Problem Free 730-mile Roundtrip in a Chevy Bolt

By Paul Gipe

We’ve been driving electric for five years and we’ve seen tremendous improvement in both the cars and the charging network in that time. This trip was proof of that. Everything worked as expected. There were no surprises. We drove to where we wanted and returned–without drama.

How times have changed.

Our biggest problem had nothing to do with the car or its battery. We simply can’t sit for more than two hours at a stretch. This wasn’t a problem with the limited range Nissan Leaf. We had to stop every hour to charge. Not so with the Bolt and its 238-mile range.

This was our longest trip yet in an EV. We drove 370 miles from Bakersfield in the Southern San Joaquin Valley to Chico in northern California to visit with friends.

This trip required two charging stops outbound and on the return. We used EVgo and Electrify America stations.

Outbound with a full battery I’d planned to drive for three hours before a charge stop. That just wasn’t to be. I’d mapped out all the possible charge stops on PlugShare, eliminating the ones that seemed unreliable, so I knew where we could stop as needed.

Our route took us up Hwy 99, one of California’s principle north-south corridors. There’s now ample density of DCFC stations north of Bakersfield and south of Sacramento to eliminate any range anxiety.

We got a head start on the trip by spending the night in downtown Madera. We’ve found EVgo’s Madera Save Mart a reliable stop. There’s a new La Quinta not far away and it made a good overnight stop outbound.

The next day we stopped at Electrify America’s Laguna Village near Elk Grove south of Sacramento. The four-kiosk station will be prone to ice-ing. This is a busy shopping center and parking was at a premium when we arrived. The first dispenser I tried failed to connect, but the one next to it worked fine. I didn’t even have to move the car. There’s a Thai bakery nearby that serves good coffee and exotic pastries.

We crossed the Sacramento conurbation without problems and arrived in Chico with ample charge.

Chico’s a cute university town, or as I like to say, “civilized.” It’s walkable with great restaurants. As an example of how civilized it is, I charged overnight at Chico’s Farmers Market Parking Lot where the J1772 and the Tesla Destination Charger are quaintly placed in gasoline pumps. The lot is a short walk from motel row and there was no cost to park overnight or a fee to charge.

On the return trip, we charged south of Sacramento at EVgo’s Vintage Faire Mall station in Galt. This station is near one of the mall’s entrances and is subject to ice-ing. A new Tesla Model 3 showed up while I was charging and asked if she could park in one of the charging slots. I told her “no,” that she could be ticketed or towed and then pointed out there was a free space just across from the charge station. She moved the car. It was clear she was going to park the Tesla in one of the charging slots, but not charge it. At lunchtime this station was popular and she would have taken up a valuable charging space if she hadn’t move her Tesla.

After two more hours driving, we still needed some charge to make it home so we stopped for a few minutes at the EVgo site at the Selma Holiday Inn, formerly Pea Soup Anderson’s. It’s back of the hotel and there’s no danger of it being iced.

We made no effort to drive conservatively. We stayed with traffic and then some. At freeway speeds, we averaged 3.7 to 3.8 miles per kWh. On the slower stretch between Sacramento and Chico we did better, averaging 3.8 to 4.0 miles per kWh.

The southbound leg took about 8 hours, 5 hours 45 min of that was drive time. We stopped twice to charge and once to stretch our legs.

A Better Route Planner overestimated consumption by 6% on the outbound trip and by 9% on the inbound leg. This is where I want it to be–a modest overestimation rather than an underestimation and end up short of the charge needed.

As the DCFC network on Hwy 99 fills in south of Bakersfield and north of Chico, long distance trips such as this in a non-Tesla EV will become the new normal. Unfortunately, the east-west regional corridors will not be complete until mid summer 2020, assuming there are no more surprises such as the cancelation of Recargo’s contract to build a string of stations on Hwy 101 for the California Energy Commission.