A cross-country road trip gets better the slower you go. Take it easy to soak in America’s endless beauty, and there are few better ways to spend your short time on this planet. Race the clock, and it just becomes a mind-numbing slog.
Features editor Christian Seabaugh pointed this out weeks before I left Ann Arbor, Michigan, for Los Angeles in MotorTrend‘s long-term Lucid Air Grand Touring Performance yearlong test car. He tried to steer me away from a quick and straight shot through Iowa and Nebraska and toward the more scenic northern route. I stubbornly resisted, and for good reason. The Lucid Air, with its soap-like slipperiness, massive battery, and crazy-fast charging, should cover long distances faster than pretty much any other electric car on sale today. I optimistically assumed a three-day, 2,300-mile drive would demonstrate that our 2022 Car of the Year is nearly as convenient as a gas vehicle on a long trip. Sticking to the most direct route with better charging infrastructure would give the Lucid the best shot at success.
Ready, Set, Go
As with pretty much every other EV, the Air’s advertised 446-mile EPA-rated range is nearly impossible to achieve in the real world unless you want to drive everywhere at suburban speeds. I was prepared for that. Our Grand Touring Performance long-termer scores a MotorTrend Road-Trip Range of 330 miles at an average speed of 70 mph. From our testing, I also knew that at the most powerful fast-charging stations, it can replenish 162 miles of range in just 15 minutes or 248 miles after 30 minutes on the plug. I figured those capabilities would keep us moving with charging stops kept to about 20 minutes or less.
No one actually started a stopwatch the morning we left, but photographer Darren Martin and I drove with purpose, keeping our speeds between 70 and 85 mph and putting in 16-hour days on the road. I knew before we started that the trip would be a slog, but finicky charging equipment made it even more of a grind than I expected.
The Signet Surge
The trouble started from the very first stop, 266 miles in, at an Electrify America charging station in Joliet, Illinois. After plugging in, the charger ramped up to 90 kilowatts and then quickly dropped to 63, then 40, then 54, then 83, and back down to 47 kilowatts. The power bounced around seemingly as fast as the display could update, and the charger never delivered more than a fraction of the Air’s peak charging rate of 300 kW. I moved to a different dispenser and watched the power build to 120 kW and stabilize there. Something clearly wasn’t right, but with nature calling, I left the car plugged in and walked away. By the time we’d grabbed lunch and returned, the Air had charged from 28 to 81 percent in 38 minutes. I’ve seen it perform that same cycle in as little as 27 minutes.
That experience repeated at each of the next four stops. At every station, the power wobbled and rarely climbed over 125 kW. A message in the Air’s instrument cluster pinned the blame on Electrify America. “Charging power limited by station,” it read. Switching chargers sometimes improved our situation, but not by much. We saw 230 kW once, but the Lucid was consistently charging well below its capabilities. By 7 p.m. and our fourth stop of the day, I was exasperated. I called a Lucid PR rep from the parking lot of an Iowa Walmart and got an instant explanation. Lucid is aware of an issue with certain Electrify America chargers manufactured by SK Signet that causes unstable power delivery when charging the Air. Electrify America could fix the problem with a software update, the rep told me.
How to Make a Bad Problem Worse
It’s bad enough that Electrify America’s charging stations are as reliably bad as the Detroit Lions, but Lucid and EA are turning a headache into a migraine for their customers by not proactively communicating about the issue. Both companies have the ability to warn Air owners when they’re piloting their six-figure cars toward a 10-cent experience. Electrify America’s app knows that I drive a Lucid Air. Why not use that information to highlight the stations where charging will be slow?
And while Lucid is powerless to fix Electrify America’s bad software, the automaker does itself no favors by sticking its head in the sand. I had set out from Ann Arbor planning to trust the navigation system’s routing algorithm up until it did something dumb. On initial inspection, the suggested two-to-three-hour stints at the wheel with roughly 20-minute charging stops looked great. But the algorithm was clearly counting on those stations delivering full power even though Lucid engineers knew they wouldn’t.
Unfortunately, the charging infrastructure in the Midwest is so sparse, you often can’t avoid using Electrify America stations on long-distance trips. That was true for our first leg from Michigan to Nebraska. When I looked back to see if we could have bypassed all of the Signet stations we hit on the first day, the answer was a clear no. But if I knew a 350-kW charger was going to be slower than a 150-kW charger, I certainly wouldn’t have put my faith in Lucid’s routing algorithm and Electrify America’s charging network. Letting drivers discover this problem the same way I did—in the middle of a long-distance trip with no clear explanation and a growing dread of what’s going to happen at the next stop—only adds to the aggravation.
Knowledge Is (Charging) Power
A funny thing happened once I knew about the Signet surge: The problem stopped being a problem. Or at least it became a manageable nuisance. I quickly figured out that I could look at pictures on PlugShare to determine which Electrify America stations use the faulty Signet chargers. The first-generation Signet units (pictured above) have two cables and rounded corners at the top of the dispenser. The second-generation units (below) have two cables, rounded upper corners and green lighting around the exterior of the cabinet.
Armed with this knowledge, I scanned ahead to figure out which stations to skip or, if stopping was unavoidable, to temper my expectations. Our spirits were also buoyed by the fact that, for EV owners, life gets easier the farther west you travel. In Lakeview, Colorado, we plugged into one of Electrify America’s newest units and saw the charging power shoot over 300k. And after the prior night’s Walmart parking-lot dinner—an adult Lunchable with a side of despair—the shopping-mall food court at that stop provided one of the ultimate luxuries: choice.
The trip got easier and quicker as we closed in on California, both because the equipment improved, and because I got savvier. We couldn’t avoid Signet chargers entirely on the second day, but a couple short stops at these units was a huge improvement over the consistent inconsistency we’d been dealing with.
The Last Great Hurdle
It’s hard to say exactly how much time we wasted at Electrify America’s Signet chargers. I figure we lost more than an hour but less than two hours to the chargers behaving badly. The problem has been documented in online forums and by Out of Spec’s Kyle and Dave Conner for more than four months without any clarity from Electrify America on when it might be addressed. I reached out to the company’s public relations department, which told me the necessary software update will be released to pilot sites “shortly.” If there aren’t any major issues, it will eventually be delivered to the rest of the affected units once engineers are confident there are no critical issues.
It’s not surprising DC fast-charging infrastructure proved to be the Achilles’ heel of our cross-country road trip. We’ve seen plenty of flaky charging stations on shorter trips, and we’ve known for years now that Tesla’s Supercharger network is much more dependable than any of the alternatives. Having seen the Lucid pull down impressive power, I was convinced this vehicle would be different. It turns out a more advanced vehicle doesn’t fix the same old unstable charging hardware.
It’s easy for Lucid to point the finger at Electrify America in this case, but it doesn’t benefit the company to do that. A bad charging experience sours the vehicle ownership experience, regardless of who’s to blame. That’s the risk Lucid and every other automaker that’s not Tesla takes on in trusting someone else to develop and build out the infrastructure their cars rely on.
For More On Our Long-Term 2022 Lucid Air Grand Touring Performance:
|MotorTrend’s 2022 Lucid Air Grand Touring Performance
|8 mo/10,387 mi
|Base/As Tested Price
|EPA City/HWY/CMB Fuel ECON; CMB Range
|109/110/109 mpg-e; 446 miles
|Energy Cost Per Mile
|Maintenance and Wear
|Days Out of Service/ Without Loaner
|Massaging seats are fantastic on long trips,Free charging at Electrify America stations,Ample cubby storage up front
|Key fob periodically stops working,The sun cooks the cabin through the glass roof,Steering wheel adjustment is tediously slow