Late August signals the beginning of the end of summer and for households with children it also means it is “back to school” time.
And in the US if your child is around 18 it could also mean it is the time when the family takes a road trip to deliver your freshman kid to their first year of college, often hundreds of miles away from home.
Such it was a few weeks ago for my wife, youngest daughter, and me — the second such “college delivery” road trip for us since 2012, when we drove our oldest daughter to college in Orange County, CA. There were a few differences with this trip — there would be only 3 of us, the college was the University of Redlands in San Bernardino County, and we would be driving in an electric sedan, not a gas-powered SUV.
Yes, if there wasn’t enough anxiety already, we would be taking our first long trip in our electric car.
In December 2016, my wife and I replaced her diesel-powered German SUV with a Tesla Model S 60. For those of you not up on all things Tesla, the Model S 60 was only offered for the 2016 and 2017 model years. The “60” actually came with a 75 kWh battery pack, but it was limited to 60 kWh of power and range via software.
While Tesla models are often thought of as having “around 300 miles” or more of range, our Model S 60 only had a maximum range of 209 miles when I drove it home from the Tesla factory in Fremont, CA.
Our First Long EV Trip
Since we brought the Model S home, we have taken it on many short and mid-range trips from our home in a Northern California suburb, about 35 miles east of San Francisco. We had driven up the California coast about 130 miles one way (nearly 300 miles for the round trip), up to the Sonoma and Napa wine country several times (about 120 miles round trip), and down to Carmel (230 miles round trip) twice.
All of those trips lacked range anxiety and inconvenience due to the availability of Destination Chargers, Superchargers, or enough range to handle the round trip without needing to charge.
The trip to deliver our daughter to college was 428 miles from our house to the hotel we would stay at in Redlands, CA. With only about 205 miles of usable battery range, the trip would involve multiple stops for charging and the need to plan charging stops to minimize downtime and unnecessary stops.
The following is a blow-by-blow diary of our 3-day trip. My intent in sharing this detailed, lengthy, and personal story is to humanize and bring to life both the positives and negatives of long road trips in an EV so that we can better discuss and understand what it will take to get mass consumer adoption of EVs. I also will admit that I was partially inspired by Dawn Hall’s story of taking her daughter on college visits in Southern California in her Chevrolet Bolt.
In Part 1 (this article), I share the details of our trip to Redlands. Part 2 is about our trip home. In Part 3, I outline my 8 recommendations for the auto and charging industry to help allay fears of taking road trips.
Home — Tuesday, 2:00 p.m.
Before we left I did a lot of research looking at Google Maps, the Tesla Trip Planner (which unfortunately does not support the Model S 60 since it was discontinued), and the in-car navigation. I had a real strong sense of the best route, food options, and back-up Superchargers if I used more range than was planned/estimated. I had driven on Interstate Highway 5 (I-5) or been a passenger probably 50 times in my life — but this would be the first time in an EV.
Note: I wish I had read Zachary Shahan’s article, Tesla Smart Navigation Is Brilliant (+ 3 Tips), before we left … as it would have saved me from making a stupid mistake (more on that in Part 2).
We left our Northern California home on Tuesday at 2:00 pm with 203 miles of range and headed for the first of what would eventually be 4 stops at Superchargers. The Tesla navigation suggested we make 3 stops to charge at Superchargers in Gustine, Kettleman City and Tejon Ranch.
I was excited that the Kettleman City Supercharger was on the list, as I had wanted to stop there to check out the lounge and large number of charging stations.
Gustine — Tuesday, 3:17 p.m.
After the slightly less than 1 hour and 20 minute drive, we arrived at the Gustine Supercharger, which is located in the parking lot of the infamous Pea Soup Anderson restaurant. “Split Pea Anderson’s,” as I have always called it, was a frequent stop on the way home from visiting relatives in the San Joaquin Valley or returning from a Southern California vacation trip. To many Californians, this restaurant is an institution.
I plugged in the Tesla for our first quick charge of the trip and we headed inside the restaurant and gift shop. After a bathroom break and scanning the gift shop for snacks, we left with a bag of cheddar goldfish to munch on until our next stop.
We added about 50 miles of range in the quick stop of roughly 12 minutes and then headed off on I-5 to Kettleman City.
Kettleman City — Tuesday, 5:01 p.m.
Before pulling into the Kettleman City Supercharger, we picked up a few items from the Taco Bell located a block away. Since the Kettleman City Supercharger has a lounge area, we brought our tacos and burritos into the lounge to eat.
The lounge at Kettleman City is open 24 hours and is accessed by entering a passcode. It wasn’t intuitive to me on how to find the code on the navigation screen, so after letting us in to the building, one of the helpful staff came out with me to the car and showed me how to find it (you touch the Supercharger location icon which brings up information on the Supercharger, and for this location, also includes the building entry passcode).
The Tesla lounge also has a coffee shop where you can order up the usual variety of hot and cold coffee drinks. I went with an iced latte, mostly as an excuse to chat with the staff. There were only 3 or 4 Teslas charging while we were there, but the barista/staff person told me that weekends and holidays get very busy (more on this on the return visit). After charging for 21 minutes and enjoying the Taco Bell snacks, we headed back out onto I-5 with 165 miles of range, plenty enough to reach our next stop.
Tejon Ranch Supercharger — Tuesday, 6:45 p.m.
We pulled into the Tejon Ranch Supercharger at 6:45 p.m. with 60 miles of range remaining. This Supercharger is located in a parking lot next to several quick service restaurants, including a Panda Express, a Chipotle, and a Starbucks, among many others.
We opted to eat our dinner at Chipotle while our Tesla charged up. At 7:22 p.m., just as we were leaving the Chipotle, I received a push notification on my iPhone that charging was complete at 203 miles. (Note: Tesla Superchargers will apparently often stop charging at about 97% to 99% of full capacity.) We headed back out onto I-5 and up the infamous Grapevine, a long and steep stretch of road.
Riverside Supercharger — Tuesday, 9:37 p.m.
On the last leg of the trip to our hotel in Redlands I was going to stop at the San Bernardino Supercharger. However, when we got off the freeway exit, the Tesla navigation didn’t tell me what to do, so I went straight (when I apparently should have turned left, I think?), which put me back on the freeway. At that point, I decided to change plans and I headed instead to the Riverside Supercharger.
The Riverside Supercharger is located on the top floor of the Mission Square Parking garage in downtown Riverside. This location is also one of Tesla’s new urban charging setups, which has 24 charging stations that can charge at up to 72 kW, versus the 120 kW for regular Supercharging stations. According to the Tesla website, these urban Superchargers “have a new architecture that delivers a rapid 72 kilowatts of dedicated power to each car. This means charging speeds are unaffected by Tesla vehicles plugging into adjacent Superchargers, and results in consistent charging times around 45 to 50 minutes for most drivers.”
We arrived at the Riverside Supercharger at 9:37 p.m. with 57 miles of range and had the entire location to ourselves. Our hotel was 13 miles away and didn’t have EV charging stations so I wanted to add enough range to comfortably reach the hotel and then on Wednesday be able to drive to the University of Redlands and then back to either the Riverside or San Bernardino Supercharger.
So 11 minutes later at 9:48 p.m. we left the Riverside Supercharger, now with 101 miles of range.
Country Inn & Suites, Redlands — Tuesday, 10:15 p.m.
After my wife checked us into the hotel, I parked the car at 10:15 p.m., now with 85 miles of range remaining. After unpacking and decompressing, it was time for some sleep and to get up at 6:30 a.m. to start the big day of moving our daughter into her college dorm.
It took us roughly 8 hours and 15 minutes of total travel, charging, and eating time to reach our hotel. Google Maps said that without stops, the drive would take 6 hours and 12 minutes. I had done the drive to and from Southern California probably about a dozen times with my family and we would always stop at least twice — once for lunch/dinner (and gas if needed) and once for a restroom break, snack, and to get gas if needed.
These two stops for us in an ICE vehicle would typically add 45 to 60 minutes to the duration of the trip. This means that our Redlands trip would have taken approximately 7 hours to 7 hours and 15 minutes — a full 60-75 minutes less than the trip took in our Tesla.
Now, using the Tesla Trip Planner and selecting the Tesla Model S 100, which gets 335 miles of range from its 100 kWh battery pack, the trip would take 7 hours and 19 minutes, including stops for charging. That would come close to the same duration in an ICE vehicle, taking at most only about 15-20 minutes longer. (This of course assumes you eat, use the restroom, etc. while your car is charging.)
University of Redlands — Wednesday at 8:38 a.m.
We left our hotel at 8:20 a.m. with 84 miles of range and headed to the University of Redlands. I had never gotten around to activating my ChargePoint account, but on this day it would have done me no good anyway. While the university had four Level 2 ChargePoint stations and signs posting a 4-hour limit to charger parking, these cars (photo below) sat parked and plugged in at least until we left at about 1:20 p.m.. So if I had counted on adding some miles while at the college, I would have been SOL.
Riverside Supercharger — Wednesday, 1:19 p.m.
There are 2 Supercharging locations not far from Redlands (San Bernardino and Riverside), but my wife and I chose to go to the Riverside location since we already knew where it was and through some research and first-hand witnessing from the night before also knew there were several restaurants within a few minutes walk of the charging stations.
Using Foursquare (yes, I still use Foursquare) I found a neat outdoor restaurant at the quaint Mission Inn & Spa, a 5-minute walk from the Supercharger. While not really very hungry, we had to order some food to go with our Margaritas (to be clear, we each only had one) in order to sit at the outside restaurant. It was worth it.
The food and drinks were excellent and after a relaxing time with my wife as we contemplated becoming empty nesters, we headed back to the car. It was now 2:59 p.m. and our Tesla had long ago reached 202 miles of range. We then drove back to the hotel where we would take a nap before taking a Lyft car to a Redlands restaurant for dinner with our daughter, her dorm roommate, and her parents.
In Part 2 of this 3-part series, I share details of our somewhat eventful trip home; and in Part 3, I outline my recommendations to the auto and charging industries that will be necessary to convince non-early adopters that an EV is OK to take on a long trip/road trip.