My daughter Kyra and I drove 590 miles in our leased 2020 Chevy Bolt today from Littleton, Colo. to Cedar City, Utah. It was the first leg of a 2,400-mile round trip road trip from our home Littleton, Colo. to my sister’s home in Goleta, Calif.
The biggest differences between three years ago and this trip from Denver to Santa Barbara =
No. 1, Time:We drove 590 miles in 13 hours, including charging time today. Three years ago, we could only drive 422 miles from Littleton, Colo. to the KOA Campground in Green River, Utah on the first day. This is because three years ago there were no non-Tesla DCFC charging stations for a 350-mile stretch of I-70 between Grand Junction, Colo. and Cedar City, Utah on I-15. This forced us to stay overnight an extra night at the KOA Campground in Green River and turned what is normally a two-day trip in each direction into a three-day trip in each direction. Now, there is an Electrify America DCFC station in Green River and several other DCFC stations between Green River and Cedar City. This makes a HUGE difference in time for a number of reasons.
First, because we did not have to add an extra overnight. Second, because we could charge more frequently, we could drive faster when we were on the highway — although, frankly, I was still a bit cautious and drove 55 – 65 mph up the steep I-70 6,000-foot elevation gain from Denver to the Eisenhower Tunnel and 65 – 70 mph on I-70 in Utah. I upped my speed to 75 mph for an 80-mile stretch of I-15 from the juncture of I-70 and I-15 to Cedar City.
I was not able to do this three years ago because of problems with a DCFC station that did not work in Fillmore, Utah.
It felt kind of amazing to be able to cruise along at 75 mph and not worry at all about running out of range. The reason I was able to do this was because I could charge frequently enough at the more frequent DCFC stations to allow for driving faster speeds and less efficiency — which, after all, is the American way, right? 😜
But, seriously, this was a great feeling and one that I still need to get used to: I probably could have driven a bit faster from Glenwood Springs to Green River — I mostly drove 67 to 68 mph — as I still had about 50 miles of range left when I arrived in Green River. However, I don’t think I could have driven the 80 mph speed limit and also had my AC on the whole time and covered the 187 miles without adding an extra charge of some kind in Grand Junction.
That is the thing with EVs and long-distance road trips and the current infrastructure: You really do have to think about the different kinds of trade-offs between the speed you’re driving, the time it takes to stop and charge, and the lack of DCFC density in certain places, with Eastern and Central Utah still being one of those places.
I could have stopped to charge at least one extra time and driven perhaps close to 80 mph the whole way from Grand Junction to Green River. However, I would have lost time charging and that time might have been more time than the extra time it took me to cover the distance between Grand Junction and Green River at 67 to 68 mph but without an extra charging stop.
There is the added issue of how much DCFC fast charging slows down after an EV’s battery is filled to 80% capacity. For safety (heat) reasons, charging rates slow down a lot after 80% of a battery pack is full. Then, you get into this whole thing where you have to think about whether it is worth it to sit longer at a given charging station to charge at slower rate above 80% charge, but go farther between charging sessions, or go to 80%, or less, and stop more often for shorter sessions.
Of course, this latter ability/luxury is contingent on the spacing between charging stations and, of course, how fast you are going to drive PLUS other factors such as: Are you going to turn on your AC in the summer or heat on in the winter, with the AC drawing down your range by probably 15% and the heat drawing it down 20%+.
There are additional factors such as wind, weather and temperature as well as terrain.
A mostly uphill 200-mile leg directly into a 20 mph headwind when the temp outside is 10F?
Well, that is one of the WORST case scenarios you can imagine for EV range. And, in an EV, unlike a gas car, which also sees substantial mileage reduction in the same conditions, you actually still have to pay attention to those variables and factors, at least as long as DCFC charging station density is not, well, that dense, in many parts of the United States, including in Eastern and Central Utah, where Kyra and I drove today.
No. 2, DCFC charging station reliability: WOW, what a difference this is from our trip three years ago when we continually encountered DCFC stations that did not work! Today, in four charging stops — including a night time session that I am doing at an Electrify America DCFC station at the Cedar City Wal-Mart — I had no problems: I could always charge (although not all of the different individual stations at a given larger DCFC installation were working in Glenwood Springs and Green River). That makes a HUGE difference. If I know I can count on getting a charge when, and where, I need it — ESPECIALLY in Green River, in that DCFC desert out there in Eastern Utah — I feel golden! And today, was golden. Thank you, Electrify America. I hope tomorrow is as good a day as today was.
Some general observations before I just list the details of the trip in terms of stops and charge times, etc.:
Doing a long-distance road trip in an EV still requires a lot more thinking and planning and reflection and attention to different variables than doing the same road trip in an ICE. You just don’t have to think about — although, really you SHOULD have to think about, from an environmental impact perspective — what speed you drive, how fast you drive up a mountain pass, how high you crank the heat or the AC, where you’re going to get your next fuel, etc. when you drive an ICE. You can just hop in your ICE and go and be as inefficient and environmentally unfriendly as you want to be with no impact on whether you might run out of fuel, thanks to gas station density and availability.
This is simply not true with an EV, especially, but not only, in a non-Tesla EV: You are going to be forced to think about things like driving up HUGE mountain climbs, as I did from Denver to the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70, at what speed, at what time of year, in what temperature, in what wind conditions, etc. In addition, you are going to have to think about how fast your EV can take a fast-charge: My Bolt can only charge at 50 kW whereas some EVs can charge at rates up to six times faster. With an EV you will wonder/think about how fast a given DCFC station is going to be able to deliver a fast charge, which also varies widely. No one thinks about how fast a gas pump at a gas station is going to pump gas through the gas hose and nozzle into their car’s tank.
In short, EV road trips still are more complex, challenging and, let’s face it, more anxiety provoking than hopping into a gasoline car. They will be that way until DCFC station density increases in more places AND DCFC stations can deliver a near universal speed of charge AND when all EVs themselves can take a charge of at least 200+ kW, which, in the right scenario should add about 200 miles of range in about 20 to 30 minutes.
This is all A LOT to think about for the average driver, way more than they have had to think about for a gas car road trip. I think many current EV drivers, many of them veterans such as myself and/or techies, easily forget this as they/we get wrapped up in their/our own view of EVs.
NO, you/we are NOT normal!
People who have been driving EVs for years and years and/or you who are spending time on Chevy Bolt Facebook or Tesla or Nissan LEAF, etc. Groups, on discussion boards, etc. are different. Your knowledge of EVs and your willingness to pay attention to all sorts of extra issues and variables on the long-distance road trip — which continues to be, in my view, virtually the final nagging achilles heal for EV adoption — is way more, way higher, just WAY different than that of 95% of American drivers. We cannot forget this.
DAY 1, Sunday, Aug. 15 — Littleton, Colo. — Cedar City, Utah, 590 miles, 13 hours of travel time, 3 hours of total charging time [does not include night time charge session preparing for tomorrow’s drive]
LEG 1: Littleton, Colo. to Glenwood Springs Electrify America Target DCFC stations
Distance travelled = 167 miles
Charging time = 1 hour (42% – 86% charge differential)
Maximum kW charge delivered = 42 kW
Total kWh = 30 kWh
Cost = $9.30
LEG 2: Glenwood Springs Electrify America Target DCFC to Green River Electrify America DCFC stations
Distance travelled = 186 miles
Charging time = 1 hour, 10 minutes (18% – 85% charge differential)
Maximum kW charge delivered = 60 kW
Total kWh = 46 kWh
Cost = $14.26
LEG 3: GreenRiver Electrify America DCFC Stations to Richfield, Utah Electrify America Wal-Mart Super Center DCFC stations
Distance travelled = 127 miles
Charging time = 53 minutes (25% – 81% charge differential)
Maximum kW charge delivered = 60 kW
Total kWh = 38 kWh
Cost = $11.78
LEG 4: [will “bleed” into Day 2] Richfield, Utah Electrify America Wal-Mart DCFC to Cedar City, Utah Electrify America Wal-Mart DCFC
Distance travelled = 113 miles
Charging time = 1 hour, 20 minutes (38% – 99%)
Maximum kW charge delivered = 60 kW
Total kWh = 41 kWh
Cost = $13.50