Tuesday, July 4, 2017

900+ mile trip in the 238-mile Bolt shows challenges can be overcome with proper planning

So a few months ago, I read the following article on GreenCarReports about a new Bolt owner's saga of an 800-mile road trip in CA: http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1109117_chevy-bolt-ev-800-mile-trip-in-238-mile-electric-car-shows-challenges-remain

What a disaster! The owner of that Bolt did about everything wrong you could possibly do wrong when long distance traveling in an all-electric car. I was actually amazed that she did NOT end up on the back of a flatbed. I felt the article should have been re-titled "Clueless Bolt owner drives 800 miles and somehow doesn't end up stranded in the middle of nowhere". It was a complete debacle. Poor route choice, poor energy conservation (Wow, I'm speeding at 80 mph and the range meter keeps going down way faster than I thought....guess I'll keep driving 80!), poor understanding of charging network pricing options...reading the article made me want to do the following:

Words cannot convey my reaction to that story
That Bolt owner concluded that due to her poor experiences on her 800 mile trip, she would not take the Bolt on any long distance trip again. Good choice, because with her track record, she was destined for the flatbed sooner or later.

This weekend, I embarked on a 900+ mile road trip from Maryland to Connecticut and back, with a pit stop in PA, determined to show that with proper planning, a long distance road trip is possible in a Bolt, with a few compromises of course (but nothing like that debacle referenced above).

As some of you may know, I completed a "313 miles on a single charge" drive across Maryland last weekend, just to see if it was possible to drive from Western MD to the Eastern Shore/Ocean City. I admit up front that I engaged in some light hypermiling practices and was assisted by elevation changes. However, this time, I decided to drive the Bolt like any other person would drive a regular gas car, as Joe Schmoe buying his first BEV will not drive like I did last weekend.

My Saturday actually started with an autocross event in Southern MD (see previous blog posting about my experience here). As the autocross site was ~50 miles away, I had already logged over 100 miles on the day before I even started my main journey! After returning home and getting my things ready for the trip, my Bolt was just about topped off and I was ready to go! I had an estimated 250 miles on the guess-o-meter as I departed my driveway. As the drive to CT was 320 miles, I would need to stop and charge during the trip

Fast charging the Bolt after the autocross event
As the temperatures were right near 90 degrees when I departed just shy of 7PM, I turned on the AC and set it at 70 degrees. For the whole first half of the trip, the AC stayed at those settings. Luckily, I encountered little to no traffic, so I was able to maintain a speed of 5-10 mph OVER the speed limits, which was completely opposite my cross-MD drive the previous Saturday. I averaged between 65-70 mph for the entire drive up to CT. 

Fortunately for me, 4 new EVgo, CCS-compatible fast charging stations had just been installed at 2 locations along the New Jersey Turnpike just a week prior, and they were perfectly located for my MD-CT trip. Literally right smack dab in the middle of my route. What is interesting is these 2 new EVgo locations (located at the Molly Pitcher and Joyce Kilmer rest areas on the NJTP) were co-located with existing Tesla Supercharger stations. I believe these are the first such locations in the country that have Tesla and non-Tesla fast charging stations located together. 

I arrived at the Joyce Kilmer EVgo station with 75 miles left on the GOM, and 155 miles to go on my drive. Armed with my EVgo On-The-Go monthly plan, my charging sessions would cost just 10 cents/minute on top of the base monthly fee. 

Go, electrons, go!
I was at the rest area for approximately 1 hour, hitting the restroom, eating my dinner, and relaxing catching up on email while waiting for the Bolt to charge. After about 45 minutes of charging (had to restart the EVgo station after 30 minutes because of their 30 minute hard cap), it was back on the road! I had gained 103 miles of charge in 45 minutes. 
***Note: the EVgo stations on the NJTP are 50 kW/100-amp max rated stations, so the Bolt will only see peak charge rates of around 36-37 kW in ideal conditions, compared to 46-47 kW when connected to a 125-amp max DCFC station.

Plenty of range to make it to my destination 155 miles away

The rest of the drive was fairly uneventful, as I continued my ~70 mph pace with the AC now off since temps had cooled down considerably. I arrived at my mother's house in CT just before 1AM. 
Trip summary - 
Distance: 325.4 miles 
Average economy: 4.1 miles/kWh
Total time taken (including charging stop):  6 hours, 2 minutes

Arrived with PLENTY of range to spare
The next morning I ventured out to an EVgo station about a 1/2 mile from my mother's house to top off the Bolt. Again, it was a 50 kW/100 amp max station, so I was able to fill 130 miles of rated range in 1 hour, compared to GM's official estimate of 160 miles in 1 hour when connected to an 80 kW capable station. 

EVgo station at Cumberland Farms in West Hartford, CT
After spending Sunday around town, it was time to head back home to MD Monday morning. However, a stop to visit the grandparents in Mechanicsburg, PA, was planned, so the total drive would be 420 miles for the day. 

Free L2 charging station at my old elementary school
I did NOT start my trek back home with a full battery, however. Due to having to go to the airport late Sunday night to pick up a family member, I only had about 207 miles of rated range when I departed CT. Despite not having a 100% charge, I knew the DCFC station on my route was only 160 miles away, so I still had plenty of a buffer. HOWEVER, starting with a 100% charge from CT would have made my return trip easier, as you'll see later. 

Was not able to top off before leaving CT

Once again, with temps in the low 90's, I had the AC cranking at 70 just about the whole drive, speeds between 65-70 mph. My stop at the Molly Pitcher rest area EVgo station was uneventful. I noticed that a Tesla Model X owner was Supercharging when I pulled in. He seemed to give me a rather puzzled look, probably wondering what a non-Tesla EV was doing at the Supercharger site.

I eat my sammich while my Bolt sucks up the e-juice.
After a little over an hour of charging (two 30 minute sessions plus a few minutes more), I was on my way, with 169 miles on the GOM and 152 miles to the grandparent's house. While the grandparents were only 152 miles away, the nearest DCFC I was planning to stop at was actually over 180 miles away! As I had found a EVgo station about 60 miles from the Molly Pitcher stations (a 125 amp one no less), I decided to pull the plug at Molly Pitcher and do a quickie charge in Willow Grove, PA, since it had a slightly higher charging rate. I also needed to go to the bathroom, so it worked out nicely.

Departed Molly Pitcher rest area with 169 miles

Quick pitstop in Willow Grove, PA

148 miles on the GOM, 144 miles to the next DCFC...that works
I arrived at my grandparents, who despite being over 90 years old, expressed a lot of interest in the Bolt. After spending some time catching up and eating dinner, it was time to hit the road yet again. The GOM said I had 31 miles remaining...but the next planned DCFC stop was 33 miles away. I decided if I drove at the speed limit rather than over it, I would have plenty of range to get to the next stop, as my range estimate was based off me going 5-10 over the speed limit.

31 miles of range, 33 miles to go....math works for me!
I must admit, during the last 15 miles of the drive after the GOM simply blinked "LOW" at me, I got my first bit of range anxiety. However, based off my previous experiences, I felt reasonably comfortable I had enough range to make it. The constant hills gave me some worry though. Turned out I had plenty of miles to spare! I made it to the EVgo station (another 100-amp station. Bah!) located at an Arby's in York, PA.

Whew, that's cutting it close!

Had tons of range to spare
I spent an hour at this EVgo station, and when I was ready to go I had 95 miles of range and 63 miles to home. I burned down the road at 70-75 MPH the rest of the way, leaving the range worries in the dust. Here are the numbers for my CT-PA-MD return trip:

421 miles traveling 65-70 mph with AC on....not bad
So all in all, I drove over 900 miles over the course of 2 1/2 days, averaging 4.2 miles/kWh driving like an regular person on the highway this 4th of July weekend. While I did have to go a little out of my way to charge my Bolt at certain times during the trip (and it did take longer than a regular gas car), in no way was my trip a near-disaster at every turn like that Bolt owner mentioned at the beginning of my blog. With a little preparation, you CAN road trip in a Bolt. It just will take a little longer and you have to use a little brain power before and during the trip. You need not be a rocket scientist in order to drive a Bolt outside the city limits; you just need to have a clue. 😃

As far as charging costs go, I engaged in a total of 4.5 hours of fast charging at EVgo stations. Billed at 10 cents/minute, it cost me $27 in total charging costs for my 916 mile trip ($41.95 if you include the $14.95 monthly fee in the total).

To compare, a 30 MPG gas car would have needed almost $70 in gas to complete the same trip, assuming $2.20 for a regular gallon of gas.

All that driving...and no complaints about the front seats, btw!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Autocrossing a Chevy Bolt EV?!

As some of you are aware, last Saturday I completed my "Drive 313 miles on a single charge across the state of MD" journey successfully. By engaging in light hypermiling techniques and with some elevation help, I was able to stretch the Bolt's range over 31% past its official 238 mile EPA range number! What could I possibly do to follow up such a feat? Doing the polar opposite and entering my Bolt in an autocross event!

Photo credit: Terry Krebs Photography
For those of you not familiar with autocross, these types of events are usually held in empty parking lots with a track consisting of a series of tight turns marked by cones. As you can guess, handling, acceleration (and sticky tires) are the keys to the game in autocross as opposed to raw straight line speed in a drag race. Vehicles such as a Dodge Challenger Hellcat need not apply. Instead, modded Corvettes,  Miatas, Scion FR-S's, Subaru BRZ's and the like rule the roost. And in my event's case, one helluva souped up '99 Dodge Neon!

So what was I thinking entering my totally stock 2017 Bolt EV Premier in the event? Why not! While the Bolt has the low end acceleration needed for autocrossing, its rather hefty weight (over 3,500 pounds) and unconventional shape (for an autocross event) are a couple of negatives. Racing on the Bolt's LRR OEM tires was also a huge disadvantage, as most everyone else was at a minimum running performance tires. Toss in the fact I had never participated in an autocross event.....ever, and my set expectations for myself were very modest: don't kill anyone, don't end up on my roof or wrapped around a light pole.

The only preparation I did before the event was to wash and wax my Bolt (hey, it should at least LOOK nice) and empty out any random junk that was laying around inside the car. I aired up my tires to the max (as someone recommended) and I was off to Blue Crab stadium in Waldorf, MD! As the drive was 50 miles to the event location, I didn't need to charge before the event.

If it's nice and shiny, it'll go a little faster right?! Ehhh.....
After arriving at the autocross location and checking in, I drove to the "paddock" area where all the other drivers were prepping their cars. I quickly found out that I was the only electric car entered in the event. When I went through tech inspection, one of the inspectors popped the hood, stared at the Bolt's "engine" bay for a few seconds, then went "I have no idea what I'm looking at!". Since nothing was loose that he could see, he passed the Bolt with a shrug of the shoulders.

Hanging out in the paddock
There were a total of 118 entrants in the event, and 3 heats scheduled consisting of A and B groups. As I had registered rather late in the process, I ended up in Heat 3, group B, so I ended up watching the other drivers make their runs. Before the actual event, drivers get a chance to walk the course to try and memorize the layout before making their runs. I also chatted up an owner of a 2016 Ford Focus ST. It turned out it was also his first time to an autocross event. I wished Abdullah luck, and I went off to watch some more runs.

One of these is not like the other
The format for the event was fairly straightforward. There were 3 total heats consisting of A and B groups. While group A was making their runs, the B group was out on the track to call in missed turns and replacing hit cones. Numerous cones were sent flying during the day. After group A made 3 runs, group B went to their cars while group A replaced them on the track.

When Heat 3 started, I was assigned to a section of track with 2 other guys. One of them asked me what I was driving, and I replied a Bolt EV. He then went "Oh, so you're the guy in the Bolt!". I asked them if they see any other EVs at these events, and both (including the guy that owned 6 cars total including a Miata he entered) said they had never seen an electric car at an autocross before. I asked about Teslas, but one guy responded they are too heavy for this type of event, so he had never seen one. After about 25 minutes, it was finally time to hit the track!

Car #919 ready for action
I got into the Bolt and rolled it up to the staging area. One by one, cars peeled off to make their runs. As my time approached, I started to feel the adrenaline start flowing. I was actually going to autocross a friggin' "greenie" Bolt EV! I made sure to turn off traction control as recommended by another driver, and lined up at the line. 

At this point of the story, I want to be able to say that I, a complete novice, blew away the rest of the competition of 'vettes, Miatas, 911's, and FR-S and BRZ's with the all-electric Bolt's 100% torque from 0.

You kidding me?
It turned out I placed 114/118 cars that ran that day. But I was not the worst! Moral victory! In fact, the person that was the slowest turned out to be Abdullah, who I had chatted with earlier. Sorry dude.

Below are the 4 runs I made, captured on my super crappy GoPro knockoff camera. Apologies for the crappy video. 

Run #1: went off course early, no time recorded. Doh.

Run #2: 54.42 seconds. A guy actually jumped in before the run, as his girlfriend was interested in buying a Bolt and he wanted to see what it was like. 

Run #3: 52.04 seconds. Improvement!

Run #4: 51.58 seconds. Because I was only running the morning session, they gave me a 4th run

So all in all, even though I sucked, I still had a blast at the autocross event, and met some cool people in the process. Now I am left to wonder what a Bolt with AWD, lowered springs, sticky tires, and a competent driver could do on the course...