On 5 March Nancy and I undertook our first true road trip in our 2015 Nissan Leaf. Our destination was Grover Beach and ultimately San Luis Obispo. Ostensibly the purpose of the trip was to take in the opening night of Redacted, an exhibition at the Steynberg Gallery in SLO on censorship and corruption in the regulation of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.
The 150-mile trip “to the coast” from Bakersfield is normally a half-day drive. I say normally because in a gasoline-fueled car there are several scenic, more or less direct routes to the coast from Bakersfield. Not so for a consumer-oriented Electric Vehicle (EV) such as the Nissan Leaf. Getting to the coast in a Leaf is possible, but it necessitates a more round-about trip than otherwise. This nearly doubles the total miles travelled as you navigate from one charging station to the next.
To make sure we’d arrive in time we allowed an extra day and planned our route extensively. We also approached the trip as an adventure in itself. Nancy, my wife, noted that it was as much about the trip as our destination.
In short, we made it to Grover Beach and on to SLO comfortably, hobnobbed with the arts set of SLO at the exhibition, took in a tour of the Point San Luis Lighthouse and successfully returned to Bakersfield. We covered 550 miles in our EV and met a number of other Leaf owners along the way. We were elated. We did it.
We made a number of observations about EVs and EV owners on the trip. They are posted separately.
The trip to the coast required six separate legs, not counting the 15 mile jaunt to SLO for the exhibition. This latter excursion was a piece of cake after finally arriving in Grover Beach.
Our route took us down the Hwy. 99, I-5 corridor to Lebec, then over the Tejon Pass to Valencia. From Valencia we drove down the Santa Clara River Valley on Hwy. 126 to Ventura. From Ventura it was on to Goleta and from Goleta to Santa Ynez, where we spent the night. The next day we drove the final leg from Santa Ynez to Grover Beach.
We took the same route on the return, spending the night in Santa Clarita/Valencia before tackling the 3,000-foot climb up to the Tejon Pass the next day.
To allay range anxiety, my intent was never to allow the state of charge (SOC) to fall below 25%. This is equivalent to about 5 kWh of the 21 kWh usable in the Leaf’s traction battery. Depending upon the speed driven, this is enough to travel roughly another 20 miles.
We only came close to our reserve requirement three times. The first time, the leg from Bakersfield to Lebec was expected (24%). We’d done this segment before and we knew what to expect. See EV Trip Report: Bakersfield to Lebec and the Grapevine. The second time was another long climb, this time from Goleta to Santa Ynez (28%). The third was the ascent from Ventura to Valencia (26%).
Quick Charge Preferable
Our route was chosen in part out of necessity—it’s the only way to do it—and partly because we could stop at the only two DC Fast Charge (DCFC) or Quick Charge stations on the route: Ventura and Goleta.
Intercity travel is really only possible with quick charging. DCFC stations can charge the Leaf to 80% of its capacity in 30 minutes, often less. Otherwise, drivers are left with Level 2 stations, requiring hours of charge time before they can get back on the road.
We bought our Leaf with the Quick Charge package specifically for the ability to use the car for intercity travel. However, without an extensive network of DCFC stations the use of the Leaf in this way is limited to only the hard core who want to prove it can be done. Most typical consumers—and even advocates of EVs such as ourselves–will not take the time to make intercity trips relying only on Level 2 charge stations.
Taking Our Time
Because we’d never taken such a road trip in the Leaf before, and because there were few DCFC stations along the way, we planned to take our time and not try to do it all in one day. We’re glad we did. It was more fun and less stressful, and we got to see more of California than we might have otherwise.
My practice is to keep a written log of charge status and other parameters displayed on the dash. I also took photos of the dash display, should I need to refer to them later.
I used both EV Trip Planner and Tony Williams’ Nissan Range Chart to estimate the energy consumption required for each leg. The amount of energy, kWh, needed for each leg, and the amount of energy left in the traction battery after a completing the previous leg determined the amount of charging time necessary.
I didn’t always get this right. For example, we spent three hours charging at 3 kW per hour in Lebec. We arrived at the Nissan dealer in Valencia/Santa Clarita with 52% SOC. Of course, this reduced the amount of time spent charging in Valencia at 6 kW per hour before the next leg, but our time would have been more efficiently spent spending less time in Lebec and more time in Valencia.
Quick Charging Time
In the four times we used quick charging, we charged to more than 80%. There was no one waiting for the quick charger and a little more juice couldn’t hurt. Could it? In three of the four cases I am glad I charged to more than 80%. When we arrived at our next destination, we still had a comfortable reserve. The peace of mind was worth the few extra minutes required charging beyond 80%.
We drove a total of 550 miles round trip, consuming approximately 134 kWh. We averaged 4.1 miles per kWh. On some downhill segments we doubled the number of miles per kWh. On the longest uphill grades we traveled less than 3 miles per kWh.
As others have noted, we found that the dash display overestimates the number of miles driven per kWh of electricity consumed from the traction battery.
Charge Stations & Cost
As noted above, there were only two DCFC stations on the route. There will be an NRG eVgo station in Santa Ynez shortly, but it wasn’t operational when we arrived. (There are also two free ClipperCreek stations at the site now.)
Shorepower charged us $7.00 for two charging sessions in Lebec. And Chargepoint charged about $8.00 from their stations along the route. Some of the stations may have been in Nissan’s No Charge to Charge program. Several of the stations were free.
The Shorepower station requires a portable EVSE. We used our EVSE Upgrade.
The cost of the trip should also include the two additional nights in a hotel if you wanted to compare the trip in an EV to that in a gasoline-fueled vehicle.
The Solvang station in a city parking lot and the Grover Beach station at the California Market were extremely convenient for our purposes. The Grover Beach station was an easy walk from our hotel. The Solvang station is in the midst of the town’s tourist venues.
Estimates versus Actual
For the most part, EV Trip Planner was a useful tool to estimate the kWh needed between segments. Unfortunately, there were several segments where it was off by 20% to 25%. If we had been working with a smaller reserve margin, these errors would have made me very uncomfortable. As it was, we always arrived with plenty of capacity to spare. Nevertheless, it’s good to know that as a planning tool EV Trip Planner can make errors on this scale and to be able to plan accordingly.
To use Tony Williams’ Range Chart and to check EV Trip Planner, I used Plugshare’s route planning feature in conjunction with GPS Visualizer to weigh the terrain—the ascent and descent necessary for each leg.
In practice, I used the Range Chart method as a check against EV Trip Planner.
In the end, I found that both are necessary until you’ve travelled the route often enough to use actual experience as your guide.
We could have spent less time charging in Lebec on the first leg and arrived in Valencia with less but still comfortable SOC. We allowed a comfortable margin for each leg and this was justified by the results—both in the SOC upon our arrival and also in our level of range anxiety.
We now know the route and we wouldn’t hesitate to do it again with the same constraints: a leisurely pace, and a night en route.
The advent of more DCFC would greatly simplify not only this trip, but other trips like it.