audi e-tron, the testers were pleasantly surprised by the
vehicle’s apparent consideration of navigation information, including traffic
and terrain conditions on motorways, leading to more accurate range estimates.
When there were inaccuracies, they were typically on the conservative side,
ensuring that the driver had more range than the vehicle indicated. This sort
of conservative algorithm may present the driver with a disappointing range
estimate after entering the destination into the navigation system, however
they’ll likely reach their destination without incident and may even have a bit
more range left than they had expected. This creates an overall positive
journey experience for the customer.
The in-vehicle experience is only half the battle with an
EV. Remote apps are critical to the EV journey as they allow the customer to
remotely monitor charging status and range, as well as planning their journey
with associated charging stops. Although SBD’s test team were pleased with the
e-tron’s in-vehicle interface and charging-support features, the companion
smartphone app rarely functioned correctly, highlighting problems with Audi’s
app and the remote interface to the vehicle. This is unfortunately commonplace for
many automaker’s companion apps.
SBD’s UX evaluation teams are commissioned by automakers and
suppliers, combining real-world testing and UX design best-practices
to evaluate the latest vehicles and apps, guiding the auto industry to the
development of more rewarding driving experiences.