Cruising the electron superhighway

I bought a Chevy Bolt EUV around a year ago but haven’t taken any long trips until recently. I decided to have a small vacation and also to visit the EVTV headquarters for a couple of days. I live around 550 miles away from Cape Girardeau so I knew I’d have to fast charge on the way there. The first long outing with unfamiliar technology is always stressful. This is doubly so when your wife is with you. Will she ever let you live it down if you run out of charge or have to use J1772 / Level 2 charging and wait 8 hours for your car to charge? No, of course she won’t. So, I was at least a little worried about what our trip would bring in terms of luck and good fortune. However, I needn’t have worried, we made the trip to EVTV successfully. We were successful in finding good charging infrastructure on the rest of our trip and made it home safely.

We ended up driving over 1400 miles and fast charged around 10 times. We never did charge at any hotels; we managed to never stop at any with J1772 chargers. So, the entire trip was done via CCS fast charging. Along the way we found out some interesting things. For one, sometimes CCS chargers are in colorful places. Our first stop was at a CCS charger in New Buffalo Michigan. This was at a concrete business. I called it the concrete palace but the real name is Ozinga Concrete. It was somewhat of an odd place to find a charger. But, the same place has methane spigots for LNG powered vehicles. It also hosts a beautiful port-a-potty that my was was just DYING to use. This location was next to a Dollar General. We ended up stopping at this particular charger both leaving home and returning so the real winner here was the Dollar General. We also found a decent number of CCS chargers at some sort of art gallery with a dirt pathway into the woods. Also, one of the best locations was at a farm to table restaurant in Effingham Illinois – The Firefly Grill. The locations in which we charged were certainly eclectic. But, what matters is that these locations exist and they allow for pretty much free roaming around the midwest United States.

One thing I was not particularly appreciative of, however, were the number of chargers not available 24/7. Imagine if you had to go to a dealership during business hours to get gasoline for your car. It. would. suck. Well, quite a few chargers in the Chicago area are installed at dealerships which are closed and gated after hours. We were using “A Better Route Planner” to plan our CCS charging and it does not seem to understand the concept of not always available chargers. Luckily PlugShare has a rating system and the ability to write comments for others to read. So, thank you to the people who documented the business hours that some chargers are available during. This saved us from going to chargers which would not actually be available. This is, perhaps, one of the bigger issues with fast charging via CCS or CHAdeMO – you are at the mercy of the business owner where the chargers are located. I’d like to thank the Webb Autogroup whose Hyundai dealership was NOT locked up tighter than Fort Knox and where I was able to charge on a Sunday afternoon with nary a soul in the parking lot. Were it not for this CCS charger I may have had a bad time. The other issue is the abysmal state of repair of the chargers across the country. We were lucky to always find working chargers but at some locations we stopped not every charger actually worked. Tesla seems to do better here. You can usually count on Tesla Super Chargers to actually work. With CCS your odds are probably 75% that a given charger works. This not unheard of in the conventional gas/diesel world. I have also had to surf gas pumps to find working units. But, this seems more rare than it is with CCS chargers. Though, so far my experience has been much better with CCS chargers than J1772. Some people seem to have some deep seated issues that can only be resolved by writing “poetry” on the walls of truck stop bathrooms or abusing J1772 hardware. All too often J1772 chargers are a smoking heap that no one has checked on in three years. Here again, PlugShare seems to come to the rescue. But, it is disappointing to find that so many chargers are in various states of disrepair and no one seems to do anything about it.

Another annoyance with non-Tesla fast charging is the number of competing vendors. Nearly all of them want you to use their own app which requires a separate account. Most of them also want to bill you in $10 or more increments. It’s lovely when you accrue $12 in fees charging at a charger you’ll never visit again and get charged $20 because the increment is $10. Will you ever use that $8 in credit you have? Maybe…?…! It’s hard to say. Along our journey we found that chargers tend to clump geographically. Near me most of them are ChargePoint. Near Chicago it’s ChargePoint or EVGo. Down south they like Electrify America. Some chargers are third party. Some allow credit cards at the charger, some don’t. At the moment it’s a bit of a mess. If you want to travel you have to maintain 3-4 different accounts with different balances and pick the proper one for the charger you end up at. It’s a slightly frustrating experience but the geographic clumping does tend to make it a bit easier. We did a whole lot of charging at Electrify America. Word to the wise, get the $4 a month plan when you’re traveling. It is QUICKLY worth it. Just remember to cancel when you get back home unless you do a lot of EA charging locally too.

The Bolt is not particularly fast at fast charging – it’s 55kw max. Now, the rated “maximum” charge rate tends not to be something you see for very long on any car. If your car says 150kw that’s probably true but only under optimistic circumstances and only for a little while. But, we did actually register 54kw on several occasions so it lived up to its rating. At 80% SOC the charge rate is around 30kw and more or less averages around 20kw up to 95%. But, it takes 40 minutes at that rate to go from 80 to 100% and no one wants to wait 40 extra minutes for 20% charge so we didn’t. We stayed almost exclusively between 20% and 80% with minor incursions outside of this range. Mostly we charged for around 40-50 minutes at each stop. This may sound terrible to some people. People who are used to 150, 250, or 350kw charging are probably looking down their nose at those of us stuck at 50 or 55kw charging. However, in practice it wasn’t so bad. We also took our dogs so any time we stopped we would usually get food, visit local businesses, and walk dogs. By the time food has been consumed and dogs walked it was time to go. 10 or 15 minutes would not be enough time for all of that so the extra time we spent charging was somewhat irrelevant. Still, would I have preferred 150kw peak charging rate? No question, I would have preferred that. Maybe we could have stopped to let out dogs every other stop instead. But, I took a Nintendo Switch with me and I do like to eat so really the extra charging time wasn’t the worst thing ever. So, kudos to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for giving me something to do while charging. In truth, I could have sat much longer playing video games during each charge stop.

So, that’s my experience having finally made a long trip in an electric car. Would I do it again? Well, I wasn’t so unsatisfied with our trip but my wife thinks that it might be stretch to go 2000 miles in an EV at this point. This is, perhaps, a fair assessment. It can work but currently very long trips can be problematic, especially if every stop is 45 minutes. But, all too often people get overly concerned with long trips. Yet, how often do most people take long trips? This was my first in a year. Easily 95% of my charging needs are local. How long does it take to charge at home? I have no idea most of the time. I go over, plug in the car, and go inside. Does it take 2 hours or 8? I don’t care. I’m not standing there waiting for it. I have NEVER had to wait around while the car charges locally. Not one time. It just always has enough range and I charge it when I have enough time to not care about the charge time. I can charge at work. I can charge at home. I can even charge at the mall. Why would I care how long it takes? For me it takes 10 seconds – I reach over and plug it in. Done! This is actually faster than it takes to pump gasoline.

On a related note, Tesla has begun to install “Magic Dock” adapters at some superchargers. I believe there are 11 total Magic Docks in the US right now. Alas, we did not drive within even 250 miles of one. In theory, things will expand. Right now most all of the Magic Docks are in New York but likely California and Texas will get them soon and then the rest of the US will fill in. Tesla would not do this out of the kindness of their hearts. Naturally, getting some of that sweet government money is high up on the list of priorities for any charging provider. Also, the price per kilowatt-hour for CCS charging seems at least a little bit high at Tesla chargers. But, would you rather pay 48 cents per kWh or not make it to your destination? I know which one sounds better to me! I’m excited to see Tesla enter into the CCS charging arena as they have a much better track record of maintaining their equipment than some of the other vendors.

Also, no one can deny the sheer sex appeal of the Tesla charge connector. It makes CCS look rather “robust” in comparison and CHAdeMO looks like a blimp. To be honest, knowing the required wire size for the current that Superchargers require I’m a bit perplexed at how they’ve make the plug so small. You’d think it would melt. But, quite obviously it does not melt and has been proven to work fine across hundreds of thousands of cars. It’s a sharp design and a shame that it never became the global standard. We could perhaps lay blame at two things 1. Tesla was somewhat late to actually suggesting their plug as a global standard and 2. many large companies have “not invented here” syndrome. They’d rather be part of the design process than use someone else’s. This is particularly a shame when it comes to CCS. The way the plug looks is somewhat understandable as they were trying to make it J1772 backward compatible. But, there is no excuse for the unholy abomination that is the software side of CCS. Only a committee of companies could possibly conceive such a mess of twisted limbs and glowing eyes. “Everything should be as simple as possible but not simpler” – Einstein. If there is one thing I can’t stand it’s over-complicating the solution to problems. CCS is a vast over complication and did not deserve to become the de-facto standard. But, here we are. Quite often in the technology realm the best solution does not win. And so, we get stuck with complete garbage like CCS.

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