Are we at the end of the autonomy of electric vehicles?

EV range anxiety is on the mind. That’s basically what we found on our roughly 4,500 mile road trip in a Tesla Model 3 Long Range rented from Hertz, in which we scoured some of the wildest parts of the Northwest in search of the America’s fastest and most reliable cellular network.

Recharging involves a different mentality than filling up a gasoline-powered car, as we discovered on the road. With gas, you pretty much assume there’s always a station a few miles away, so you can fill up when you’re low.

With chargers, it’s different. Especially on the long stages, our drivers periodically stopped for 15-30 minutes just to refuel and stretch their legs.

Along the way, we also looked for hotels with their own chargers. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it wasn’t.

“Access to destination chargers was a mixed bag for me,” says driver Chloe Albanesius. “In Phoenix it was first come first serve and I think one of them was designated valet. They were both busy with the same two Teslas the whole time I was there, so I used the Supercharger (very busy) Vegas everything was valet handled and very easy I pulled over they asked me if I wanted them to recharge it and I picked it up the next day fully charged.

Our driver Angela Moscaritolo gave an in-depth look at her first time driving a Tesla. She pointed out that you can’t always fill the “tank” all the way. “During my road trip, I encountered several “high-use” boost stations, where Tesla caps your maximum charge level at 80%. Watch out for idling charges at high-use stations; I once had to pay $7 to stay at one for too long,” she wrote.

The EV part of our test run for the best mobile networks 2022 (Image: Sascha Segan)

Danger: low voltage

Tesla’s own Supercharger network was key to managing this road trip. We looked for superchargers rated at 150kW or more, the only ones that could “refuel” the car fast enough for us to keep to schedule on long rural trips: they delivered 10 times the speed, or more , compared to low voltage CCS. or Chargepoint chargers that we have come across. It became clear to us, pretty quickly, that you either find a 150kW charger or recharge overnight.

Many of our Supercharger charges lasted 15-30 minutes, although we rarely filled the battery to 100%. Ten minutes in a Laytonville, Calif. mall with a 150kW charger gave us 20% of our battery; 25 minutes at the Glendale Galleria mall with a 250kW charger gave us 58% more battery. Most of the Superchargers we found were in malls or in our hotels, allowing us to walk around and grab a bite to eat while filling up, or fall asleep and wake up with the car fully charged. The Tesla directs you to chargers as part of its tablet UI, and it’s wise to assume you need to plan charges for any long trip.

Other networks are scrambling to come up to Tesla’s standards. PlugShare(Opens in a new window) has the best search engine for non-Tesla high-powered chargers, and while there are plenty of 120kW+ chargers in metropolitan areas, the options on our specific route in rural Idaho and northern California were thinner than those of Tesla.

Bring back home

Our trip was extreme. Very few people drive anywhere near the Tesla Model 3 LR’s stated limit of 358 miles per day. But the concept of range anxiety isn’t just about your daily commute; it’s also about those occasional trips for vacations or to see family that can keep people from buying electric cars.

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Most people’s daily commutes are within the 110-mile range of the electric Mini Cooper SE(Opens in a new window), and most people charge at home. According to a 2022 report from Chargepoint, 80% of charging takes place at home(Opens in a new window), not at public charging stations. According to ChargePoint, the average electric car driver only uses a public fast charger six times a year.

According to a 2018 report (Opens in a new window)According to StreetlightData, the state with the longest median round trip was Maine, where people typically drive about 20 miles round trip per day. Double that by adding trips to the soccer field and the grocery store, and you’re still struggling to go more than 50 miles. According to Cox Automotive’s analysis of rental vehicles, most of them do not travel more than 60 miles per day.

Even in the most extreme travel circumstances, we are still well below the range of modern electric vehicles. The cheapest new electric car available in America, the 2023 Chevy Bolt(Opens in a new window)has a range of 259 miles which exceeds even the travel distance for the five most extreme rural postcodes in the StreetlightData study.

If you’re looking for flexibility and affordable refueling on the road, you might still want a hybrid, even a plug-in hybrid for the best of both worlds. But at this point, we really need to get over charging anxiety and move on to wider adoption of electric vehicles.

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