Chevy Bolt EV: 800-mile trip in 238-mile electric car shows challenges remain

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With about twice the range of any non-Tesla electric car, the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV has generated a great deal of excitement and won numerous awards over the last year.

In combination with a nascent DC fast-charging infrastructure, it offers the possibility of much longer road trips powered solely by grid electricity.

One early Bolt EV owner is Dawn Hall, of San Jose, California, who has already taken an 800-mile road trip in her electric car—and written about it exclusively in this report.

What follows are her words, edited by Green Car Reports for comprehension, style, and length.

DON'T MISS: Chevrolet Bolt EV: Green Car Reports' Best Car To Buy 2017

Taking a teenage girl on an 800-mile road trip in an electric vehicle across California sounds like the plot for a horror movie, but that’s exactly what I did in my new Chevrolet Bolt EV.

Sarah (not her real name) had to look at colleges, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity not only to visit some campuses but also to try out the Bolt on a real road trip.

Sarah had to visit Cal Tech in Pasadena, about 340 miles from our home in San Jose, California.  In a gasoline car, that’s about a 5-hour drive, mostly down Interstate 5.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

But driving an electric car on a road trip that takes you outside urban areas requires a lot of pre-planning, especially when you want fast charging.

For example, while I had an account with ChargePoint, a check of Southern California fast charging stations showed that I would need one with EVgo as well.

I also discovered that I'd need to take the somewhat longer route along Highway 101, because I-5 had no Bolt-compatible fast chargers (using the CCS connector) along our path.  

READ THIS: 2017 Chevy Bolt EV electric car: new owner's first impressions

The one-way distance rose to 380 miles, and because we had to pass through small cities, the trip would add at least 45 more minutes of travel time than if I had been driving I-5 in a gasoline car.

Those additional miles for an electric car might require additional charging, adding even more time.

Still, we decided to make the best of it—and added Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo to our list of schools to visit en route.

2015 BMW i3 REx fast-charging at Keefer's, King City, California [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

2015 BMW i3 REx fast-charging at Keefer's, King City, California [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

With more planning, plus some remote assistance from my nerdy friend Anthony, we identified sites along the route from San Jose to Pasadena where the Bolt could fast-charge in conjunction with bathroom breaks and meals for us.

In case we needed them, I identified fast chargers in both King City and Paso Robles as possible en-route stopping points.

We left at 9 am with a full charge, headed for a 1 pm appointment at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Based on my previous driving style, the Bolt EV told us we had 185 miles of range.

ALSO SEE: Science Guy Bill Nye buys Chevy Bolt EV, his seventh electric car

On paper, the Bolt has a range of 238 miles, so our plan was to try to make it all the way before our first charging stop, a distance of about 185 miles and about 2 hours 45 minutes away from home.

As it turned out, we ended up stopping in both King City and Paso Robles for quick top-ups and bathroom breaks.

With my little lead foot taking us down the freeway at an average of 80 mph, we got nowhere near the 238-mile rated range. After 103 miles, we showed only 70 miles of remaining range.

Energy efficiency and distance covered in 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV road trip by owner Dawn Hall

Energy efficiency and distance covered in 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV road trip by owner Dawn Hall

Since I was behind the wheel, I was getting anxious about running out of charge in the middle of nowhere with an angry teenage girl.

Sarah didn’t seem to mind the breaks, and luckily, I had budgeted plenty of travel time as a precaution. However, this began to teach us lessons in both patience and how much charge we really need.

We also stopped at the Chevy dealer in San Luis Obispo, with 24 miles left, because my cellphone wasn’t charging properly on the car’s USB ports.

The Bolt EV relies on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to provide navigation via the driver's own mobile phone, so having a working USB to charge the phone was critical.

Owner Dawn Hall before 800-mile road trip in 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car

Owner Dawn Hall before 800-mile road trip in 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car

We left the Bolt EV with the dealer and got a ride to the college in time for our meeting. It turned out to be a faulty USB cable, rather than the car.

However, when we got back from the college, we found the dealer hadn't put the car on any variety of charger—so we still had just 24 miles left.  Thanks, Alfano Chevrolet.

So we reverted to our original plan: after the tour, we'd park at Marigold Center in San Luis Obispo, about 6 miles off the freeway, and recharge at an EVgo fast-charging station while having lunch.

That taught us that EVgo provides exactly 30 minutes of charging, and then automatically shuts off. I guess they think people drive Nissan Leafs or other shorter-range electric cars?

CHECK YOUR STATE: When can I buy a Chevy Bolt EV electric car? See state-by-state schedule

We ended up paying for a second charging session, which got us up to about an 80-percent battery charge. We figured that would be good enough to get us to our next charging station, which ended up being a ChargePoint location in Ventura.

Luckily, Sarah was getting into the spirit of electric-car road-trip adventure.  Whenever I would pass a slow-moving car or truck, she’d cry out, “Mom! Stop wasting our charge!”  Going downhill, she would laugh and scream, “Regeneration!”  

It may have helped that I let her play her music—ironically a few One Direction songs)—through the car’s audio system, but at least it wasn’t turning into a teen-angst horror drive.

EVgo charging station

EVgo charging station

Another learning point is that, in general, the EVgo stations seemed to charge at a faster rate than the ChargePoint CCS fast-charging sites.

The EVgo chargers seemed to vary in rate, depending on what charge level the car could accept, while the ChargePoint sites charged at 21.7 kilowatts—well below the Bolt EV's rated capability of 80 kw.

We charged for about  an hour and a half while we ate dinner in Ventura. That brought us back up to about 80 percent and got us to our hotel in Pasadena at 9 pm, with about 28 miles left. Hooray! We had made it.

After 12 hours on the road, I was exhausted—and in my exhaustion, I decided we should charge the Bolt overnight at a 240-volt Level 2 station, so it would have a full charge in the morning.

I dropped my daughter off at the hotel and went looking for the charging stations that were within 4 blocks and “always open," according to the ChargePoint app. It turned out these were all in office buildings that weren't actually open or that charged outrageous fees for parking.

After 45 minutes of pointless wandering, I was extremely frustrated and finally gave up, deciding I would find a place in the morning at CalTech and charge while Sarah and I toured the campus.

Tired and frustrated, I went back to the hotel and went to bed.

2015 Nissan Leaf at ChargePoint fast charger at DeCormier Nissan, Manchester, CT [photo John Briggs]

2015 Nissan Leaf at ChargePoint fast charger at DeCormier Nissan, Manchester, CT [photo John Briggs]

The next day I woke up early and found a charging station at the college listed on the Chargepoint app. I drove the car down there at 7 am. This one was easy to find, but it had a 4-hour limit, which actually worked perfectly with our tour schedule.

After plugging the car in, I walked back to the hotel and had some down time before waking up my daughter. Then, we walked around the area and packed our things until 10:30 am, when I walked (about a quarter of a mile) back to retrieve the car.

We packed up the car and drove a couple of miles into town for a little sightseeing. At 12:30 we returned to the college, parked at a different ChargePoint Level 2 station, and did our tour of the campus while the Bolt EV charged. We came back to the car at about 3:15 pm.

After charging for a total of just under 7 hours, we seemed to have about an 80-percent charge with an estimated range of 142 miles—and it was time to tackle our drive home, reversing the route we had taken to get down to Southern California.

Owner Dawn Hall before 800-mile road trip in 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car

Owner Dawn Hall before 800-mile road trip in 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car

This time, we passed Ventura and made it to La Cumber Plaza in Santa Barbara a little after 5 pm (right before Highway 154 would take us over the high pass). We charged at an EVgo fast charger for 1 hour, giving us about 170 miles.

I definitely got more screams about using up our charge as we went over the pass.

We stopped again at Marigold Center in San Luis Obispo, but this time something was wrong with the machine, and we only got 13 more miles during the 30-minute “fast” charge—far slower than when we charged at that same station the day before!  

Marigold Center is about 6 miles off the freeway so it takes some time to get there, making the detour really frustrating.

Giving up on San Luis Obispo, we drove on to Paso Robles and stopped at a ChargePoint at Cool Hand Luke’s, a local steakhouse. We pulled in sometime after 9:30 pm. We had already eaten so we watched a movie knowing we needed about 2 hours worth of charge to get us to our next stop.

We made the decision not to stay long enough to try to get a full charge to take us back to San Jose, because ChargePoint proved to be significantly slower than EVgo and even with a full charge, it wouldn’t be guaranteed to get us home.

At this point, one of our biggest challenges, in addition to finding a working charger, was trying to figure out how to kill two hours. We ended up watching videos on our cell phones.

Energy efficiency and distance covered in 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV road trip by owner Dawn Hall

Energy efficiency and distance covered in 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV road trip by owner Dawn Hall

It was now late and cold, so we would need to turn on the climate controls for the first time—and we knew that would eat up battery power and drop our range. The plan was to get to Gilroy for the next charge.

We did end up stopping for yet another top off in King City, but that was more for a bathroom break than a charge. We put a 10-minute charge in King City and that got us to Gilroy with 35 miles left. But it was 34 miles to home so we weren’t going to push it.

We did our last half-hour charge in Gilroy at an EVgo station, and finally arrived home in San Jose at 2:45 am with 34 miles left on the car’s dashboard display.

Turning on the climate controls definitely took more battery power, which had lowered our estimated range. The estimated miles left immediately dropped by 10 miles whenever we turned it on.

Our trip back took 11.5 hours with all the charging stops. The total charging cost was $88.00.

Comparing this to a 5-hour trip in a gasoline car along Interstate 5 (or 6 hours via Highway 101), it becomes hard to justify the extra time—especially when using a gasoline car would have cost about the same.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

I estimate a 25-mpg gasoline car would have cost about $84, based on a 700-mile round trip along I-5 paying $3 per gallon for gasoline.

Our electric-car journey required a longer 800-mile route round trip, and took a lot more time. Of our $88 in charging costs, EVgo fees were static at $10.95 per half-hour session, while the ChargePoint fees varied from station to station. 

The location in Paso Robles, for instance, charging 10 cents per minute for parking for the first hour, plus the charging fee, while no other ChargePoint site added a parking fee.

Owner Dawn Hall before 800-mile road trip in 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car

Owner Dawn Hall before 800-mile road trip in 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car

All in all, it was a very informative trip. First, I learned always to have a backup plan.

Second, it turns out even DC fast chargers can charge at different rates. In general, charging took more time than I had anticipated and the cost for charging was a lot more than I had planned.

Third, the Bolt EV's 238-mile rated range can really only be achieved by driving mostly around the speed limit with accessories and climate controls turned off. My 80 mph average speed definitely significantly reduced the distance the car could go before needing another charge.

I also received a lot of help both before and during the trip from my master-planner friend Anthony, who helped me plan the route and worked with me via cellphone during the trip whenever problems came up.

He was my "lifeline" as if we were on a game show. Without Anthony and my daughter playing navigator, I would have had to pull over more often to look at my options.

Chevrolet Bolt EV drives 300 miles [Screenshot from video by owner Glenn Williams]

Chevrolet Bolt EV drives 300 miles [Screenshot from video by owner Glenn Williams]

Also, doing a trip like this with a teenager can be dicey. Teenagers are not usually known for their patience, but my daughter was a trouper through the whole process, which made it a whole lot easier.

I can’t imagine what it would have been like with a complaining teenager in the passenger seat—and I still laugh when I think of her telling me not to waste our charge.

I regularly commute 100 miles a day for work in the Bolt EV, and occasionally I have to add on an additional 30 to 60 miles to drop off and pick up my other daughter on the way to and from work. The Bolt has been fantastic for those purposes, as well as around town.

The money I've saved on gasoline from charging at home, my impact on the environment, and the access to the carpool lanes make having a Bolt EV a great experience.

On the road, the car responds well, with enough pickup to scoot me around cars when I want to. I would call its ride a little bumpier than I’m used to: I seem to feel more of any inconsistencies in the road than I do in my other cars. It’s not so bad that it’s uncomfortable, it’s just noticeable.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Conclusions: the Bolt EV has been perfect for everyday errands and a fairly long commute to work.

But even with its longer range, really long road trips are still a significant challenge—due to the current lack of charging infrastructure, and the long (and variable) charge times.

Until charging sites are more widespread, and fast enough to use the Bolt EV's 80-kw fast-charging ability, I will probably only take it on trips under 200 miles in the future.

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