Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Road tripping is always easier the second time around, right?

Last week, I blogged about an impromptu 470-mile road trip in my Bolt EV to Pittsburgh, PA that was successful, with a few tense moments of course. The main point of writing about my trip was to show that while road tripping in a 200+ mile all electric car like the Bolt is possible, the public fast charging infrastructure still isn't quite there yet to simply input a destination in your GPS and go. Advanced planning is still required to ensure a successful road trip, but it is possible.

Road tripping...not just for Teslas

As luck would have it, I had another trip to Pittsburgh on deck this past weekend, this time to attend a friend's wedding. As I had just completed a road trip to Pittsburgh not even a week earlier (and learned some things for a return trip), I was quite confident that I had all the knowledge I needed to complete another trip to Pittsburgh and back. And unlike last week, I would be staying at a hotel overnight that had EV charging stations available, so I figured the trip would be much easier this time around. As you will soon find out, life almost never goes according to plan.

I decided to use the same charging strategy I employed last time, which included a quick pit stop at the EVgo fast charging station located at the Hagerstown Premium Outlet mall. About halfway into my 60-mile drive to Hagerstown, I realized the wedding we thought was starting at 7PM actually had a 4:30 PM start time. Crap! Looking at Google Maps, I realized the ~2-hour buffer we thought we had to make it to the wedding venue was pretty much gone (Tip #1 to a successful BEV road trip: double check what time you need to be at your destination). Doing some quick math in my head, I calculated that we had enough time for the Hagerstown EVgo charging pitstop and would also need to charge clothes during the stop. My son had forgotten to pack his dress socks, so I would be able to pick up some socks from the Children's Place located right next to the charging station. 

Pitstop at the trusty Hagertstown, MD EVgo station.

After paying for the socks and walking back to the Bolt, I looked up the actual wedding venue location, as I figured it was very close to the hotel we were staying at. To my horror, the wedding venue I had assumed was minutes away from the hotel was actually 50 minutes away! The hotel and wedding venue both had the name "Shady" in them, so I had assumed they were adjacent properties, or at least very close to each other (Tip #2: always confirm the address to all stops on your road trip). Punching in the wedding venue address added an extra 14 miles to my current drive, and an additional 32 miles on top of that to the hotel. Suddenly I had to drive an extra 46 miles that I had not planned for.  The stress level started to climb.

Knowing that I had arrived at Pittsburgh last time with nearly 40 miles to spare, I knew I had a little buffer to work with. I ended up spending 30 minutes charging in Hagerstown, which was just enough time for everyone to get changed into our wedding attire. We departed with the Bolt's battery being replenished back to 88% state of charge, and 219 miles on the range meter, with 199 miles to go. While the range buffer was not as big as I preferred, I figured it was good enough. I also found out there was a EVgo station 12 miles from the wedding venue I could charge at after the wedding to ensure we had enough range to make it to the hotel, so that put me a little at ease. Back on the road we went!

Our new ETA to our new destination was 4:35PM, 5 minutes past the start of the wedding. No biggie, I thought, weddings never start on time! That's what I was hoping anyways. Knowing that every minute was precious, I could not take it easy like last time driving 5-10 mph under the speed limit, so I ended up driving close to the 70-mph speed limit for the next ~180 miles. I knew I would put the Bolt's efficiency ratings to the test. Observing the elevation climb in my TorquePro app while the range meter decreased at an increasing rate was not the best feeling in the world. To top it off, my wife asked repeatedly "Can't you go any faster?? We're gonna be late!". Hell, I was going as fast as I could go! Being stressed by time, range, and the wife's stuff! Who needs coffee to stay alert?? 

As I approached the 2,500-foot peak of my climb through the Allegany mountains, my range meter reading was 12 miles to the red. I knew I was probably in good shape, with the descent down to Pittsburgh soon upon me. It was then one of my kids piped up "Hey, look at those dark clouds in front of us!". We were about to drive into some wicked thunderstorms that were on a collision course with our Bolt (Tip #3: always check the weather forecast to account for potential range impacting weather). I knew that my efficiency would take a hit driving through the rain (defroster use, windshield wipers, increased road friction due to rain). The stress level notched up one level higher. 

Elevation profile of the drive to Pittsburgh

Fortunately for us, we ended up driving through torrential rains for only 20 minutes or so, and the range hit from the weather ended up being almost nothing. We were soon driving under blue skies again. The last few miles of the drive were fairly uneventful, and we ended up arriving at the wedding venue at 4:47PM. Luckily, the wedding had been delayed till 5PM. Woohoo! When I parked the Bolt, the range meter was down to 22 miles. 

Plenty of range left!

Several hours later, it was time to depart to our hotel. With a massive 22 miles of range left, I made the 12-mile drive to the nearest EVgo fast charging station. We were literally in the middle of nowhere, and the surroundings reminded me of scenes from the movie 'Joy Ride'. I just hoped there were no deranged killer brothers lurking in the shadows. After arriving at the Dunkin Donuts that hosted the charging station, I found a lone station at the back of the parking lot. I had to fight a couple of spiders to activate the charging session (nothing was easy on this trip, it seemed), and after 15 minutes of charging, we were on the way to the hotel. 

Freakin' spiders!

Upon arriving at the hotel, I found a much welcome Bosch L2 charging station waiting for me. I plugged in and made my way to the front office to check it. It turned out that our room was a quarter mile down the road at a sister property, but the staff assured us there was a EV charging station at that location as well. After a short drive to the correct building, I found the charging station: A Tesla-only destination station. And a BMW i8 was occupying the spot unplugged (thanks jerk bimmer owner!). I had forgotten to bring my Tesla to J1772 JDapter Stub, but it wouldn't have mattered anyways due to the rude i8 owner. We brought all our belongings to our room, and then I drove back to the main building and plugged in my Bolt at the Bosch station. On the short walk back to my room, I pondered what I did to piss off Murphy. The next day I woke up to 250 miles of range, and after seeing some sights in Pittsburgh, the drive back was completely stress free. I was impressed by the Bolt's 4.0 miles/kWh figure for the mostly highway drive of 65-70 mph. Not bad for the "aero-brick" Bolt!

Typical self-absorbed bimmer driver blocking a Tesla station
Destination charging FTW!

A welcome sight the next morning

So, another successful road trip completed in the Bolt, with some unexpected twists. As I found out, NEVER assume anything on a long-distance BEV road trip. Surprises are usually not welcome on such trips, and I ran into several that could have been avoided without ASSuming. The main point of my blog entries is to show what real-life road trips are like in the Bolt. No pretending that road trips are pain free and easy as pie, but also to show that the Bolt can in fact be taken on long distance trips with some planning and is not a "city only car" as the Bolt FUD (Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt.) spreaders love to propagate online. As always, your mileage will vary (along with the level of intestinal fortitude. ;) )

Stats for the return drive spent mostly at 70-75-mph

Overall trip stats. Pretty "long distance" if you ask me. And look at that efficiency!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Blissful Anniversary Bolt EV Road Trip? Or Fast Lane Back to the Bachelor Life?

This past weekend I embarked on a spontaneous 470 mile roundtrip drive to go to an Ed Sheeran concert in Pittsburgh to celebrate 11 years of marriage to my wife. I initially had suggested a trip to Florida in November as a delayed anniversary gift, but the wife said “Hey, there’s a concert in Pittsburgh today…let’s just go to that!” As I did not want to disappoint the wife, we were soon on the road in our Bolt EV! I was hoping this anniversary trip would not lead to a divorce filing!
The distance from Woodstock, MD to Pittsburgh, PA was 230 miles one way, and it included a 177 mile stretch of highway that has exactly *0* CCS fast charging stations (or any charging stations the Bolt could use, for that matter). There were a handful of fast charging options around the Pittsburgh area (including in a parking garage near the concert venue at PNC Park) that I could use to charge, though I had no clue if those stations would actually be available. Eh,  don't sweat the details, right? 

Not exactly the most road trip friendly setup.

While the drive to Pittsburgh was around 230 miles, theoretically within the Bolt’s official 238 mile range, there was a significant elevation gain during the drive from near sea level to 2,500 feet. To make matters worse, this elevation gain was smack dab in the middle of the route, so it needed to be traversed regardless of direction of travel. 

Not wanting to roll the dice that I could make it to Pittsburgh on a single charge, after leaving home with a100% charge good for 240 miles according to the Bolt's range meter, I decided to “top off” my Bolt at a fast charging station in Hagerstown, MD 60 miles away for 15 minute pit stop to ensure I had enough battery to make it to Pittsburgh.

Evgo station in Hagerstown, MD.

After putting in about 5 kWh of charge into the battery, the GOM told me I had 205 miles of estimated range to cover 177 miles. I figured that was enough of a buffer. Aware of the elevation gain and being the first time I had ever driven this route, I decided to take it easy, driving 60 mph where the speed limit was 70, as there was plenty of time to get to the concert venue. 

Despite the conservative speeds, I watched my range buffer slowly shrink as the elevation slowly gained. At one point during the drive, my range buffer had been reduced to 4 miles, and if I turned on the HVAC, the estimated miles remaining actually dipped below the 'miles to destination' Google Maps in my center display reported (the Bolt subtracts range if you turn on the HVAC to account for energy usage). Knowing that eventually I would soon start the descent down towards Pittsburgh, I drove on without too much worry.
Finally, the elevation stopped climbing and the rate which I was losing estimated miles slowed down too. The nearly non-existent range buffer I had when I had reached the summit of the drive ended up growing to nearly 40 miles by the time we entered Pittsburgh. After finding the parking garage with the only CCS fast charging stations within 20 miles and plugging in (both stations open. Woohoo!) I observed my Bolt had 13% charge and 38 miles of range remaining. The parking garage was nestled right between Heinz Field and PNC Park, which were pretty cool to finally see in person. 

The Gold 1 parking garage has 2 fast charging stations

25 kW fast charging? Better than nothing.

I’ll skip details of the actual concert itself, but the wife had a good time, so that’s all that really matters I guess. While the concert lasted over 3 hours, I realized that the charging station (what I found out later was a measly 25 kW CCS station) had a 1 hour auto shutoff, and there was no way to reinitiate a charging session remotely. Attempts to contact garage staff also failed.

Pittsburgh skyline at night.
Reflecting back on the charging station setup, I determined that it was one of the dumber charging arrangements I’ve seen. Ignoring the fact they were 25 kW “fast charging” stations, most people parking in that garage were likely attending sporting events or concerts, usually 3+ hour affairs that don’t allow you to return to the facility once you leave, so after 1 hour, you were for all intents and purposes done charging till you returned to your car. I found that I had gained 77 miles of range in 1 hour (33% SOC added to the battery), which after doing the math, I realized a 7.2 kW L2 charging station would have added more miles (90-100 miles in 4 hours). Someone really dropped the ball with this station by having a 60 minute hard shutoff.

After we finally escaped Pittsburgh after being stuck in horrific traffic for what seemed like forever, we headed towards an EVgo station about 20 miles east of Pittsburgh which was on the route home. It was a single EVgo station located in a strip mall that was next to an Applebee’s in Monroesville, PA. I was able to plug in and rest for about 30 minutes while my Bolt charged up. The next charging station was over 170 miles away in Hagerstown, MD, and I knew a significant elevation gain was ahead, so I made sure to give myself at least a 25 mile buffer. Turns out that was barely enough.

During the lonely drive to Hagerstown, I slowly watched the elevation climb in my TorquePro app while my range meter dropped faster than the miles I was covering. To make matters worse, it was very humid and chilly outside, which was the perfect recipe for my windshield fogging up, requiring me to turn on the defroster from time to time. Each time I turned on the defroster, precious electrons were zapped from my battery. About halfway into my 177 mile leg, the Bolt’s GOM spit out a number that was 8 miles less than the miles I still needed to drive. I knew that soon I would start a descent down from my current 2,500 elevation, but seeing a range number less than the miles-to-go number is always unnerving. 

Fortunately, I was soon back several miles to the good and made it to the fast charger at the Hagerstown Premium Outlets with my Bolt’s GOM merely blinking “LOW”.

As I pulled up to the lone CCS charging station, I saw that a Leaf was plugged in! And he was plugged into the combo CCS/CHAdeMO station, and not the standalone CHAdeMO station just a few feet away! (Great ettiquette guy). The nightmare scenario! Who the heck was charging at an Outlet mall at 4AM in the morning on a Sunday??? Besides me, that is. By some stroke of good luck, the Leaf was not actively charging despite being plugged in (and the owner was nowhere to be found), so I quickly plugged my Bolt in and swiped my EVgo card to activate the charge session. As home was only 58 miles away (this EVgo station was a 125 amp variety, not one of those fake “50 kW” 100 amp stations), so a 20-25 minute charge was all I needed to make it home. After 24 minutes of charging and a seemingly plentiful 78 miles of range, I unplugged and drove like a bat out of hell towards home (and then a slightly slower bat out of hell once I realized I was driving too fast to make it home without stopping to charge again). Made it home with plenty of range to spare!

Living on the edge!

Total trip stats.

So aside from telling a tale of a not completely stress-free trip to Pittsburgh and back in my Bolt in a single day, what is the point of this story? It’s to show how while the CCS fast charging network has improved immensely compared to a couple of years ago (this trip would not have been possible 2 years ago), and it is possible to travel long distances in a 200+ mile BEV like the Bolt (it's not Tesla or bust for EV roadtrips), the infrastructure still isn’t quite there yet for worry free travel. The Electrify America initiative is definitely a big step in the right direction, and with charging networks like Chargepoint and EVgo continuing to deploy their own fast charging stations (with GM being rumored to be working on their own ultra fast charging network), the CCS charging infrastructure will only continue to improve. For those of us willing to be adventurous and take a little risk, there is no need to wait to embark on those road trips. Just need to have a little bit of a clue and some patience.

P.S. also found out being worried about running out of range is great for keeping you awake during a graveyard shift drive!