TRAVERSE CITY, MI – It’s about 240 miles (386 km) from our suburban Detroit offices to the site of the annual Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars here, and our vehicle of choice, the Chevrolet Bolt EV, has an EPA-official range of 238 miles (383 km).
We could have said “impossible” and walked away from this endeavor, but we like challenges – especially ones that involve long road trips and unique vehicles. So we booked the car, and like a new owner facing the prospect of taking the first extended drive in our all-electric car, we started doing our homework.
It’s important to understand the Bolt EV’s 238-mile range is based on an EPA cycle that includes a mix of city and highway driving, with the highway miles at 5- to 10-mph (8-16 km/h) below the typical freeway limit. We calculate no matter how efficiently we drive, we’ll have to build in a recharging stop somewhere along the way.
Conversely, if we hammer the accelerator from launch, run the air-conditioning full blast and power up the freeway at 70 mph (113 km/h), we might only see about 170 miles (274 km) of range, a nearly 30% hit from the EPA rating.
Recharging, we learn, takes about an hour for every 25 miles (40 km) of range on a newer Level 2, 240V, 32-amp outlet, or about 9 hours from fully depleted to fully charged. That jumps to 17-18 hours on an older 16-amp Level 2 charger, so we want to go with the best equipment we can find. For comparison purposes, it takes 60 hours to fully charge the Bolt from a 110V household outlet, but less than two hours if we come across a Level 3 DC Fast Charger. It’d be nice to find a few of those on our route.
Using the website (and mobile app) PlugShare, we identify some charging options: About 150 miles (241 km) out there’s a Consumer’s Energy building just off the freeway in West Branch with several Level 2 (240V) chargers, but it’s in the middle of nowhere so we’d have to pack a lunch.
Or we can leg it out another 25 miles to a single Level 2 plug laying in the weeds out behind the Dairy Queen restaurant in a strip mall in Grayling.
With the range gauge reading 248 miles (399 km) at the start from home, we decide to shoot for Grayling, driving a mix of lower-speed, two-lane “blue” highways and some interstate, keeping the A/C use to a minimum, as we strive for efficiency to preserve our power supply.
We make the 175-mile (282-km) run to the DQ charger with 66 miles (106 km) of range left, so we opt for a 1-hour lunch/charging/Blizzard dessert stop that nets us an extra 38 miles (61 km) of range to make the final 45 miles (72 km) to Grand Traverse Resort, site of the MBS.
With 104 miles (167 km) available and some nice driving roads ahead, we drop our green pretense and let the Bolt EV unwind. But even punching it off the line, running at speed and blasting the A/C doesn’t severely diminish our energy supply. We’ve been driving in “L,” giving us the highest level of regenerative braking possible throughout the trip, but now in zones where we’re doing more braking, we’re seeing real returns.
We coast EV-quiet into our resort destination, still packing 69 miles (111 km) of range, more than enough power to make a run up the picturesque Leelanau Peninsula if we so desired. But now it’s time to check in, plug in and let the Bolt EV charge up for its next outing.
Though we’ve called ahead to verify the operating status of the resort’s chargers, they’re still a little finicky when it comes to letting loose the juice. After a few failed attempts, we dig the 110V cord out of the trunk and snake it across the lawn to a nearby outlet.
It’ll take a while longer, but by the time we need to drive back down state, our little-car-that-could should be fully amped up and ready to roll again.
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