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Can Plug-In Electric Road Trips Revitalize Fading Historic Route 66?

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U.S. Historic Route 66 is one of the most famous highways in the world, but it's a mere shadow of the journey it was in its 1930s to 1950s heyday.

Eisenhower's Interstate Highway Act of 1956 effectively signed the route's death warrant--and indeed, the towns along it, as flat, smooth, effortless interstate carved its way through the country and around previously prosperous towns..

But could the electric car rekindle interest in the historic highway?

TriplePundit thinks it might, after a trip along the St. Louis to Tulsa leg in a 2013 Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid.

This author thinks it could too. Back in 2007, myself and two friends decided to take on the famed Route 66 ourselves, having just finished college and keen to travel before several years of university weighed us down.

If you're to take on a road trip you might as well start big, and few come bigger than a trip along the 'Mother Road'. Chicago to Santa Monica, "more than two thousand miles all the way", as Chuck Berry famously put it--our final total was around 2,400, if I recall correctly--and a healthy slice of Americana en route.

Electric highway?

Of course, doing such a journey in an electric car in 2007 would have verged on the impossible.

Not only were suitable vehicles few and far between--if they existed at all--but the abandoned towns and dilapidated gas stations wouldn't have provided many opportunities to charge, either. In the end, we drove across the country in a thoroughly sensible (if not particularly green) gasoline-powered Mitsubishi Outlander.

Nowadays, the prospect of such a trip in an electric vehicle would still fill many with dread, but it's far from the impossibility it once was.

The route has enjoyed a minor resurgence over the last few years. This is partly thanks to adventure-seeking tourists like ourselves, partly through the combined efforts of local preservation groups, and partly thanks to exposure from the hit Disney film Cars--whose central plot revolved around a town suffering in just the way many historic Route 66 stops did when the interstates opened.

This resergence provides towns along Route 66 with a unique opportunity to bring themselves screaming into the 21st century--electric car charging.

Before those interstates moved in, many towns along the route had their own small gas stations, rest stops for weary travelers and plenty of kitsch curiosities to draw in tourists. The practicalities of fast interstate driving made these redundant, but for the electric driver with less range and a need for fast charging, the historic route now makes more sense than any time over the last 50 years.

Road trip on historic U.S. Route 66 (Images: Antony Ingram)

Road trip on historic U.S. Route 66 (Images: Antony Ingram)

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The perfect road trip?

Plenty of electric car owners are only too keen to demonstrate that their vehicle is capable of driving long distances. We've covered more electric road trips than we can count here on Green Car Reports.

I can't help feeling there's too little romance to these trips though. It's all, "look what my car can do", rather than "look what we can experience". Admirable, but not aspirational.

The electric road trip should be looked upon in a different way. Shorter ranges and longer recharging times should be an excuse to stop, rather than a hindrance to your destination.

We're chalking up experiences here, rather than simply watching miles go by. To myself and two friends, Route 66's country-wide distance was largely irrelevant. I've no idea of the exact distance we drove, and often we stopped several times a day anyway. If anything, we might have seen more in an electric car, just as two Chromjuwelen writers did last year on their own electric road trip in France.


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Comments (15)
  1. Antony, that is a beautifully written piece that put a smile on my face.
     
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  2. Thank you John, very much appreciated.
     
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  3. I couldn't agree more that Rt. 66 has a role to play in creating the new plug-in infrastructure needed to service EV cars. And it makes historic sense. Rt. 66 is responsible for what we take for granted today: the modern gas station. If you ventured out on Rt. 66 in 1926 and needed fuel, you're best bet was to find a local grocery or hardware store where the enterprising owner had installed his own gas pump. Over time the need for a separate business, gas stations, was realized. It makes great economic development sense for the Mother Road to once again take the lead in establishing a series of charging stations to serve the public. We've done so in Atlanta, IL (midway between Chicago & St. Louis) and encourage others to do likewise. Bill T
     
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  4. I think our upcoming www.AllElectricVehiclRally.org, "BC2BC-2013", 1500 miles from Canada to Mexico will more closely match your vision of a road trip. Along the route, there are dozens of stops planned, ultimately becoming a "Poker Run". Yes, it's also a serious event, with a fantastic trophy to go to the winner.

    We hope to get larger than "self satisfaction" for the participants and EV industry, but to bring attention to the larger mass audience of folks who really don't know much about EV's.

    In that thought, we have a huge launch party planned for the Peace Arch State Park in Blaine, WA on July 29, 2013. This is planned to be a "governor level event" with participation from British Columbia's Premier office.

    bc2bc-2013.eventbrite.com
     
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  5. It would be smart to start hosting all the Tesla Superchargers along the Route 66 and some solar farms which also provide DC quick chargers...
     
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  6. just having Level 2 chargers would be a good deal, cover 100 miles, then stop, spend 2 hours exploring, then go again. it's not very fast, it's averaging 30 MPH, but you plan it to explore a ton of little towns.

    if you had some bikes, you could drive, bike around, then drive more.
     
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  7. the hardest part would be crossing Kansas, i can't imagine how anyone crosses kansas without a sail
     
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  8. If I recall correctly, Kansas makes up only around 15 miles of the route. I'm pretty sure most people could do that on a charge...
     
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  9. Anyone but the Prius Plug In, and Accord Plug In, they might be able to do it if hypermiling
     
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  10. Yes! Yes! Yes! I totally agree. I took my 100 mile BMW ActiveE from Santa Cruz to LA last year. It took me a whole day (I set the single day mileage record for the ActiveE on that trip and it was great. As you said, it made the trip a journey, I got to sit back in the towns I stopped in and enjoy them while I charged. If route 1 had this infrastructure, it would be a huge draw and help attract visitors to places like Big Sur and Hearst Castle. Many small towns like Morro Bay on Rt 1 are enthusiastically embracing EVSEs and EVs. The mayor of the city chased my group down and stayed in contact with us asking us to come back. Making EV routes are so simple, low investment and high return. I really hope it catches on.
     
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  11. 1500 miles from Canada to Mexico will more closely match your vision of a road trip. Along the route, there are dozens of stops planned, ultimately becoming a "Poker Run". Yes, it's also a serious event, with a fantastic trophy to go to the winner.

    Hey, will your Canada to Mexico Rally go through New Mexico, heading along part of old Rt.66 there...Grants, Albuquerque, etc.? Will it go through Alamogordo and/or Las Cruces, too? I'd hit it up if so. This type of thing is good for automobile travel overall...still by far the best way to travel, albeit not the fastest way to travel. But, faster is not better in all applications. I still love long trips in the car and getting out to read the historical signs, for instance.
     
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  12. On the Ride the Future Tour we've been traveling along Route 66 quite a bit. There are so many small towns along the way that are almost perfectly spaced apart for Level 2 chargers.

    Ideally they would have Chademo chargers, which would allow EV drivers to more perfectly mimic a road trip in an ICE. Most stops along Route 66 are more suited for a half hour or hour long visit.

    We have photos of our charging adventures along Route 66 on our facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/ridethefuturetour
     
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  13. Ben... also want to make sure you know about the upcoming International Route 66 Festival in Kingman (www.kingman66fest.com) which is coming up in August of this year. We are working towards making the Electric Highway a reality, sooner than later.

    David Heward
    Route 66 Electric Car Club (on facebook)
     
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  14. Just read your article about making Route 66 the new Electric Highway for drivers of electric vehicles. Want to make sure you know about the upcoming International Route 66 Festival in Kingman (www.kingman66fest.com) which is coming up in August of this year. We are working towards making the Electric Highway a reality, sooner than later.
     
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  15. Answer to question... resounding YES! www.electrichighway.org
     
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