You have your eye on an economical Bolt EUV, or your dream battery-electric car, a BMW i7 or Porsche Taycan, but you are planning frequent or even infrequent cross country trips. For this, ideally you will need functioning, unoccupied CCS chargers at 100 mile intervals along your proposed routes.
No way! For most proposed cross-country trips in the next 5 years, you are asking for trouble not buying a Tesla.
Our 8 years owning 4 different EVs
We have owned and have been driving 4 different EVs for 8 years now. My first 3 were Nissan LEAFs. We have been driving a Tesla Model 3 Long Range now for over 3 years (since October 2019) and over 80,000 miles. My wife and I commute 1500 miles annually from Utah to Northern Wisconsin and back. My third Nissan LEAF had a range of 150 miles. I bought an air mattress that would fit in the LEAF and spent hours scheming on how I could use it to make that 1500-mile commute. With careful planning and multiple 8-hour overnight L2 charges, I figured I could make the trip in 10 days instead of the 3 we used in our gas-mobile. It just wasn’t going to work. I ended up shipping the Leaf the 1500 miles by commercial diesel car carrier.
Since purchasing the Tesla Model 3, we have made the 1500-mile trip 6 times, taking the same 3 days that we used to take in our gas-mobile each time. We do this in spite of the fact that we are carrying two aerodynamics-destroying, heavy ebikes on a receiver-mounted bike carrier. (With the bikes on back, Supercharger separations longer than 100 miles require longer charges or/and reduction in speed.) We have also made jaunts to my daughter’s home in North Carolina and our friend’s time-share in Southern California.
On all of these cross-country trips, we have never found a Tesla Supercharger with more than one or two stalls out of order or totally occupied. Totally occupied would not be a big problem since almost all Tesla Superchargers have 8 or more stalls, so the most you would probably find would be a short wait. A Supercharger totally out-of-order would be a disaster. But we haven’t run into either situation across our many road trips.
A charger totally out-of-order would be a disaster!
Last spring, coming from Utah we were about to make our last charging stop in Wisconsin when the Tesla app told us the Wausau Supercharger was out of order. I panicked! I knew the charger situation in Wausau well from my days owning Nissan LEAFs. We only had 15 miles of range left, just enough to get to a L2 charger at the tech college where we would have had to spend at least 6 hours instead of the 30 minutes we were planning at the Supercharger. Saved by the bell! It turned out that the app was wrong, the Supercharger was not out of order, so 30 minutes later we were on the last leg of our journey to Three Lakes.
Detours to find a charger are a killer!
On cross-country trips, Superchargers are rarely over ¼ mile from the freeway. If they are farther away, it’s usually on a parallel road where you don’t have to retrace your steps. In the three years we have been doing cross-country trips, Tesla has made significant Supercharger additions on our routes. In Wisconsin, the addition of the new 250 kW Menomonie Supercharger near Eau Clair has saved us a 30 mile detour. In Minnesota, the addition of the Saint Peter Supercharger on US 169 has saved us a 50-mile detour on the diagonal route from Minneapolis SW to I-90.
Sioux Falls: 12 mile detour! The Sioux Falls South Dakota Supercharger is downtown, 6 miles south off of I-90. We can stretch our range to make the Worthington (Minnesota)–to–Mitchel (South Dakota) 120-mile spacing, but if you need to charge in Sioux Falls, you have 12 mile detour. Even a 12-mile detour can be significant. A long gap between chargers on your route can be a killer, especially if your EV has only 150-mile effective maximum range, like ours with the two bikes on back. If you are hauling bikes, have a rocket box on your roof, are driving in subzero temperatures, or have a strong headwind, your effective range could be less.
Look at the routes you would drive and consider the locations of Tesla Superchargers or other EV fast chargers.
Tesla response to increased Supercharger traffic
The I-15 route from Salt Lake City to Saint George, Utah, and on to Las Vegas, Nevada, is heavily traveled. Midway between Salt Lake City and Saint George is the Beaver Supercharger. A few years ago, on Thanksgiving weekend, we slipped into the last free stall at the Beaver Supercharger station, which has 8 stalls — every two stalls sharing 150 kW. Most older Superchargers have 8 stalls with 150 kW shared between every two stalls. The earliest Superchargers can be as slow as 72 kW.
The next Teslas behind us had to wait at least a few minutes for a stall. By the next Thanksgiving, Tesla had upgraded the Beaver Supercharger to 32 stations (see Figure 2). All of the new stations have non-shared 250 kW chargers. No more waiting! Note: there are also two more Superchargers between Salt Lake City and Saint George if needed — one in Nephi, Utah, and the other in Cedar City, Utah.
It is common knowledge that the uptake of EVs in general and Teslas specifically in California is much greater than in any other state in the USA. Even though Superchargers are much more frequent in California, we do hear reports of waits to charge on very busy weekends. On our jaunt from Saint George through Las Vegas to Southern California, we pulled into the Baker, California Supercharger. Surprise! The Baker Supercharger has 40 stalls with a maximum of 150 kW each. We slipped into the only vacant stall (see Figure 3). Just 50 miles to the north on I-15 at the Primm, Nevada Supercharger, there are 42 non-shared stations with 250 kW max power each. Tesla is upgrading a Supercharger in Arizona to 88 stations and we hear reports that some Superchargers in Northern California and China are planned for over 100 stations. This is what it takes to insure worry free travel in a Tesla.
Up to now there have been no CCS-compatible chargers in the US with more than 4 stalls. Compare this to Tesla with almost all Superchargers having 8 or more stalls. This may not be a problem because there are many fewer CCS-compatible cars than Teslas at this point. However, you get the picture of the comparison of the two networks. Also, there have been many more reported outages of CCS chargers. At a Supercharger, you plug in your Tesla and it automatically bills your credit card. With CCS chargers, from many different companies, good luck initiating a charge or figuring out how to pay.
When we owned our Nissan LEAF, I remember numerous times that someone was already using the only available LEAF compatible charger in Salt Lake City and we had to wait 15–30 min before we could to start. We could make the 200-mile trip between Three Lakes and Madison, Wisconsin, because there was one fast-charging location with a single compatible station halfway in between, near Stevens Point, Wisconsin. We traveled the 200 miles from Three Lakes to Minneapolis to trade in our Nissan LEAF at the Tesla service center/showroom in October 2019. We could make the trip because there was a single Electrify America charger with one compatible stall halfway between. In either case, if the single charger had been out of order, it would have added an 8-hour L2 charge to our trip.
CCS charger desert on Interstate 80 through Wyoming
If you don’t have it already, download the PlugShare app to your smartphone. I-80 is the most heavily traveled route from Chicago to San Francisco. Take a look at the charging situation on I-80 through Wyoming. If you set your vehicle to a Tesla and chargers to Superchargers in Plugshare, you will find 5 Superchargers spaced every ~100 miles on I-80 across Wyoming. These Superchargers were installed in 2017, so they have been there for 5 years already. Switch your vehicle to a Chevrolet Bolt or other CCS-compatible EV and you will find only one operational CCS fast charger in the whole state of Wyoming. There are three CCS chargers planned for I-80, but there will still be a gap of 301 miles between Cheyenne and Rock Springs, Wyoming. Also, it could be at least another year before the new chargers go operational.
What if you take I-70 through Colorado? Electrify America has had an operational coast-to-coast charging route on I-70 for a couple years already. However, I-80 is much preferred to avoid the steep mountain grades from Denver to the Eisenhauer tunnel and over Vail Pass. Traveling in the winter, the Colorado passes would likely have worse weather. In any case, with a Tesla you could chose the route with the best weather.
Bottom Line: If you are planning frequent or even infrequent cross-country trips in your new EV, think again if it’s not going to be a Tesla.
We would love to hear your experiences in the comments section!
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