Thinking ahead to the finish of a three-day, 1,200-mile road trip from Denver to Santa Barbara I did with my two daughters in our all-electric 2017 Chevy Bolt, I was envisioning feeling triumphant when we arrived at my sister’s in Goleta, Calif. [Denver to Santa Barbara, Day 1; Denver to Santa Barbara, Day 2]
In fact, I did feel pretty triumphant driving the final 176-mile leg of our trip from Victorville, Calif. to Goleta, Calif., today [July 26]. Although we hit some “bumps” along the way — including a confrontation I had with another Chevy Bolt driver at a EV-Go DC fast charger in Victorville today after he unplugged me while I was in the mall with my kids — it felt pretty good to be zooming along California 101, on a beautiful late July evening as the sun set on the Pacific ocean.
We made it the whole way from Colorado to California as planned, across three days, and not more. We did so in an all-electric car, thus proving you can, in fact, use an electric car — other than a Tesla — for long-distance road trips!
We also took in some beautiful, scenery along the way — mountains along all 1,200 miles of the trip. My two daughters and I also had a fair amount of fun doing a family road trip together in a nice little car that performed quite well, and perhaps most important, which kept us nice and cool across some pretty hot expanses of the United States where outside temperatures often climbed to 100+ degrees Fahrenheit.
Some of the positive takeaways from our road trip, which, technically is only halfway done (We do, after all, have to drive back to Denver in nine days):
- A zippy, peppy, smooth driving car, the Bolt is always fun to drive, in, and around, Denver, and on a long-distance road trip.
- One does not have to sacrifice the long-distance trip with an electric car with as much range — 238 miles — as the Bolt.
- The Bolt can, in fact, serve quite well as an ONLY car, which is what it is for me/us.
- There are starting to be enough DC fast chargers along interstates in the American West, but we still have a ways to go before we have what I would call moderately reasonable coverage.
Some of the less positive takeaways from our 1,200-mile Denver to Santa Barbara Chevy Bolt trip:
- We need more DC fast chargers along I-70 in Colorado AND in Utah.
- DC fast chargers need to work 99 percent of the time, especially when there are so few of them and people like me are therefore relying so heavily on the only DCFC station for hundreds of miles along major interstate highways.
You can’t drive an EV such as the Bolt the way you would drive an ICE on a long-distance trip — meaning not paying any attention at all to how fast you are driving, and how much fuel you are using — on a road trip such as this one. There just aren’t enough DCFC stations along many stretches of major interstate highway in the U.S., including along I-70 in Colorado and Utah, to allow you to drive 70 even 80 m.p.h. up major, and even moderate, mountain climbs and passes.
- You’ve got to take it easy up these mountain climbs. You’ve also got to very closely watch how your minimum total range relates to the miles remaining until your next charging stop. If the minimum range drops below the miles remaining to your next charging stop, you’ve got to tamp down on your speed until they are in alignment, or, better, slow down enough until you have a little bit of extra mileage “padding” between the minimum range the Bolt is showing you and the miles before you get to your next charging stop.
- Oddly, right now — when there are still relatively few people taking Bolts on long-distance trips, at least in much of the American mountain west — might be the “best” time to be doing long road trips in a Bolt. While there aren’t enough DCFC stations, you also don’t have to worry about having to compete with others much for single charging stations along the way. A confrontation I had with another Bolt driver today in Southern California over unplugging accentuated the challenge that is, in my view, sure to increase and intensify as more and more people use electric cars for long-distance travel. That impending challenge = too many EV drivers and not enough DCFC stations. Yes, Electrify America, and other projects are going to add needed DCFC stations along U.S. interstates. HOWEVER, as these stations increase, probably mostly going in as single DCFC stations, not stations with multiple DCFC charging bays, and more EV drivers start to use them, the greater the competition for still limited chargers will become. Imagine a simultaneous arrival of three, four, five, six+ Chevy Bolt owners at a single DCFC station. All need to charge 45 minutes in order to get to where they need to get. Also imagine you are the third, fourth, fifth, sixth EV driver in line for the DCFC. Four, five, six hour wait times at DCFC stations just don’t work, and is likely to raise tempers, and increase conflict among EV drivers.
- After actually getting out on a long-distance road trip in my own EV for the first time, it really seems to me that long-distance travel represents a significant, and difficult to solve, bottleneck for EV growth. I just do not see how, with 100 percent of vehicles being electric, millions of people can successfully charge along their long-distance trip without there being huge problems, unless charge times can be significantly reduced, and EVs hit 400, even 500+, miles of range. Yes, I DO understand that most people charge most often at home and at work. But that fact doesn’t help solve the long-distance road trip charging dilemma. I even wonder if I do not want to continue pushing for 100 percent EV adoption. Because, if I do push/wish for this, the days of open, and easy, DCFC stations for one’s long-distance road trip will be a distant memory.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed driving an all-electric Chevy Bolt 1,200 miles through some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States. I feel proud about having done it in three days, 400 miles per day, good about how I organized and planned it, and good about how I successfully finessed the tensions between enough range and driving speed as well as about averaging 4.3 miles per kWh to boot — although the return trip promises to be even more challenging as we will generally be going up in altitude, rather than down.
I am still optimistic about electric cars + renewable energy, and I hope that one day, we will have electrified everything, and be powering the world with 100 percent renewable energy. But, I am still having a hard time figuring out how, if everyone went to electric vehicles, we will solve the long-distance, simultaneous travel dilemma that seems to quite possibly stand as perhaps the biggest potential bottleneck to a 100 percent EV world.
The question of how many fast chargers we would need along long-distance driving corridors, how quickly they would need to charge EVs, and to what level, etc. is most certainly an important one, and not one I claim to have an answer for, although, revealingly, I have not see this crucial issue discussed/debated much within the EV media nor within the mainstream media. Below is a video in which Chevy Bolt driver John Loveless offers his ideas on the long-distance EV road trip/enough fast chargers questions. Thank you John, for sharing this!