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Stuart Ungar, co-founder of Evolve KY.

Clean Transport

First EV Road Trip for EV Veteran

I’ve been driving an EV for some time now. But my 2011 Nissan Leaf, while dependable and fun, is a first-generation EV with limited range and has tethered me to an 80-mile radius of home. So, when I was planning to take a road trip from my home in Kentucky to visit my almost 94-year-old dad in Connecticut, I was resigned to take my wife’s trusty old 2012 Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid like I have in the past, and drive the majority of the trip on dirty and expensive gas.

Enter my very good friend Daniel Monroe. Daniel is an EV evangelist par none. He actually has a guest book of folks (most of them strangers) who he’s allowed to drive his 2018 Tesla Model 3. That guest book number is pushing 300 drivers! (Yes, 300.) So, when he asked me if I wanted to swap our decade-old plug-in hybrid Volt for his Model 3, I knew he was serious. He has good reasons to be so passionate about going electric, and EVs using a domestic and “peaceful” fuel is at the top of his list (more on this can be found in my podcast episode featuring Daniel.)

The vehicle handoff took place in my driveway, where at night in bone-chilling temps Daniel gave me the Tesla key card and showed me how to use it. We then paired that card with my phone and my daughter Eden’s phone. He then took us through a short orientation session where we parked the Tesla at one end of my driveway and walked to the other end until the car beeped (signaling that it has been locked). We then each walked over to the car to see if our phones were recognized by the car, and then we could open the car and it would let us in.

Image courtesy of EV veteran Stuart Ungar, co-founder of Evolve KY.

Daniel accompanied us to a Tesla Supercharger nearby and had us charging for about 40 minutes to bring it to full (about 300-mile range). We made good use of the time by wandering around the Meijer store and then he took us through how to navigate on the screen and other basic functions of the car. Once we got back to my house, it was my turn to show him around the Volt. That was pretty simple by comparison … key fob, how to pop the charge port and start the car with the push button. I didn’t show him how to pop the gas fill door as I filled it up before handing it over to him.

It seems silly in a way to be even writing this, as so many Tesla owners already know how easy it is to drive from state to state with the robust Tesla Supercharger network. But even though I’ve been living in the EV world for years, this was all new to me. The Tesla seamlessly took us on our route going from Supercharger to Supercharger. It even calculated the ideal amount of time we should spend at each stop to make it as efficient as possible. We chatted with a couple of nice people at the West Virginia Supercharger — their turquoise-wrapped Model 3 was a great ice breaker.

Given petroleum-rich Russia’s war with Ukraine, it was extra satisfying that we were not only saving money on gas, but more importantly, in our own small way, not contributing to that horrific scenario.

I even got my sports-car-loving and Corvette-owning brother to take it for a spin and he was quite impressed.

It was a bit stressful driving someone else’s car for the week, but the car was very comfortable, which made the hours of being on the road much more bearable. There was one issue when the big screen froze up on the highway and then went black. I had heard this could be an occasional issue with Teslas, so wasn’t too concerned about this and figured I would get off at the next exit and call Daniel to find out how to reset it. As it turned out, the car reset the screen automatically after a short while, so we were good to go. My daughter and I joked that playing Lou Reed’s song “Egg Cream” made it freak out.

The other thing that was a bit of a challenge was getting the wipers to work at the correct speed on our way back home. Eden and I had a system of me pushing the button and her gauging what speed the wipers needed to be on and she would press that setting on the screen. I understand this function probably could have been done using voice commands, but we didn’t learn that beforehand and that wasn’t something I was about to attempt on the fly.

Overall, while I liked the big center screen and can appreciate how such a setup is minimal and attractive and must simplify production of the car, I did find myself missing some of the more manual controls I was used to in my older cars.

We got back home and swapped cars. There was a slight hiccup, as the Volt wouldn’t start for Daniel. I have a feeling that he may have not pushed the power button to turn the car off. With a Tesla, there is no power button, and when you leave the car, it just turns itself off. But the Volt came back to life readily when jumpstarted. Daniel also at one point assumed the Volt would have the same acceleration as the Tesla and promptly found out otherwise. I also had some minor issues, like forgetting that I wasn’t in the Volt and trying to use the right stalk to turn on the windshield wipers. Well, the car promptly beeped at me both times I tried that, as on the Tesla that would put the car in reverse. I was very glad to know the Tesla can’t be thrown into reverse on the highway by accident! In general, for those who drive a lot, our cars can tend to become an integral part of us, much like our shoes, and it can be a bit of a transition to suddenly be “wearing” something very different.

The experience really made me appreciate how far EVs have come since the days of the LEAF and the Volt. I got to experience my first fully electric road trip and see how easy it was.

Tesla Superchargers in mountains, Image courtesy of Tesla

 

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Written By

Stuart Ungar has been interested in how technology can help us live lighter on the Earth for most of his life and remembers going on solar house tours as a kid in the ‘70s with his dad (and having to travel many miles to see each site). Stuart is the co-founder of Evolve KY, Kentucky’s non-profit electric vehicle group and has a brand new podcast — Stu’s EV Universe, which can be heard on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other major platforms. Stuart lives with his wife and college-age kids in Louisville, Kentucky.

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