Little Chef – Sounds like a fudge to me

Well, after a week of silence from both POLAR and Little Chef over the issue of how the Little Chef charging network will operate Little Chef have finally broken the silence and made an announcement. Here it is:

Thank you for all of your comments recently regarding the Little Chef EV charging points. We stated that through our charging network we were prepared to offer free charging to EV drivers until the end of 2012. That statement is something that we can confirm we will be standing by. This goes for existing POLAR card holders and people that don’t currently have a POLAR card. We will have POLAR cards available at each restaurant so that any EV driver can sign up for free charging and be given their own personal POLAR card which allows them immediate access for visits over the 12 month period. Our offer is subject to a fair usage policy. One of our initial experiences brought about an occasion where an EV driver was plugging his car in and leaving it to charge over night before coming back for it the next day. Fair is fair, and so we have to have a sign up system to ensure we know who is using our chargers and when they are abusing them. This step is to ensure that the charge points are accessible for other EV drivers, and not abused by one or two.

It is good that they have finally come clean but it is a mix of good and bad news and it seems that Little Chef and POLAR have come to a compromise over the situation.

Clearly Little Chef want to offer charging facilities at their restaurants and from what I have heard they mean to do that for all the right reasons. It should boost business and customer awareness of the business whilst at the same time providing a very much appreciated charging network. The motives of POLAR in this deal is also just as clear: they want members and they want to get their charge stations in before anyone elses. They have publically stated that it is a “land grab” in these early days and they want to be first. So, Little Chef’s motives seem honerable and sensible whilst in my opinion the same cannot be said of POLAR.

So, the compromise seems to be this: the Little Chef charging will now be free for the first 12 months as Little Chef wanted and not just for 12 charges as POLAR wanted but it is at the price of drivers being forced to sign up with POLAR and getting their own card. The Little Chef announcement above states that this is necessary to stop abuse of the system but no matter how I look at it I cannot see abuse taking place at Little Chef restaurants.

If they didn’t force us to sign up to POLAR then we would need to go into the restaurant and ask, face to face with a member of staff, for the card. This does 2 things… firstly it allows Little Chef to control access to the charge station. OK, Little Chef may or may not have paid POLAR to install these charge stations but either way, Little Chef must want EV drivers to actually use their restaurants. Having to go into the restaurant and ask for the card means that Little Chef can ensure that they only give free charging to actual customers. The second thing it does is that if you have to ask for the card so the staff can then ensure that it is not abused. The case where someone charges all night could never happen because the staff would know that there was someone charging and they could make sure that they only charge whilst in the restaurant.

Sorry Little Chef but I see this compromise as a complete fudge. Yes, it is better in a small way because it allows us unlimited charging at Little Chef restaurants until Dec 2012 as you promised but there is a huge disadvantage in that we all must sign up with POLAR and get our own cards.

I suppose it is all very well us complaining about this but perhaps it is worth remembering that at least Little Chef is trying hard to bring electric car charging to us but I am just hugely disappointed that it is POLAR that they have chosen to partner with to deliver it. If we have our own cards there will be no imperitive to even enter the restaurants at all, let alone actually use them, and because of that I feel that Little Chef may have been an innocent victim of POLAR’s sharp business practices.

Will I use them… probably not to be honest. Slow charging like this is never going to be a big feature of long trips. It is just too slow. Even at 32A (which the POLAR charge stations can deliver for the right cars) it still only adds about 30 miles/hour of range. Long trips will require rapid DC chargers capable of charging in minutes and so I reluctantly conclude that the Little Chef network delivered by POLAR will hardly ever be used… ever, by anyone, once there is a decent national DC fast charge network.

What a waste of money and effort though that might have been better spent delivering what electric car drives really do need, would definitely use and definitely want… DC fast charging on a Pay-as-you-go basis. No cards, no memberships.

Now, if POLAR switched lanes and started delivering that then I would be first to use Little Chef and any other business that hosted them.

The good news though is that this kind of Pay-as-you-go DC fast charge network is on the horizon. Nissan are giving away a bunch of DC fast chargers and I am hopeful that they will be deployed in that way. What will POLAR and Little Chef do then? Unless Little Chef can get some of these DC chargers installed alongside the POLAR slow charging stations they will simply be kicked into touch along with the POLAR network.

I suppose it is very much a case of watch this space…

One thought on “Little Chef – Sounds like a fudge to me”

  1. Just had a very telling conversation with a manager at POLAR…

    I called them to confirm that the Little Chef announcement was as they understood it.

    I put it to her that drivers were being forced to sign up with POLAR to get their own card. She disagreed that they were forcing drivers to do anything.

    She said that getting the card that is held at a Little Chef restaurant will be potentially difficult. She said that the cards were going to be kept in a safe and they won't be available unless the manager is present which means that there will be no guarantee that you will be able to charge at a Little Chef restaurant unless you have your own card. They also want Little Chef to call POLAR beforehand every time someone asks for the card, presumably so they can follow up and get the drivers details.

    It seems you will not have an option of just using Little Chef charging without signing up for a free POLAR card. So you can still expect long delays when using a Little Chef charge station for the first time while they a) find the card and b) call POLAR to ensure that they have your details.

    I find this quite incredible that POLAR can have such a blatant disregard for the EV driver's needs. Surely they must realise that unless they deliver a service that people actually want they will ultimately fail?

    Obviously not.

    I have to be honest… I got a bit cross and I terminated the call before I said something I might regret.

    So, POLAR are still clinging on the fact that they are forcing us to sign up with them after that first charge and they seem to be making it difficult not to sign up by ensuring that the RFID card in the restaurant is not easily accessible, if at all, and by insisting that the Little Chef staff call POLAR when someone uses it.

    I am speechless…

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