Electrify America’s New Fast Charger Labels Don’t Make Sense

Is Hyper-Fast really faster than Ultra-Fast? Electrify America seems to think so.

byChris Tsui|
Electrify America’s New Fast Charger Labels Don’t Make Sense
Electrify America.

Charging an electric car in public can be confusing. On top of having to navigate various charging networks and whether or not the one you're at requires a mobile app or not (that's if they even work), there's also the aspect of varying charging speeds. Anything above 50 kW is recognized as a DC fast charger, but there are obviously levels above that. In an attempt to make distinguishing between those levels from a distance easier, the big brains over at Electrify America have unveiled new labels for its chargers. The keyword here is "attempt" because I don't believe they clarify anything at all.

EA has opted to brand its midgrade 150-kW chargers as "Ultra-Fast," whereas its most capable 350-kW electricity dispensers will now be known as "Hyper-Fast." Immediately, there's an issue: On vibes alone, "Ultra" sort of sounds more intense to me than "Hyper," even though Electrify America seems to think it's the other way around.

Instead of arguing on vibes, though, let's see what the scholars at Oxford have to say. According to the OLD, the prefix "hyper-" is defined as "more than normal" or "too much." "Ultra-," meanwhile, is said to mean "extremely" and "beyond a particular limit." A quick Google search for "ultra vs hyper," meanwhile, yields a Stack Exchange question that attempts to rank "hyper-," "ultra-", and "super-" in order of ... high-ness. According to the top-voted answer delivered by retired English grammarian John Lawler, "hyper-" and "super-" are semantically on equal footing whereas "ultra-" towers over them both.

Electrify America

"These are not English words, but Greek (hyper) and Latin (super, ultra) prepositions," reads Lawler's reply. "Hyper and super mean exactly the same thing, 'above'—they're cognates, in fact; Greek initial S went to H, and Y was the Greek letter corresponding to Latin V (or U). Greek is, of course, more prestigious than Latin, but it's not bigger. Ultra, on the other hand, means 'beyond,' as in ultraviolet or ultra vires 'beyond (the powers of) men.' So I guess ultra would be the ultimate (same root, btw), at least for English speakers who've studied Latin and Greek."

When asked to explain the thinking here, an Electrify America spokesperson said that "ultra-fast" is already used to describe 150-kW charging by "the industry as a whole" and that "hyper" was chosen to slot above "ultra" after conducting research. "The research included message testing where respondents ranked names like hyper and ultra in order of speed, and found that most drivers thought of Hyper-Fast as faster," the spokesperson said, emphasis mine.

Most drivers thought of Hyper-Fast as faster. Which also tells me that at least some did not.

Electrify America

I'd be OK with all of that if the colors EA chose to represent its three levels of charging station made sense but, of course, they do not.

Its slowest stations, the 50-kW CHAdeMOs, are characterized by dark blue labels but then—as if the whole ultra-hyper situation wasn't confusing enough—150-kW stalls are "teal," whereas the fastest 350-kW stations are "green." In plain, non-chromatic terms, what we really have are two shades of bluish-green. The order in which they've been placed is also counterintuitive. If the slowest level is dark blue, why is the fastest level's color darker and arguably bluer than the mid-tier?

At this point, I should acknowledge that, yes, all three of these labels will have the specific kW capability printed on them in actual numerals and there will also be three bolt symbols beneath that to signify which level of charger you're dealing with. So, really, the branding and colors here shouldn't really matter to EV drivers who actually pay attention. But if absolute simplicity really was the goal here, EA has dropped the ball.

And funnily enough, I feel like EA's comms people know it, too. About 16 seconds into a 94-second explainer video (the mere existence of which says quite a bit about this whole ordeal), a blurb appears on the screen describing the new labels as "a thoughtful redesign backed by user research." As if to say, "Look, we know it doesn't make sense, but we did our homework and this is what came out the other side."

Ironically enough, this same video ends with a card that reads, "Ultra-simple, Hyper-fast." This implies—since it doesn't say "Hyper-simple" and given EA's own definitions—that there must be room for improvement when it comes to simplicity. Confused yet? So am I.

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