Saturday, June 4, 2022

I Rented an Electric Car for a Four-Day Road Trip. I Spent More Time Charging It Than I Did Sleeping

Any person with a brain knows this. Electric vehicles are for driving around town, not built for the road: 😎

At WSJ, "Our writer drove from New Orleans to Chicago and back to test the feasibility of taking a road trip in an EV. She wouldn’t soon do it again":

I thought it would be fun.

That’s what I told my friend Mack when I asked her to drive with me from New Orleans to Chicago and back in an electric car.

I’d made long road trips before, surviving popped tires, blown headlights and shredded wheel-well liners in my 2008 Volkswagen Jetta. I figured driving the brand-new Kia EV6 I’d rented would be a piece of cake.

If, that is, the public-charging infrastructure cooperated. We wouldn’t be the first to test it. Sales of pure and hybrid plug-ins doubled in the U.S. last year to 656,866—over 4% of the total market, according to database EV-volumes. More than half of car buyers say they want their next car to be an EV, according to recent Ernst & Young Global Ltd. data.

Oh—and we aimed to make the 2,000-mile trip in just under four days so Mack could make her Thursday-afternoon shift as a restaurant server.

Less money, more time

Given our battery range of up to 310 miles, I plotted a meticulous route, splitting our days into four chunks of roughly 7½-hours each. We’d need to charge once or twice each day and plug in near our hotel overnight.

The PlugShare app—a user-generated map of public chargers—showed thousands of charging options between New Orleans and Chicago. But most were classified as Level 2, requiring around 8 hours for a full charge.

While we’d be fine overnight, we required fast chargers during the days. ChargePoint Holdings Inc., which manufactures and maintains many fast-charging stations, promises an 80% charge in 20 to 30 minutes. Longer than stopping for gas—but good for a bite or bathroom break.

The government is spending $5 billion to build a nationwide network of fast chargers, which means thousands more should soon dot major highways. For now, though, fast chargers tend to be located in parking lots of suburban shopping malls, or tethered to gas stations or car dealerships.

Cost varies widely based on factors such as local electricity prices and charger brands. Charging at home tends to be cheaper than using a public charger, though some businesses offer free juice as a perk to existing customers or to entice drivers to come inside while they wait.

Over four days, we spent $175 on charging. We estimated the equivalent cost for gas in a Kia Forte would have been $275, based on the AAA average national gas price for May 19. That $100 savings cost us many hours in waiting time.

But that’s not the whole story.

Charging nuances

New Orleans, our starting point, has exactly zero fast chargers, according to PlugShare. As we set out, one of the closest is at a Harley-Davidson dealership in Slidell, La., about 40 minutes away. So we use our Monday-morning breakfast stop to top off there on the way out of town.

But when we tick down 15% over 35 miles? Disconcerting. And the estimated charging time after plugging in? Even more so. This “quick charge” should take 5 minutes, based on our calculations. So why does the dashboard tell us it will take an hour?

“Maybe it’s just warming up,” I say to Mack. “Maybe it’s broken?” she says.

Over Egg McMuffins at McDonald’s, we check Google. Chargers slow down when the battery is 80% full, the State of Charge YouTube channel tells us.

Worried about time, we decide to unplug once we return to the car, despite gaining a measly 13% in 40 minutes.

When ‘fast’ isn’t fast Our real troubles begin when we can’t find the wall-mounted charger at the Kia dealership in Meridian, Miss., the state’s seventh-largest city and hometown of country-music legend Jimmie Rodgers.

When I ask a mechanic working on an SUV a few feet away for help, he says he doesn’t know anything about the machine and points us inside. At the front desk, the receptionist asks if we’ve checked with a technician and sends us back outside.

Not many people use the charger, the mechanic tells us when we return. We soon see why. Once up and running, our dashboard tells us a full charge, from 18% to 100%, will take 3-plus hours.

It turns out not all “fast chargers” live up to the name. The biggest variable, according to State of Charge, is how many kilowatts a unit can churn out in an hour. To be considered “fast,” a charger must be capable of about 24 kW. The fastest chargers can pump out up to 350. Our charger in Meridian claims to meet that standard, but it has trouble cracking 20.

“Even among DC fast chargers, there are different level chargers with different charging speeds,” a ChargePoint spokeswoman says.

Worse, it is a 30-minute walk to downtown restaurants. We set off on foot, passing warehouses with shattered windows and an overgrown lot filled with rusted fuel pumps and gas-station signs. Clambering over a flatcar of a stalled freight train, we half-wish we could hop a boxcar to Chicago.

Missed reservations

By the time we reach our next station, at a Mercedes-Benz dealership outside Birmingham, Ala., we’ve already missed our dinner reservations in Nashville—still 200 miles away.

Here, at least, the estimated charging time is only an hour—and we get to make use of two automatic massage chairs while we wait.

Salesman Kurt Long tells us the dealership upgraded its chargers to 54-kW models a few weeks earlier when the 2022 Mercedes EQS-Class arrived.

“Everyone’s concern is how far can the cars go on a charge,” he says. He adds that he would trade in his car for an EV tomorrow if he could afford the $102,000 price tag. “Just because it would be convenient for me because I work here,” he says. “Otherwise, I don’t know if I would just yet.”

A customer who has just bought a new BMW says he’d consider an EV one day—if the price drops.

“You remember when the microwave came out? Or DVD players?” says Dennis Boatwright, a 58-year-old tree surgeon. “When you first get them the prices were real high, but the older they are, the cheaper they get.”

When we tell him about our trip, he asks if we’ll make it to Chicago.

“We’re hoping,” I say.

“I’m hoping, too,” he says.