3,010 Mile EV Roadtrip, Round 2

EV camping fog cropped

News Flash—The EV world is changing. It’s been a few weeks since we’ve returned, but I’m finally getting around to reporting on our trip to the St. Louis area, from Vermont, in the 2015 Leaf. In total, we traveled 3,010 miles, in a big loop, off and on over a period of about three weeks, camping along the way on the days that we traveled. We did a slightly shorter version of this trip two summers ago, and back then I did a once-a-day blog entry about the trip. In one sense, not too much has changed—the daily mechanics of this trip were largely similar, and I don’t feel that this aspect deserves much more electronic ink. On the other hand… there were some aspects of the trip that have changed drastically in the last two years, and they mostly relate to the EV world as a whole, and these aspects deserve some attention.

So, in no particular order…

1.  The 2015 Leaf now has less range than most EV’s out there. The car itself performed just as well as it did two years ago, even though we now have nearly 70,000 miles on the odometer. It was hard to actually measure, but there may have been a slight drop in maximum range, by perhaps a few percentage points. But, we still averaged about 80-90 miles to a charge, and we were still choosing chargers that were about 50-60 miles apart, to give us some wiggle room. But the current Leafs go 107 miles to a charge, next year’s Leaf will go 150, the 2019 Leaf will go 200+, the Bolt goes 238, and all the Teslas go over 200 miles, and some Tesla models over 300. So by these numbers our three-year-old Leaf is a bit dated, with its EPA-rated range of 81 miles. While we enjoy the slower pace of the EV road trips overall, just knowing how much further the new cars can go made us decide that we were looking forward to trading up when the current leases expire next year.

The Chevy Bolt-- 238 miles of range.

The Chevy Bolt– 238 miles of range.

2. There are a lot more chargers out there than two years ago, and a lot more fast chargers. Putting together the trip two years ago was quite a challenge and required a lot of planning, and we had very few charging options in some places along the route. In fact, for that trip we had four “gaps” that we simply couldn’t cross using public chargers, and had to camp out in the middle of each one and charge overnight at campgrounds from either a NEMA 14-50 RV plug (with the charger we brought with us) or, in a few cases, with just a 110v outlet. This time was far, far easier. In fact, there seemed to be only one “gap” for us this time, between Harrisburg and State College, Pennsylvania. We camped in the middle of that one, but with virtually any current-model EV we could have just driven straight from one town to the other. In fact, with Plugshare and Google Maps on my smartphone, we left with only a rough route in mind, as opposed to two years ago, when I brought paper copies of maps of every charging point that we planned to use, as well as backup locations.

3. Tesla is WAY ahead in the charging game. Hands down. If we didn’t already know this (which we did), it became quite clear as we pulled into Cambridge, Ohio, on our way to try and locate the single Level 2 public charger there, in the middle of a fairly charger-less stretch of I-70 between Wheeling, WV, and Columbus, OH.

Cambridge, Ohio...

Cambridge, Ohio… A nice town.

Before driving the few miles into the town, we stopped at the exit for a bathroom break, and… there they were, a whole row of brand-new, very fast Tesla Superchargers. Which we couldn’t use. Which nobody was using. Now, keep in mind that we were trying to find the Level-2 charger, at 6kw’s of power, because there were no Level 3 DC fast-chargers for the Leaf anywhere within 80 miles. When they were available to us, these fast-chargers typically charged the Leaf at 50kw’s. By comparison, Tesla Superchargers charge at up to 120kw’s. You know, only twenty times faster than the Level-2 charger we were looking for. To top all this off, here we were in the Midwest, deep in gas-mobile land, where we very regularly met people who had never even seen an EV, and, here were these gleaming, new, superfast chargers, part of a network that extends coast to coast.

And... the chargers the Leaf can't use...

And… all the chargers the Leaf can’t use… A new Tesla Supercharger array.

Cambridge's only Level-2 charger, in an alley off of the main street through town.

The charger we were looking for, Cambridge’s only Level-2 charger, in an alley off of the main street through town. We were much appreciative that it was threre, but…

One glance at the map of superchargers shows just how far ahead Tesla is. If you owned a Tesla, all of which have 200 miles or more of range, the world is your oyster. Don’t underestimate this point. With even the lowest range Tesla, EV travel is suddenly an entirely different, or even normal, experience. This can’t be said even for the Bolt, the current longest-range non-Tesla EV, because it charges at a max speed of 50 kw’s, and in order to travel you would need to use a mish-mash of single chargers, provided by a variety of companies, located in odd and out-of-the-way places, and maintained to varying degrees. Thus, Tesla’s foresight in the charging arena is going to provide the company with a nearly unbeatable advantage.

...and if you zoom in there are even more. These are all Tesla Superchargers, in beautiful strings right across the US...

…and if you zoom in there are even more. These are all Tesla Superchargers, in beautiful strings right across the US…

Our best days in the Leaf on this trip were the days on the East Coast, where we went from fast-charger to fast-charger and traveled almost without appreciable pause. Our longest day, though, in terms of charging, was between Indianapolis, Indiana, and Decatur, Illinois. The only chargers available were Level-2, and both stops required a nearly full charge, so we spent more than twice as much time charging as we did driving. Which brought our average travel speed down to… well, let’s just say, many, many times less than what we would have been able to do in a Tesla.

4. We had a great debate, and put our names on the list for a Tesla Model 3. During a few stops at Level-2 chargers, the relatively low charging speed left us plenty of time to discuss using that fancy Tesla Supercharger network. And time to discuss the Model 3, its cost, and which EV might actually be cheaper on a per-month basis, with all factors taken into account. Actually, we talked about it for the better part of a day, with the kids doing math in the back seat, and that evening I logged onto Tesla’s website with the laptop and the phone’s hotspot, and put our name on the Tesla Model 3 list. It was pretty painless—provide a credit card number and some basic info, and that was it; the whole process took less than ten minutes. It felt a bit like betrayal, though, because I am and always have been quite happy with the Leaf, and with Nissan. But, that Supercharging network was a siren call. (If you’re interested, my Model 3 post from a few months ago— “The Diffusion of Innovation, the Chasm, and the Tesla Model 3“.)

5. But now we’re wavering. Maybe. Sometimes. This, because reality has begun to set in. True, the Model 3 starts at about $35,000. BUT, it’s likely that Tesla will use up its 200,000 units that are eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit fairly soon, and the credit will drop and then disappear. And, that $35,000 price is just for the base model. The long-range battery is another 9k, all-wheel drive is another 5k on top of that (and might be necessary here in icy wintertime Vermont), cruise control is only available with the self-driving package, which is another 5k, etc. So, we’ve gone back and forth. Either way, when our Leaf leases end next spring, we won’t be at the top of the Model 3 list yet. So, some decisions to make ahead. But, it appears that no matter which option we choose, our days of driving fifty to sixty miles between Level-2 chargers are soon to be behind us.

Image credits:
Chevy Bolt: Photo by Brian Brantley/Brian Brantley Media, ©2017
Other photos: Taborri Bruhl.

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