The All-Electric Road Trip: Is It Possible?

7 years ago

In the course of a year, we find ourselves buzzing down the stretch of highway that leads from Seattle to central Oregon maybe a dozen times, give or take a trip or two. With the assistance of things like Yelp and Urban Spoon, we've learned where to get the best sandwich, where you can get a huge slab of cake with your coffee and where to ask for Korean food instead of reading the menu that the diner waitresses give you. We make this trip in our fairly fuel-efficient car, a Pontiac Vibe that we bought a few years ago. We would have happily bought a hybrid, but we were committed to station wagon configuration -- it works best for road trips -- and the hybrids, tax break or no, were out of our budget.

On our most recent trip down, we got to talking, as we do on long road trips, about if we could make the trip by electric vehicle [EV] -- an all electric car, NOT a hybrid. Most of the electric cars we see buzzing around our lefty, tree-hugging town are glorified golf cars that take the drive to get groceries or sail them through an urban commute. The current best use case looks something like one or two short trips a day with time plugged in at home to recharge your vehicle. There was no way we were going to make it 300 miles in 50-mile chunks, plus, we'd need a charging station or EV-friendly accommodation at every stop.

RWE Electric Car Pilot Project

Our first hurdle would be the just-under 56-mile run from Seattle to Olympia and then the 174-mile stretch between Olympia and a Lacey, just north of Portland. We'd do okay until we got to Eugene, our destination, where we could plug in for the duration of our visit. That's four stops -- keep in mind that it takes about five hours to recharge your ride, depending on what, exactly, you're driving. Should we decide we wanted to go further south, to San Francisco (Seattle to the City by the Bay is a classic road trip!), we'd be out of luck once we left the family homestead in Eugene -- it's over 400 miles to the next charging station in Chico, California.

The short range EV isn't an option for a road trip; we had to find something that would give us some distances. We narrowed it down to two choices, the Nissan Leaf (at about $32k before various tax credits, the Leaf remains out of our budget) and the Tesla Roadster at a whopping $130k. the Leaf clocks in around 100 miles, making it a viable alternative for most things you'd use a car for, but still not quite road trip ready. The Roadster's over 200 mile range makes it the winner, but that price tag, well, we won't be picking one up anytime soon.

In the meantime, there's a slowly expanding infrastructure that's encouraging. In Japan, there are 18,000 hotels that have signed up to support EV travelers. Last year, Element Hotels (that's a Starwood brand, if that means anything to you) announced their intention to provide electric car charging at all their properties, though the six hotels that offer this service are too far apart to serve as base camps for the electric road trip.

While I love the convenience of living with a car, I've successfully proven that I can live without -- save for one thing: the road trip. I realize that our household transportation needs don't align with the problem car manufacturers are seeking to solve -- the errands and commuting cases. While researchers hunker down to solve the problem of EV range, we're stuck with the hybrid -- not a bad compromise, but not available in our price range or desired configuration -- or the dated internal combustion engine.

The Electric Car Road Trip, it seems, will have to wait.

Nerd's Eye View

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