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.

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