By David Morgan
We’ve driven about 100,000 electric vehicle (EV) miles since we ditched our only gas car about five years
ago. But we hadn’t gone on a very long road trip, until now. It has been said the lack of fast charging
infrastructure and added wait time are the Achilles heel of EVs, that they inhibit long distance travel.
But is this true?
Chapter 1 - Dieselgate
You’ve probably heard about how Volkswagen and other car makers lied about their pollution control
systems. But did you know that as part of their atonement, VW’s subsidiary called ElectrifyAmerica is
spending a couple of billion dollars installing EV fast chargers all around the country? Although
ElectrifyAmerica is just one of several companies offering fast chargers, theirs are being installed several
at a time in the same location, a kind of an electric gas station with multiple pumps. And they are super
high power, useful not only for today’s EVs but also models of the not-too-distant future which will be
able to add hundreds of miles of range in a very short span of time.
Chapter 2- Figuring out where to charge
There are several ways you can do this. With our Chevy Bolt we use a website for EVs called Plugshare
which is basically a mapping program that includes charger location with street address, photos, max
power output, price, elevation profile of your trip, nearby places to eat, hotels, and other details, most
of which can be edited and updated by EV drivers. Users can even contact each other. There’s also a
handy app to use while on the road. Thanks to Plugshare, before any long trip I have a good idea of
where I want to charge, what my backup options are, decent places nearby to eat, etc. Most of the
chargers I used on this trip were located within sight of the interstate, often at regular gas stations,
some of which had solar panels on the roof.
Chapter 3- Getting where you want to go next
Our Bolt comes with a free subscription to GM’s navigation service called On-Star. I press a button, a
live operator picks up, I ask for directions, they download to my car, and display on a screen. There are
other ways to do the same thing, for example using Android Auto (basically a hands-free version of
Google Maps) on my phone and connecting it to my car, but generally I prefer On-Star unless I have a
co-pilot along for the trip. If you change plans, you can tell On-Star to redirect you without having to
take your hands off the wheel.
Chapter 4- Knowing your car
You may have heard about tapering, which refers to the way in which, the closer your battery is to full,
the slower it charges. All EVs are affected by this. In a Bolt, up until the battery is 50% full it’s charging
at full speed (about 55 kW, if the charging station is capable), and after that it slows down in a stair-step
profile. The implications are you can save time and money by not filling up all the way every time, even
though you might stop more often. On a long road trip I’ll intentionally add only enough electrons to
get to the next place I want to charge, plus a small margin for error.
Chapter 5- Defining “small margin for error”
When I left Leavenworth I had a full battery. The official range in a Bolt is 238 miles. It’s about 200
miles to Hermiston, OR, so I skipped several places I could have charged on the way. I knew from
experience that in mild weather 200 miles at moderate speed is no problem, and when I arrived 4 hours
later I had 15% battery left. There was another fast charger about 80 miles away near La Grande, and I
would climb nearly 4000’ to get there. Plus the speed limit would be higher, meaning more energy
needed. Using my car’s range display while I was plugged in to keep track of how far I could go, plus
some common sense, I ate lunch, used the bathroom, cleaned the windshield, and in that half hour I
added what I needed for the next leg, plus a little bit more. I repeated this exercise in Huntington, OR,
Mtn Home, ID, and Burely, ID where I spent the night, getting the last bit of charge at the hotel on a
120v outlet to reach 100% before day 2.
Chapter 6- It’s a good idea to pay attention to the laws of physics
I almost always set the cruise control for 1 mph higher than the posted limit. The Bolt kept track of my
energy consumption, specifically the miles traveled per kilowatt hour (kWh) and average speed, which I
would reset with each charge. Tracking my energy consumption helped inform how long I would need
for my next charge, saving me time by not charging too far into my taper profile where charging slows
down, while still giving me reasonable confidence that I would make it to my next stop. For example, on
the first leg of the trip I averaged 4 miles per kWh (Bolt’s full battery holds 60s kWh) and averaged 52
mph. In contrast, the next day in Utah where the I-15 speed limit was 80 mph with lots of elevation gain
and a stiff headwind, on my worst leg I averaged 2.7 miles per kWh at an average speed of 79 mph.
Just before my final leg before the north rim of the Grand Canyon, and the fifth fast charger of the day, I
wondered about the 5000’ elevation gain and 140 miles ahead of me on unfamiliar 2-lane roads. I knew
the speed limit would be less than 80 mph, but how much less I couldn’t be sure. I’d need headlights in
the dark. Would I need defrost too? All these require more power. I ate a leisurely dinner across the
parking lot from the charger and filled to 90%. Turns out, despite the serious climb to the Kaibab
Plateau, I averaged 3.9 miles per kWh and 47 mph, arriving with 30% battery remaining, more than I was
shooting for, but better safe than sorry. Overall, getting to the Canyon I averaged 3.4 mi/ kWh.
Chapter 7- How long does it take to charge?
That depends. In a Bolt, fast chargers add up to 170 miles of range per hour of charge, provided the
battery is very low when you begin, and you are using a high-powered fast charger. (Teslas, using their
own Superchargers, can add 300 miles per hour, and other expensive brands including Porsche are even
faster.) I only used one 240v charger on this trip, which is the most common type, and it was free, as is
often the case. I probably bypassed hundreds of these except for one near my hotel on the way home,
and like the one I have in my garage, it added 30 miles of range per hour, filling the battery while I slept.
At the Canyon I plugged into a regular 120v outlet at my friends’ cabin, which added 5 miles per hour of
range, slow, but plenty to get me to the trailheads during my visit, and still have a full battery before
heading home several days later.
Chapter 8- Did I make it home too?
It still took two days, just like if I had an internal combustion engine (ICE). I partly retraced my steps
through AZ, UT, ID, OR and WA, with a few scenic detours, but this time I had to deal with a huge storm,
which snowed on me like crazy in higher elevations, then pelted me with heavy rain on and off the
whole way home. My first day mostly in Utah was even more beautiful due to the kinds of clouds you
cannot adequately describe or photograph. Despite the weather I only needed 3 charging stops for 500
miles, largely thanks to a big elevation drop. The last day was 720 blustery miles which took about 15
hours intermittently slowed by torrential rain, plus seven charging stops (lots of headwind at high
speed), half of which were necessary meal breaks.
Chapter 9- How much longer did it take than an ICE?
Google said the direct route I took southbound would be just over 600 miles per day, about 10 hours
each, which assumes perfect driving conditions, and does not account for pee breaks, gas stops, meals,
etc. It took me 13 to 14 hours door to door each day. The way I see it, because I did those things
whenever I charged, some of the extra time really does not count in terms of answering the question.
Also, because I stopped every 1 to 3 hours and had time to walk a bit each time, I can’t recall a long road
trip where I felt better at the end of the day. My longest stop which did not include a meal was at a
Walmart (which appears to be on the way to having the most fast chargers in the USA) where I spent the
entire “wasted time” stocking up on supplies for my hikes at the Canyon. My shortest stop was about
20 minutes; the longest was about 90.
Chapter 10- What did it cost?
Fast chargers like the ones I used almost exclusively on this trip are by far the most expensive kind of
chargers, which means the per mile cost for this journey was much higher than 99% of the EV miles
we’ve driven. Many “normal speed” 240v public chargers are free, and electricity is cheap when you
charge at home (less than $2 in Leavenworth to fill my 238 mile battery). Prior to this trip we estimated
we’ve driven 100,000 EV miles for about $1000, meaning one penny per mile (not a typo). This trip cost
about $280, or about 9 cents per mile, which was still cheaper than most ICEs. A king of ICE efficiency
Toyota Prius, at 45 mpg (my educated guess given my average speed of 64 mph with lots of hills, wind,
and snow) and gas at $3.50 per gallon (is that right because I don’t pay attention anymore?), would’ve
burned 59 gallons and $206. The driving experience in a Bolt is way more fun and comfy than a Prius,
with zero emissions to boot. Substitute almost any other ICE and it would’ve cost a lot more, polluted
the air, reduced the long-distance views, and warmed the planet.
Chapter 11- Is there anything he’s not telling us?
Funny thing: while at my friends’ cabin at the North Rim, we lost power several times. Luckily, I already
charged my car to 100%. Which reminds me, did you know you can’t pump gas without electricity
either? Ask me how I know. But for me, those days are over….
Not funny thing: The hotel I booked in Burley was next to a gas station with several fast chargers visible
from my room. Which turned out not to be my room, because they gave it away, thinking guests who
call two days ahead will arrive before 930pm. I found another place to stay, but it was a few miles away,
which complicated my charging plans, made for a late night, and involved a taxi. Half a day later and
250 miles away, I realized I left my credit card in that charger. My first thought was to blame the
inconsiderate hotel for my mistake. My next thought was to call the gas station, where my guardian
angel answered the phone, retrieved my card, put it in the safe, and handed it to me on my way home.
Patience: On my way home, I got so carried away eating and watching a nearby fire that I failed to notice
that a power interruption terminated my so-called fast charge after about 15 minutes. If I’d paid
attention to my phone, which is linked to the charger and the car, I would have seen the text. When I
returned to the car, instead of immediately driving off with enough battery to reach my next stop, I had
to wait another 30 minutes. And then later, in La Grande, it took nearly 20 minutes of phone help to get
a brand-new charger to work, but at least they gave me a free charge.
Chapter 12: Best things about this EV road trip
I felt fresh at the end of each day, despite the long hours, in part because I needed to stop frequently,
and on at least half of my stops I ate, walked, shopped, etc which helped pass the time faster than I
expected. I liked supporting those businesses who facilitated my EV travel and I thanked them for doing
so. It was interesting to see how many “gas” stations are adding chargers.
It was impressive how many fast chargers I used which did not exist even a few months ago. And
“Coming Soon” icons are all over the map, an indication that EV driving will just keep getting easier. I
visited several new gas stations with EV chargers in the middle of nowhere, which made me feel better
about using the squeegee and bathroom. I saw that Walmart is going all in for EV chargers at many
locations, which is sure to help normalize EVs. It appears the charging network needed to replace gas
stations is arriving, and sooner than I thought.
It was inspiring to walk the conservation talk on such a long trip. I may never buy gas again. Ever.
Although climate change is dire, it was heartening to confirm that some of the solutions are not. I
already knew that the biggest thing I could do to address my personal contribution to climate change
was to quit using gasoline, but I did not know how easy it would be, even on a long trip through
unknown country in rural areas.
Confirmation that there is no reason to wait for improvements or think the transition to widespread EV
adoption must be far away. The Bolt is described as the first affordable, long-range EV, and even without
the benefit of improvements each new version and its competitors are sure to include, this trip proved
to me we’re already most of the way there, at least for ordinary passenger vehicles. I’m already plotting
my next trip farther from the interstates, confident that by next year even many lonely 2-lane highways,
the kinds or routes I prefer, will be ready for an even longer EV adventure.
David Morgan lives in Leavenworth, Wash.
Thanks from Plug-In NCW for contributing this article.