Recently we took a 1,000-mile round trip to Washington, D.C. in our Chevy BOLT EV. Still, on the cold side, the BOLT that can get up to 300 miles in summer is averaging about 200 miles in this weather. Obviously, we needed a fast charger plan. Our clear-eyed report of the pros and cons of an all-electric journey is what follows.
In 2001, we lived in San Francisco, the debut American city for the Toyota Prius. We got one of the first ones, and we loved it (and it gets 55 miles per gallon)! Toyota made all of us early adopters into promoters by issuing drivers bumper stickers that read “eat my voltage” and business cards you could leave on other windshields explaining the technology. People would often ask us, “where do you plug it in?”
Our first plug-in was the Chevy Volt, which got about 40 miles on the charge. This was the first vehicle we had ever leased. The monthly payment was reasonable, the manufacturer took the tax credits, and I was happy at the idea of surrendering it after three years. Who wants old technology? But, we fell in love with the Volt and bought one for the company when the lease was up. Then came the BOLT EV.
We are driving the fourth one we have leased from Alderman’s Chevrolet here in Rutland. Twenty years after our Prius, we have a car that we plug-in, that runs on electricity, and receives the vast majority of its kWhs from our home solar array. Environmentally, it should go without saying that this beats the hell out of driving anything with a tailpipe! Doing the right thing for the environment aside, we will discuss the practicality and economics of running your car on electricity alone.
Our work schedule, pandemic, and concern about the availability of fast chargers had only afforded us one brief trip to Boston. This 1,000-mile round trip to D.C. would be the first time we would have to rely on both the technology and our ability to find a fast charger. (Level III chargers are considered fast, whereas a level II is what we have in our garage for overnight charging.) If we couldn’t find kWhs, we would be stranded.
We began fully charged from home, and this is how we got to D.C. using the Electrify America App:
- Newburgh, New York: $ 19.78, 46kWh charging time 01:29:42 81%
- Somerdale, New York: $16.34, 38kWh, charging time 0:55:05 83%
Finding the chargers was easy, and there were multiple available, but there were some inconveniences. Being at a Walmart for 89 minutes was not particularly enjoyable; however, we had a long lunch at Applebee’s. If we had driven a gas vehicle, lunch and gassing up would have been 30 minutes. Another meal or stop may have added another 30 minutes. So, the trip took about 90 minutes more than if we had driven a conventional vehicle.
Our next charge at the Viceroy Hotel was “free” and done at one of their level II chargers in their parking garage. They charge $50 a night for any vehicle and your EV charges free. If you stay at a hotel with free parking, this is an added expense. But we would have stayed there regardless of our vehicle, so we considered the kWhs free. We charged overnight both nights we were there. Back to Vermont:
- Lawrenceville, New Jersey: $21.23 51 kWh 01:27:25 97%
- Newburgh, New York: $14.19 33 kWh 00:59:32 87%
- Albany, New York: $14.62 34kWh 0:47:03 77%
Our return trip was longer than had we driven a gas vehicle by roughly 140 minutes.
We got back to our home and a level II charger in our garage with 50 miles to spare. Not counting our home kWh costs is debatable, as we have solar arrays that have already paid for themselves, and not measuring the hotel kWhs, our costs were $87. Had we run gasoline at 25 miles per gallon and $4.40 a gallon, our cost would have been $176. So, what have we learned? Multiple apps and an always well-charged smartphone are a must as you want options to shop around for the best locations and the best amperage ratings. The BOLT EV can take a maximum charge of 60 amps, so, if possible, a 100 amp charger is best over the standard 50 amp charger. The total trip took 3 more than our most efficient gasoline trip would have! For me, this is the worst part of it. Although, we did have a long and fine dinner at a Cheesecake Factory in New York, and we even got a little shopping in.
Range anxiety? Although we never allowed ourselves to get below 30 miles of reserve power, there was a bit of that. If I were a driver who stayed at the speed limit, would our range have been greater? Is it my fault the car rides so smoothly at 85 mph? (And, as for range anxiety, there are parts of Vermont in which getting a gallon of gas after 8 p.m. is a challenge).
And as for the extra few hours and inconvenience of some of the fast charger locations? Consider this. Of the 21,000 miles we have put on our current BOLT EV, 19,500 have been charged at our garage. We pull in, we plug-in, and it is fully charged for the next day. If I had spent just 5 minutes at the pump for every 300 miles, that would have been 5 hours of my time. And what’s more convenient than our own garage open 24/7 to us?
Beyond the most important aspect of not burning fossil fuels, the BOLT EV is an exceptionally quiet and sporty car to drive. There is no deferential. You touch the accelerator and go. Zero to 60 in 5.5 seconds. No sound of speed, just acceleration. Roomy and comfortable to boot. Our adult children sit in the back, and our son is 6’ 2”! We own a solar company, drive EVs, and are unapologetic zealots for this cause. However, I hope this one account of our trip to D.C. and back to Vermont is simply an honest and accurate report of the time and expense involved.
Philip Allen, Rutland, is the owner of Same Sun of Vermont, Inc.