Cars > Electric

Testing out everyday EV ownership with the BMW i4

Keeping it charged from a condo owner’s perspective

The author spent the weekend figuring out how it's like to live with an EV as a condo owner. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

This article isn’t about how good or bad the BMW i4 eDrive35 is. I already know it’s one of the best EVs money can buy, and will tell you all about it in a separate article.

No, this one is about one fundamental question: If you are a condo dweller like me and can’t charge at home, is it feasible and practical to opt for a fully electric vehicle in the Philippines (and specifically Metro Manila) today?

With the keys to this gorgeous GranCoupe in hand, I spent a long weekend trying to find out.

These two apps will be your best friends as a new EV owner. PHOTOS BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Modern EVs all have pretty decent range, so I knew that range anxiety wouldn’t really be an issue unless I allowed it to be and waited too long to recharge.

After some driving to get the full charge down a bit, it was time to start checking out public charging options. To find the various chargers, I’m using two apps: PlugShare and Evro, which seemed to work well.

Chargers like these are meant to top up your car while you shop. PHOTOS BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

The first public charger I explored was the free charging station at Baywalk SM Mall of Asia.

Finding it was easy, but it needed to be activated with a card. The admin staff member who had that card had to come from the other side of the mall. A 15-minute wait later, the i4 was happily charging while I went shopping.

Generally, there are two types of chargers you’ll be looking for when you drive electric. Normal (AC chargers usually up to 22kW) and Rapid (DC chargers 50kW and up).

This one was on the slow side and is best suited when you’re planning to spend most of the day there. My relatively short stop only added about 10%, which was still nice considering it was free.

The 60kW charger at One Ayala is in a sketchy spot. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Next up, I wanted to try a rapid charger, but sadly there aren’t many yet right now. The nearest one I was told about was the 60kW one at One Ayala in Makati.

It took me a while to find it, and it was in the weirdest position I had ever seen for a charger—right in the middle of the drop-off lane.

On the first day, it was occupied, so I decided to come back in the morning. On that occasion, I was also reminded that EV charging etiquette is still something in development around here.

But please, a little charging etiquette goes a long way. PHOTOS BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

The charger was again occupied when I arrived, but the BYD that was parked there showed 100% charge already. Common EV etiquette decrees that you should only use a rapid charging space for charging, and not to park and go shopping.

Think of it the same way as a petrol station. You wouldn’t park at the pump and leave your car there all day. An hour is plenty enough on bigger chargers like this, and disconnecting the plug so you can plug yourself in if the other car is already fully charged is perfectly acceptable in my book.

I actually tried that charger again the next day, when it had an attendant handling things. That eliminates any issues and also helps people who are new to all this. Filling up there attracts plenty of looks from passersby, so expect to be asked questions by curious motorists and people interested in EVs.

Shell Mamplasan currently has one of the fastest chargers in Luzon. It isn't free, though. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Next, I headed to the only faster charger I knew about, the 180kW one at Shell Mamplasan.

So far, all my refills have been free, one of the great advantages of being an early EV adopter around here, but the Shell one actually costs P35 per kWh. Putting in rapid chargers like this is expensive and requires a lot of effort, so naturally Shell wants to make its money back. An attendant helped with the charging, so there was nothing to worry about, and boy was it quick!

This could replace the gas station once we see more of them. PHOTOS BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

I normally wouldn’t charge a car from 70% to almost 100% like this, but did it anyway just to see.

I had barely enough time to chat to the attendant (who said they get about six EVs a day at the moment) and grab a coffee, when the charger had already added 30%—meaning I was fully charged and ready to roll.

Rapid chargers like this definitely help to keep the pit-stop times between ICE and electric vehicles close, and we need many more of them.

Not enough slots and chargers. Broken cables. People just parking without charging. Some issues that EV owners will face. PHOTOS BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Back in the metro, I decided to try my luck with the charging points at SM Megamall, a decision I quickly came to regret as I got stuck in holiday-weekend parking hell.

As it only has two EV spaces in the whole massive building, both were already taken. Needless to say, I had wasted a good hour going there. It’s nice of malls like SM to put chargers in, but they really need to add many, many more if this is going to be more than a publicity gimmick.

I had equally negative experiences at Greenbelt 3 (the Type 2 cable was broken and I couldn’t charge) and Century City Mall (two spaces but only one charger and that was already occupied).

The next stop was Rockwell, where the charging spaces are not in the main mall but in the smaller 8 Rockwell underground parking.

That seems like a blessing on busy days, and once I figured that out, it was easy enough to find. Another EV was already parked there, but not even plugged in to charge, bringing up the EV etiquette point once again. If you have an EV, then please don’t do this.

While not meant for cars, it's nice to see this charger use a sustainable source of energy. PHOTOS BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

My last charger was also my favorite one. Not because it was the fastest or easiest to access, but because it runs on solar power. Located on East Bank Road in Pasig, it lets you fill up with pure and free sunshine.

At 3kW output, it’s probably more meant for e-trikes and the like, but it’s still awesome, and well done to Pasig City for this wonderful facility.

The author has experience with EVs in his current residence on the Isle of Man. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

It’s worth noting that you wouldn’t charge an electric car this much in real life, and I simply tried the many different options and locations to see how easy or hard it is.

I have a BMW i3 as my daily driver when I’m in Europe, and I can tell you from experience that you create a routine over time. You’ll find your favorite chargers nearby, and usually only charge when you really need to.

With modern long-range EVs, that’s probably only twice a week, depending on your commute and habits.

Yes, if you're a condo owner, it is possible to live like this while more charging points are being erected. PHOTOS BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

In conclusion, the weekend went a lot better than I thought, and I would not have any concerns about owning a fully electric vehicle here even if I can’t charge it at home.

Sure, the network and the options aren’t quite as polished as in other countries where EV uptake is already higher, but it works perfectly fine. And the fact you can charge for free in many places is a real bonus.

It will take years for laws to change and for most condos (old and new) to have charging ports fitted. Until then, you’ll be perfectly fine with the public charging network we already have.

Frank Schuengel

Frank is a German e-commerce executive who loves his wife, a Filipina, so much he decided to base himself in Manila. He has interesting thoughts on Philippine motoring. He writes the aptly named ‘Frankly’ column.