Volkswagen CEO’s vacation snafu led to a scathing review of a rival to Tesla’s supercharging network, highlighting the tough road to electric-car adoption

Tesla's Elon Musk and VW's Herbert Diess
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, and Herbert Diess, chairman of the board of management of Volkswagen, after the presentation of the Golden Steering Wheel in Berlin in November 2019. Jörg Carstensen/picture alliance via Getty Images
  • Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess roasted Ionity for his poor experience with its charging network.
  • The company is partially owned by VW and part of a bid to compete with Tesla’s Supercharger stations.
  • The CEO’s vacation mishap highlights several major advantages Tesla drivers have over others.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess lit into electric-car-charging company Ionity on social media.

The company is partially owned by Volkswagen and was launched in 2016 as a joint venture between VW, Daimler, BMW, and Ford. It’s been advertised as a rival to Tesla’s high-powered Supercharger network, but appears to have fallen short, according to the VW CEO’s account.

On Thursday, Diess detailed his experience taking Volkswagen’s all-electric ID.3 on a summer road trip. It was “anything but a premium experience,” he said, according to a translation of his remarks.

Diess said he faced difficulty finding a working EV charging station during his trip along Brenner Pass, a main thoroughfare that passes through the Alps and connects Italy and Austria.

“Too few charging points,” Diess wrote in a comment on LinkedIn, noting that there were only four stations along the 22-mile (35km) mountain pass, one of which featured long wait times because of heavy summer traffic.

He went on to describe the condition of an Ionity charging station in Trento, a northern Italian city, which he said did not have a bathroom or basic amenities like a coffee machine – luxuries that Tesla stations have pioneered.

Diess also said the location housed multiple out-of-service and broken charging stations.

The VW boss is one of many executives to express displeasure with Ionity’s services. Diess’ concerns point to fears the charging network lags too far behind Tesla, which already has nearly 600 Supercharger stations in Europe, according to Tesla’s website – almost twice as many as Ionity. Ionity did not respond to a request for comment from Insider.

Charging infrastructure poses a major hurdle, even in a region like Europe where electric or plug-in hybrid cars accounted for about 11% of new car sales last year. In the US – where EVs only accounted for about 2% of new car sales in 2020 – drivers are facing similar issues when it comes to the feasibility of charging an electric car, especially on a long trip.

Earlier this week, a CNBC reporter detailed his lackluster experience finding a non-Tesla charging station on a trip across California. As with Diess, he drew comparisons between the amenities offered at Tesla stations versus regular charging points and found other stations fell short.

Another journalist found that Tesla drivers also possess an advantage when it comes to finding places to recharge, as Tesla Supercharger stations alone appear to account for about 25% of available charging points. While regular Tesla stations can be used with non-Tesla EVs through a special adapter, supercharging stations are not yet compatible with other electric cars.

Musk tweeted earlier in July that he plans to make Tesla’s entire charging network accessible to all EV drivers by the end of the year. But during the company’s earnings call last month he said that non-Tesla drivers will have to pay extra to use the company’s supercharging network.

Increasing the US network of charging stations is a top priority in President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill, which sets aside billions of dollars for EV charging. But major automakers continue to lag behind Tesla when it comes to making long road trips feasible for electric-car owners.