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Are You Ready For Your First EV Road Trip? Probably Not

by Staff

Jennifer takes a 320-mile road trip in her new 2023 Chevrolet Bolt EUV to answer the question: Are you ready for your first EV road trip? The answer? It depends.

Of the five Folsoms, four and a half of us (including an almost-16-year-old with a learner’s permit) are drivers sharing our family fleet. The time had come to add to our three-vehicle auto armada.

After months of reviews, asking strangers on the street for input, and test drives (when I could find inventory on the lot), I settled on the Chevrolet Bolt Electric Utility Vehicle. It satisfied a lot of my requirements: long range (255 miles on a charge), sufficient cargo space (for weekend trips), and a spacious back seat (enough for my 6’3” twins).

Despite all the research, I was still unsure how this vehicle would fit into my daily life. The drive to my office, 31 miles away and with a free Level 2 charger in the garage? That was a slam dunk. But longer trips? I admittedly had concerns. My research told me to map out my route and anticipated stops, so I downloaded three different charge station locater apps. Buoyed with a few weeks of success charging at home and making local trips for commuting and errands, I decided to take the Bolt on the road.

I made the straightforward 120-mile trip across Virginia, one I’ve made hundreds of times, to take care of my mother for the weekend. Embarking with a full charge, I arrived with 100 miles “in the tank” and simply plugged in the factory-issued 110-volt Level 1 charger, connected to a 25-foot extension cord, into a standard exterior electrical outlet. Despite my nearly full charge, I played it extra safe and located a free Level 2 charger a mile away. I plugged in and took my 40-minute walk/run while the car “topped off.”

Feeling confident, I then drove to visit friends in North Carolina, 325 miles away. Great, I thought. With a 255-mile charge capacity, I’ll only need one stop along the way. I’ll use one of three charger locater apps I had downloaded. I’ll plan for a mid-trip stop for a leg-stretching, lunch-eating, battery-charging break.

About 100 miles in, I realized I was in trouble. Here are five things I’ve since learned along the way.

First, temperature matters.

While I knew air conditioning would have an impact on battery range, I wasn’t prepared for the impact from the precious combination of AC and cooling, ventilated seats. I wasn’t alone. During a media junket to tout the importance of building out a more robust charging network, Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, took a media pool on her “People Powered Road Trip” from North Carolina to Tennessee. NPR reported Sec. Granholm inquiring about using AC while charging.

It seems that Sec. Granholm shares more than a first name with me. She also shared the ill fortune of timing such a road trip during a southern heat wave. Which is really the point, right? EVs should make a dent on the extreme weather due to human-caused climate change, but making the leap was, well, steamy. I found myself doing laps around a rest stop ironically named “The Oasis” in ‘feels like’ temps nearing 100 degrees, trying to reach my step goal and wishing I had waited a few short months for a crisp fall day for this journey.

Second, take a breath. Call on your co-pilot.

At about 130 miles in, I began to panic. I realized I was going to need at least one additional stop, maybe more, and I was having a difficult time managing the charger location apps, each with different nomenclature, reviews of stations, and user interface, while driving. Thank goodness for my husband back at home. Suffering empathetic range anxiety on my behalf, he was my “Houston” as we mapped out next stops, and kindly reported broken chargers and inaccurate information to the community of EV drivers.

Third, take another breath. You are not alone.

Standing around waiting for charge-up—particularly in the heat—gives you time to tap into the vast community of EV drivers and support network of tip-sharing. From the rap artist fresh off a show in Kinston, NC who pointed me to the dealership network of free stations, to the mother-adult daughter combo heading to Philadelphia who described the differences between the Tesla- and non-Tesla networks, I learned a lot and felt like I was no longer alone in this odyssey.

At one stop, I gave up my charge early to a mom traveling with two sweaty, flushed-cheek toddlers in the back seat. She hadn’t planned an EV trip; it was the only rental car available. And they all looked pretty miserable. Pay it forward when you can.

Fourth, get ready for wonky chargers.

From the two dead chargers at the Halifax, NC Welcome Center to the Circle K in New Bern, NC that worked on Sunday (but not on Wednesday), broken chargers live up to their reputation as being extremely frustrating. But I learned if you use the apps (like EVgo and Chargepoint) in advance, you have a stronger likelihood of the financial transaction working.

And if there’s a technical issue, call the customer service number on the charging station. I had the most delightful, helpful help desk call with Christine from Circle K support who reset the charger on her end to get me moving again. If that doesn’t work, support the aforementioned community by reporting an outage and leaving a comment about your experience.

And finally, stay the course. A universal experience is on the horizon.

The extra steps, hunting for stations that don’t appear magically where the apps say they are, all took time. A 5.5-hour trip south took me nearly 9. The good news? There will never be a weaker, smaller network of charging stations than there is today.

Tesla’s Supercharger Network is clearly more robust, reliable, and better-serviced than the hodge-podge of other charging networks, most using the Combined Charging System connectors. While roasting in the sun at a charging station, I reviewed a recent article by my ICF colleague and fellow Forbes contributor Stacy Noblet detailing the future of universal charging stations and networks. It seems most vehicle manufacturers are getting on board with the North American Charging Standard connector that Tesla currently uses, but it remains to be seen what this means. “What people want is the seamless Tesla charging experience: the well-lit locations, easy app interface, the coffee shops while you’re charging. Equipment does not necessarily mean experience,” says Noblet.

A spokesperson from Chevy also pointed me to their manufacturer app for improving my next road trip experience. “GM offers EV route planning in our vehicle brand apps like MyChevrolet, which also takes into account dozens of additional data points including temperature, terrain, elevation, traffic, battery health, state of charge, charger availability and more to create an optimized route.”

When I arrived at my final destination, I was a sweaty, exhausted mess. But I also felt empowered. I had done a hard thing. I fought through my range anxiety panic and figured it out. Was it perfect? Not even close. Armed with experience and knowledge, I’m ready to tackle the next EV road trip. Just not during a heat wave.

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