When did the first EV race take place? Shortly after the second EV was built, says conventional wisdom. Since the dawn of modern EVs, a few groups have staged Cannonball Run–style events, and many more individuals have documented long-distance road trips, often with a goal of demonstrating the prevailing state of charging infrastructure.
The aim of Car and Driver’s EV 1000 was to highlight the state of EV technology and the US’s charging infrastructure with a 1,000-mile round trip through four states. A wide variety of EV models took part: all 11 vehicles that the magazine evaluated in its recent EV of the Year test. Each vehicle had a team of two drivers, and the course ran from Ann Arbor, Michigan, through Cincinnati, Ohio; Morgantown, West Virginia; Erie, Pennsylvania; and back to Ann Arbor.
As C&D’s Eric Tingwall writes, this was about an Everyman driving experience, not about competition racing: “No taped-over panel gaps, no stripped interiors to shave weight, no rented U-Hauls to break the wind. The point, we said over and over, was to capture the experience of driving an EV on a long road trip.”
However, that didn’t stop some of the drivers from coming up with quirky ideas that they thought might help eke out a few more miles of range — one wore no pants, so he wouldn’t have to run the AC. Others disabled automatic headlights and sacrificed cruise control. In a rather unusual twist for a race, drivers followed speed limits more often than not.
The teams used various apps to scout out charging locations, including A Better Routeplanner (ABRP) and PlugShare, as well as the native navigation apps in the various EVs. One of the first lessons learned was to take recommendations from any app with a grain of lithium salt — the drivers in the Nissan Leaf, insisting that the app made them do, made their first pit stop just 23 miles into the race, a mistake that cost them a big chunk of time right out of the gate.
Another lesson familiar to any frequent user of public charging: you can’t count on any particular charging station being available. Several of the teams pulled up to chargers only to find them out of order, and some found that chargers didn’t deliver the advertised power. A couple had truly maddening experiences trying to get a charge and get back on the road.
Tingwall tells us that “the teams in the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y had it comparatively easy.” Tesla’s built-in nav directed them to fast and reliable Superchargers as necessary, and problems were few. “While Superchargers could be finicky in their early days, the current equipment is more dependable than a gas-pump credit-card reader,” writes Tingwall. Coverage is pretty comprehensive — at one point, the team driving the Model S passed four Supercharger stations without having to stop.
A look at Car and Driver’s EV 1000 (YouTube: Car and Driver)
Those who had to depend on non-Tesla fast chargers had a more challenging race, and they found that the level of service varied widely among different public charging networks. “Several teams developed a fierce loyalty to the Electrify America network, which is now the closest thing to a competitor to Tesla’s fast-charger network,” writes Tingwall. This agrees with the findings of Charged’s 2020 Best-in-Test survey, which rated Electrify America the best of the five largest non-Tesla US charging networks.
Like Tesla, EA typically equips each charging site with several individual chargers, so drivers have options if units are out of order or occupied.
Two of the teams — those driving the Polestar 2 and the Volvo XC40 Recharge — did have issues with some of the Electrify America chargers. EA uses hardware from four different manufacturers, and charging stations from one of them were incompatible with the Polestar and Volvo at the time of the race (both automakers say the issue has now been fixed).
And the winner is? Most readers probably won’t be surprised to learn that a certain California carmaker swept the podium — the Tesla Model S took first place, with a time of 16 hours and 14 minutes of driving and charging. According to Google Maps, the time spent charging added only 50 minutes to the total travel time. The team driving the Model Y placed second, and the Model 3 snagged third.
The rest of the vehicles straggled in over the course of several hours. In last place was the poor little Leaf. Nissan’s electric hatchback was one of the first viable modern EVs, but since its 2010 launch, it has been sadly neglected by its maker, and its range and charging speed simply aren’t up to 2021 standards.
Car and Driver’s verdict: “If you want to regularly drive long distances in an EV today, you’ll want a car with access to Tesla’s proprietary charging infrastructure.”