On Sunday Nancy & I drove our car to Tehachapi from Bakersfield, California. That in itself isn’t significant. Thousands of cars and trucks climb the 4,000 feet from the San Joaquin Valley to the Tehachapi Pass everyday. What is unusual is that we drove the 45 miles in our 2015 Nissan Leaf, an electric car.
We’d been planning this trip for some time. The Friday before, we had driven our Prius to Tehachapi to talk to the owners of the Mountain Valley Airport and RV Park about charging the Leaf once we got there. We’ve known them for years and used to have lunch there often when I lived and worked in Tehachapi. They’re great people and were accommodating.
There’s no public charging between Bakersfield and Mojave. It was a blank spot on Plugshare.com. If we could make it to Tehachapi and charge at the RV park, we could open another route, albeit 30 miles longer, from the San Joaquin Valley to the Los Angeles Basin.
While one can over-think something like this, a trip from Bakersfield to Tehachapi in a Nissan Leaf for a newbie to Electric Vehicles (EVs) does call for caution. We’ve only had the car for some three months and the farthest we’ve driven was 25 miles with a modest climb of 2,000 feet.
Pioneers Paved the Way
Fortunately, there’s an active community of EV drivers out there pushing the limits of what consumer-oriented EVs can do. (Tesla drivers fall into another category with their much more powerful cars.)
For Leaf owners there’s the MyNissanLeaf forum. Denizens of the forum have examined every aspect of the Leaf and what you can and can’t do with it. Pioneers like San Diego’s Tony Williams–Leaf Number: 00000—have driven Leafs places few thought possible.
Williams also organizes the annual BC to BC Rally. Yes, Baja California to British Columbia–and he’s been doing that since the Leaf was introduced. You have to own a contemporary EV to realize the significance of that. In the early days, there were few charge stations. Even now, there are very few charge stations the length of the San Joaquin Valley.
Others too have pushed the boundary. John Rowell (aka JohnR online) drove his Leaf all the way to the end of the road in Mineral King Valley of Sequoia National Park from his home in Exeter—and back. That was no small feat. He followed that with a trip up to Camp Nelson, also in the Sierras.
Dave Laur in Olympia, Washington, and Randy in Fresno have all documented their road trips in Leafs. There are many others, those who’ve taken their Leafs up to Lassen National Park, and to Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear.
To my knowledge, however, no one had gone over the Tehachapi Pass from the San Joaquin Valley in a Leaf.
It’s easy enough to find the distance to the RV Park at the glider port. And it’s easy enough to estimate what the Leaf will do on level ground. Drivers of EVs do these kinds of calculations every day in their heads.
Getting up the mountain was something altogether different. Any vehicle, electric or fossil-fueled, consumes a lot more energy to climb a grade than on the flats. That was the rub.
Williams assumes that 1 fuel bar—the equivalent of the gas gauge in a conventional vehicle—is used for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain. His chart also gives estimated consumption at various constant speeds driving on the level.
EV Trip Planner was designed for Teslas, but they have a beta test for estimating the Leaf’s energy consumption. Their calculations are all hidden behind a screen, but they allow you to print to a spreadsheet so you can see their assumptions on speed and elevation and their conclusions by route segment.
Using both systems, I estimated we should arrive with about 20% State of Charge (SOC) remaining or about two fuel bars if we drove conservatively.
Note that the number of kWh and bars consumed varies with the assumptions used. These are only approximations.
I topped up our Leaf before we departed, a technique others have used to maximize the charge in the traction batteries.
We set out mid-morning in Eco Mode and we drove very conservatively. (I had visions of being stopped alongside the road with tractor-trailers roaring past as AAA tried to pick up our Leaf from the emergency lane.)
This isn’t our normal style. The Leaf is fun to drive—once you turn Eco Mode off—and we’d usually drive faster. When I was commuting to Tehachapi, I’d typically find myself in the left lane passing the trucks as they ground up the hill in low gear.
We drove the first 15 miles on surface streets as we do normally. On this leg it was easy to keep the speed under 45 mph.
Then we had to enter Hwy 58, the main route over the pass, and the fun began. The route isn’t one long ascent. There are several descents mixed in just to make it interesting when you’re trying to pace yourself with the truck traffic.
All told, we would need to climb nearly 4,200 feet over 35 miles to reach the summit.
At the first significant grade, mile 20, we got behind a truck and followed it. The intent was to let the speed drop to that of the truck as it crawls up the mountain, extending the EV’s range. Another advantage is that most drivers can easily see a big rig in the slow lane and will change lanes to avoid it, lessening the risk of being rear-ended.
For the most part, this worked fine. Occasionally it was necessary to enter the fast lane and pass a truck that was crawling along. In one instance the truck driver misinterpreted what we were doing and moved into the passing lane so we could pass on the right. It didn’t make sense, but we took the hint and sped ahead.
We passed the halfway point, and then the three-quarters mark where the grade began to lessen. Then we closed on the last segment before entering the Tehachapi Valley. It looked like we’d make it with capacity to spare.
Arrival & Consumption
We pulled into the glider port on the south side of Tehachapi just off Highline Road with 30% State of Charge, and when we reached the RV park it dropped to 29%.
For an EV with 21 kWh of usable storage, we consumed nearly 15 kWh for the trip to Mountain Valley RV Park. We had four fuel bars left on the “gas” gauge. We’d done better than either estimate, but that could have been the result of driving so conservatively.
We checked in, took our portable EVSE Upgrade out of the trunk, and plugged it in to the NEMA 14-50 receptacle at the campsite’s electrical hookup.
The pedestal also has a TT-30 receptacle, but we planned to charge at 240 volts. The EVSE Upgrade pulls 16 amps to charge the Leaf at more than 3 kW. So we’d gain about 3 kWh for every hour of charging.
We had lunch at the Raven’s Nest, and enjoyed the sunshine, clear air, and springtime weather while charging for three hours. That gave us more than enough to make it back to Bakersfield.
It was a gorgeous day and we took the time to watch the gliders taking off and landing.
Trip Down the Mountain
The weather was so nice, it was difficult to leave. We paid our $10 to charge and packed up. In the three hours we’d raised our charge from 29% to 88%. This raised the fuel bars from four to nine.
The trip down was uneventful. We had plenty of charge so we kept with traffic. The day had gone so well that we stopped off and took in a folk music concert on the way back. When we got home we had 49% State of Charge and six fuel bars remaining.
While our consumption on the trip up was more conservative than either estimate, our more aggressive driving on the way down put us much closer to our projections.
The New Door to Los Angeles
The trip was a success. From the glider port it’s about 50 miles to the Antelope Valley Nissan’s DC quick charger. From there, it should be a routine drive of 55 miles into the LA Basin on an 80% charge.
This opens a new door to Los Angeles. The previous route down Hwy 99 or I-5 over the “Grapevine” necessitates charging at a truck stop near Frazier Park, not the most pleasant place to spend several hours before going over the summit. Once on the other side of the Tejon Pass it’s necessary to stop at the L2 chargers in Valencia. There are no DC quick chargers on this route until the LA area, not even at the Nissan dealer.
We put Mountain Valley RV Park on Plugshare. Jane and Larry Barrett would be happy to entertain more EV drivers crossing the Tehachapi Pass.
We’re going to try this route again at more normal speeds and measure the consumption. Then we’ll try it with the Eco Mode off and see how we do. Finally, we’ll try the whole route to Los Angeles.