When making long trips in an EV, plentiful, reliable, fast charging locations are essential. Electrify America has done a good job of installing fast (150KW and 350KW units) in lots of locations, but the reliability is simply not there today.
Before getting to my thoughts on the state of Electrify America, I will recount our recent experiences. Also, I am restricting this to Electrify America for now for two reasons: firstly, they are the network that provides the Taycan’s included charging service, and secondly, they are the network with the most 350 KW charging units. We have used ChargePoint for a long time with our previous EV, and once with the Taycan too, and while I have never experienced serious problems with their network, the DC chargers they have deployed in most locations seem to be 50 KW units.
I should also note that Electrify America did reach out to me on Twitter and arrange to call me to talk about the experiences we had on this trip. In general, Electrify America support personnel are great, and will do everything they can to make it work, but, much like the Porsche Connect support team, they have very limited tools at their disposal to diagnose issues or resolve problems. Most of the time, the best they have been able to offer is to pass the message on to maintenance to get the charger looked at.
Our recent trip down to SoCal and back highlighted just how much the reliability matters, and how far from achieving it we are. The round trip was just over 1,000 miles, so we needed several charging stops (we also had no charging facilities at our destination, so we needed a charge while there to prep for the return journey). We left Alameda with 100% state of charge; enough to make it to the charger at Walmart in Tulare, about 220 miles away.
Another trip to the foothills of the Sierra Mountains, and back in time to the gold rush era. We have had a couple of trips out this way before to visit parts of California’s gold rush history, including Coloma where the first gold was discovered in 1848.
This week’s road trip was down to Castle Rock State Park. The park is located in the hills above Saratoga. While most of the journey is typical bay area freeway. the drive up to the parking lot along Highway 9 out of Saratoga is another “winding” road with a very smooth surface, and amazing twists and turns.
Aside from the rock that the park is named for, one of the main attractions at the park is a 75 foot waterfall. Given the current conditions in California, it was not a surprise to find that the waterfall was more of a trickle of water down the stone wall, but still offered some impressive views. After that, we continued around the trail to complete the 3 mile loop.
Wilder Ranch State Park is down near Santa Cruz. According to Apple maps, it is about 1hr 20m drive away from Alameda without traffic. It was a lot longer than that on Saturday morning.
We encountered traffic in several places along the route, mainly on HWY-17 before Los Gatos. Sadly, even once we passed that, there was too much traffic on 17 to really enjoy the curves. (“Winding Road” is not really a warning sign, is it?).
Since the traffic was so bad, we stopped for lunch in Santa Cruz; not down by the boardwalk, but on Pacific Avenue. Eating outside on the street we had a mix of poke from Poke House and sandwiches from Zoccoli’s Italian deli. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
As members of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, we have visited multiple times a year most years. Last year, as we all lived through the lockdowns and the global pandemic, the aquarium remained closed and we were unable to visit one of our favorite destinations.
This trip wasn’t quite back to normal (we had to book tickets for the aquarium ahead of time – actually back in April) and we had an assigned 30 minute window when we could enter. Once inside, a few things were different too, though much of the experience was the same. Outside of the aquarium, our trips normally include at least one night in our favorite hotel (the Hilton Garden Inn) where we love the cooked breakfasts, the sheltered outdoor pool and hot tub and the s’mores by the firepit each evening. We also typically enjoy local restaurants for dinners, visit the Dennis the Menace park and perhaps the beach or boating lake. This time we did a day trip, mainly focused on the aquarium visit, though we did get manage to get some other activities in too.
No, not for myself (I’m happy with my recent EV purchase), but for somebody else. We went out to look at three specific models, and to ask about some upcoming ones. We ended up adding one more to the list while we were out.
The original plan was to check out the VW dealer in Oakland, then the Kia dealer nearby, and finally drive to one of the few Hyundai dealers (we ended up picking the Hilltop one). The cars we were interested in seeing and driving were the ID.4, the Kona EV, eNiro and to find out more about the Hyundai Ioniq 5 / Kia EV6.
About two hours east of Alameda, in the foothills of the Sierra mountains is a small town with a big focus on trains. Not modern trains though. Steam trains mainly, and one old diesel loco.
Railtown 1897 is part of the California State Park system, but the trains are operated by volunteers. Entry into the park comes with a ticket for a train ride, and includes a walking tour of the roundhouse, the old machine shop and part of the train yard, as well as a brief history of the Sierra Railway system, and its relationship with Hollywood for both movies and TV shows.
One of the included services the Taycan comes with is unlimited, free 30 minute sessions on Electrify America, the charging network that Volkswagen are building as part of their retribution for dieselgate. As early Tesla Model S and X owners will attest to, free rapid charging makes road trips even better. Half an hour on a 150kW charger should be enough to get the car back up to 80% in most cases. On a 350kW charger, if you can find one, it will be more than you need.
Sounds great doesn’t it? Finally, a network to rival Tesla’s awesome super=charger network, backed by vehicle manufacturers so the experience with their cars will be as seamless as Tesla owners are used to: pull up, plug in and charge. And, yes, that really is how simple it is. We’ve rented a Tesla Model X twice now, once in the UK and once here in California. In both countries the experience was that simple. The navigation took us to the charger location, we plugged in (after a short wait on a couple of occasions) and that was it. No cards, no apps. Just plug in & charge.
This week’s road trip was originally planned to be another state park, but we were invited by some friends to join them cherry picking in Brentwood, so we combined that with a visit to the nearby Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve.
After an unusually early start, we reached the cherry picking farm just after 9:30am (we had a reservation for the 9:30am to 11am time slot since they are limiting the number of people in the orchard for COVID). The drive was mostly uneventful, at least until we got near to the CA-242 split to head into Pittsburg. As we drove by a temporary roadside sign indicating that CA-242 would be closed until 10am (for overnight construction work), the Taycan’s navigation also announced that the road ahead was closed, and that it did not have an alternative route. Then it immediately repeated the announcement, but rather than not having an alternative route it worked out how to get around the closed section of road.
The second road trip in the Taycan is a little more adventurous since the round trip distance exceeds the vehicle’s range. This is the first time we will be required to charge in order to get home.
This was originally going to be our first road trip, replicating the first long trip I made in the first car I bought in the US, back in 1998 the I first arrived here. We moved it to the second for scheduling reasons.
The trip started with the battery at 100%, thanks to our JuiceBox at home, and an estimated range of about 240 miles. The direct route to the park would have been about 130 miles, but we had a stopover in Davis, CA which added a few extra miles to the trip.
The majority of the route was straight freeway driving, but when we turned onto CA-49 for the final few miles into Coloma, CA, the road narrowed and became windy, giving us a chance to see what the Taycan could really do (it is an incredibly impressive machine, and an absolute blast to drive).