This month I will update you on a trip that I took in March where my transportation was an electric vehicle (EV).
I rented a Mustang Mach-e from Medford Motors and drove to Nashville for a meeting and some personal travel, totaling about 3,200 miles. I had considered this in the past, but didn’t follow through due to questions of time, range, charging station availability, and cost to charge—the main questions that everyone seems to have regarding EVs. In essence, can they make long road trips? With a little research, I developed a plan that looked reasonable.
All in all the trip was fairly uneventful. I did learn a lot about EV travel in the 10 days that I had the car.
Travel time. First lesson: It is difficult to be the driver, navigator, and social media communications person and still try to set a solid pace. With that said, I needed to adjust the time comparison to account for the differences. Based on the mapping programs for both systems, it was going to take about 12 hours, including charges, to get to Paducah, my first stop. Adjusting for time spent not focused on the drive (Facebook posts, logging data, hotel reroute, etc.), it took me about 12.5 hours. The drive-only time would have been just over 10 hours, plus any stops. Estimating for three gas stops and two food stops at 15 minutes each (restroom breaks when stopped), the drive would have been about 11.25 hours for a similar gas vehicle. So, the EV added about an hour, give or take. With the EV, there is no adder for the food or restroom stops, as you can plug the car in and walk away. I made five stops to recharge on the route, for as little as 15 minutes or as long as 40 minutes. I coordinated the longer stops with meals.
Vehicle range. The gauge on the EV’s dash is a little optimistic. The distance to empty had a cushion of 90 miles when I left home, but when I got to Madison for the first charge, that cushion was 30 and about 14% battery, or over 1/8th of a “tank.” This can lead to range anxiety. This leg of the journey was the longest between chargers and it was the only time that I felt a little uncomfortable about the trip while following the guidance of the mapping program in the car. At one point I made a decision to not listen to the advice and charge when I could, but that anxiety was self-inflicted. It was also the first time I had ever driven that vehicle, so it’s possible I was driving it differently from the history the vehicle was basing the mileage on. When I got to Madison, I stopped for about 15 minutes to get enough charge to make it to Rockford, my lunch stop. The car notified me that it was charged enough to get going before I had made it back.
Charging station availability. I never had a situation where I was not able to access a charger due to other cars or malfunctions. I ran into one station at a new car dealership that had non EVs parked in front of two of the four chargers. Given that the charger was only three or four days old, I’m sure some people were just not used to how the chargers are used, and the area was not signed very well. Some of the smaller charging stations had two plugs, but most had four, and some were large enough for eight chargers at a single location. I did have one charger that did not want to connect to the vehicle; in that case I used one of the other chargers at the station.
Over the course of the trip, I found a few chargers that had been installed during the previous week, including one in Stevens Point that was not available on my trip down, but came in very handy on the way home. Looking ahead, the National Electric Vehicle Initiative (NEVI) plans to install high-speed chargers along major routes every 50 miles. These stations will each have a minimum of six chargers. There are definitely more EV fast chargers along the interstates and major four-lane roads. In time I can see more areas gaining fast chargers as well.
Cost to charge while on the road. Total cost of energy on the trip was about $290. The overall per-mile cost for all of my energy was about $.09/mile. Based on a comparison with a similar vehicle (Subaru Outback, AWD, five passenger, very similar size, 26 MPG), it would have cost about $.13/mile or about $420. The most expensive charging station I found on the trip charged about $0.50 per kwh. The lowest-cost charging stations were at the hotels that I stayed at, where charging was free. I ran the trip without using one of the subscription services for energy. In the end, most of my charging was done at one “brand” of charger that offers a program for which I could have paid $4 for a plus membership for the month and saved about $45—another lesson learned for next time.
Brakes. The EV has regenerative braking, meaning it uses the motor as a generator rather than using the regular brakes. This extends the battery by charging just a bit every time you slow down—very effective.
Charging. Limit charging above 80% at fast chargers—they slow down above 80%. Better to make more frequent, smaller charges. Also, I don’t get as stiff from riding in the car if I get out every couple hours anyway.
Max out the charges at hotels if possible. These chargers are lower cost and capable of reaching 100% due to the slower charge rate. Hotel chargers range from 6-10 kw, so it took 8-12 hours to take the Mach-e from 15% to 100%.
Where to make dinner plans? Stop at the restaurant with the fast charger nearby, but do check the menu before you go. One charger I saw was out front of a fairly pricey restaurant.
What to do while charging? With the freedom to plug in and walk away, meals and restrooms are top on the list, but I saw people reading, napping, and visiting with passengers or other drivers. One gentleman was enjoying his music in the car as he waited. Most of my charging stops did not have much down time. I could see packing a cribbage board.
Cost-effective methods. Home and overnight charging are the most cost-effective and time-saving features of EVs. For the extra few hours I spent on this trip, if I had the EV for daily use, the time would be more than made up during the rest of the year when I wouldn’t need to make the trips to the gas station while going back and forth to work. With the time-of-day pricing that we have on EV charging, any charging from 9:00 at night to 1:00 the next afternoon is done at $.06/kWh, or just over $.02/mile.
Are EVs the greatest thing since sliced bread? Are they going to replace all vehicles? I’m not sure of that. There are still uses at my house for which an EV will not replace my pickup. Towing the boat or camper for longer distances is still beyond the limits of the EVs on the market today. In fairness, my pickup is too big for most parking spots, clumsy for taking shopping, and realistically too costly from a fuel economy standpoint for commuting. Every vehicle on the market was designed to fulfill a type of use. For commuting or even some longer-range, passengers-only type of travel, EVs are very capable. As range and charging infrastructure improve, they will be even more viable. If you have further questions about EVs and how the trip went, feel free to contact me.