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Monday, December 26, 2016

Supercharger Powered Roadtrip

Executive summary: 500-mile round trip from Portland Oregon to Grants Pass in the SW Oregon mountain range and back in a Tesla Model X 90D. Covers trip planing, supercharging, and mountain pass driving. Trip is compared and contrasted to Nissan Leaf EV treks. 

Our Tesla Model X arrived in October and it has been my daily driver ever since. This December we took our first road trip. We traveled from our home in the Portland Oregon area to Grants Pass to meet my wife's parents and help her grandfather move into an assisted living facility.

One way, the trip is about 250 miles. Our Model X has a 257-mile rating. Given this, I thought we'd be able to drive there with a single full charge. That was not the case. The second half of the drive is through the Western Cascades with significant elevation changes. This lowers the vehicle efficiency or, if you prefer, you can think of elevation changes as adding to the effective distance.

Putting the destination address in Tesla's navigation system showed that there are three Supercharger locations (Woodburn, Springfield, & Grants Pass) along our route. The nav software also determined that we only needed to stop at the Springfield station for 25 minutes to recharge. The nav showed us the time we'd be at the waypoint and the expected battery charge when we arrived.

On our previous electric road trips in our Nissan Leaf EV, figuring out where to charge and how long to charge was an engineering exercise. Tesla has made this much simpler.

We left in the afternoon and hit the crawl of traffic on I-5 south of Portland. Things cleared up as we passed Wilsonville, then it was clear sailing. We zoomed passed the Woodburn Supercharge and continuing south we crossed the 45th Parallel (half way between the Equator and the North Pole). The miles ticked by and we arrived at the Springfield Supercharger in the hometown of the Simpsons. We had traveled 111 miles using 44 kWhs.

We plugged in and the Tesla navigation system did something I didn't expect. It showed how much charge we needed to make it to our destination and it estimated that we'd have 13% charge left when we arrived in Grants Pass.

The Supercharger hummed and the batteries were sucking up juice as fast as they could. As you can see below, the car was charging at a rate of over 300-miles of range per hour.

Tesla Model X Supercharging

Twenty minutes later we received the notice below.

It also showed that we were 20 minutes from a full charge. We didn't need a full charge to gets to Grants Pass and batteries charge slowest during that last 20%; there was no need for us to waste our time. Unplugging, we piled back into the car and after a stop for dinner, we continued south.

Charging to just what you need for your next stop (with a little cushion) is the best method. It values your time and maximizes the infrastructure availability. This is the Lagom charging method that we've recommended and Tesla's software lets you do this with confidence.

When the Tesla navigation system knows where you are traveling, it can recommend the needed charge.

From here I-5 enters the Western Cascades (home of Crater Lake); the road goes up and down hills, there's fog, curves... It was a cold December night and we had the heat on. As we traveled that 13% battery reserve that the navigation predicted, began to drop. Going up a steep hill it dropped to 6% and a warning popped up. "Unless you maintain a speed of 65 MPH or below, you may not make it to your destination." That was clear direction; "Slow Down or Plan on Calling AAA," is what I heard.

Again, comparing this to earlier road trips in other EVs, we didn't get this type of mid-course correction. We were only 40 miles into the 140 miles of this leg. Heeding the warning, we settled in behind semi truck going 60. The Autopilot locked in and it was easy cruising.

As we sat behind the trundling semi for the next 20 minutes or so our estimated-arrival-charge ticked up from 6%. When it reached 12%, I was confident that we'd make it. We passed the semi and accelerated up to something around the speed limit.

Instead of heading directly to grandpa's house, we stopped at the Grants Pass Supercharger to grab a few kWhrs for running errands the next day. We had traveled 140 miles using 58 kWh. After 10 minutes of charging, we headed to grandpa's.

We arrived to a warm greeting as my in-laws were concerned that a battery-powered car would not be able to make the trip and that we were stranded on the side of the road somewhere.

Grants Pass, Oregon in winter "It's The Climate"
In part 2 of this tale, we'll cover using the Model X to transport Grandpa and his belongings.

Lessons Learned on an Electric Road Trip

We've made several family road trips. This was by far the longest EV-trip we've taken and the easiest. Comparing this to road trips we've taken in the Leaf, several factors made this Tesla trip a breeze:
  1. The Supercharger stations were easy to find. They were near the freeway. The West Coast Electric Highway stations, such as Castle Rock's, are occasionally too much of a detour. 
  2. There were plenty of open spots to charge. During the round trip, we stopped 4 times at Superchargers and only saw 2 other cars. This meant there was no waiting. By having 6 or 8 bays at each charging site, you're not likely to have to wait. In contrast, at CHAdeMO and CCS stations there's generally only one fast charger and if it is occupied, you're waiting. There's been some Supercharger congestion in parts of California, but everywhere else Tesla has managed to stay ahead of the demand.  
  3. The Superchargers were all operational. If you drive an EV that uses CHAdeMO and you are making a trip, you better check PlugShare or something like it to see if the stations that you are going to need are operational. Since there is often only one CHAdeMO station at a site, if it's broken down, then what was planned as a 30 minute DCFC stop is turned into a 2+ hour Level 2 stop. 
  4. Having a long range (257 miles in this case) made this trip much easier. We arrived at our Springfield charge stop with a 41% state of charge (nowhere near empty). This meant that we didn't have to charge for long to continue. Batteries charge slowest in their top 20%; this means that if you can avoid using this zone for a mid-trek recharges, you'll be able to charge much faster. Bigger batteries make everything (except the purchase price) easier. You can charge less often and you can charge faster. 
  5. No membership cards. With CHAdeMO and CCS vehicles, you have to join charging networks. There's Blink, ChargePoint, nrg, SemaConnect, OpConnect... the list goes on and on and the local networks are different in different regions. With a Tesla, you don't have to worry about any of this. You pull in, you plug in. There's no card to find and no card reader that may or many not be working. Tesla has the right charging model and other automakers don't seem to even understand the problem yet.  
The Jungle of Charge Cards is no concern with a Tesla

Wrap Up 

Tesla's navigation app makes trip planning a breeze. I didn't have to pull out my protractor even once to determine if we'd make it to our next hop. The Tesla Supercharging network is robust, reliable, and fast. With other EV-treks I've taken, I've had backup plans and I usually charged more than I needed to just to be sure we'd make it. With the Tesla stations, I have no concerns that they'll be offline.

We traveled ~500 miles round trip from NW Oregon to the Rogue Valley in SW Oregon. Other than ~20 minutes when we had to slow down a little, the trip was uneventful. The Tesla performed admirably through mountain passes, fog, and cold weather. The vehicle had the potence and wherewithal to do the job even with freeway speeds, heater usage, and elevation changes.

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