Peaceful EV Feeling

I’ve been a bad evangelist for electric vehicles, but mostly because owning and driving one is almost never a problem.

If I remember correctly, the reason I started an EV Diary was to give other people the kind of resource I wasn’t seeing anywhere else online: a realistic, practical idea of what day-to-day life is like using an electric car. Everything I’d been seeing was from reviewers who’d only tried the car for a week at most; evangelists who’d ignore any glaring issues for the sake of promoting electric vehicles; or nerds who were not just willing but happy to devote a significant chunk of their life towards achieving maximum efficiency.

I haven’t updated in almost a year, but simply because there’s not much to report. I’d say at this point, the honeymoon is over between me and the ID.4 — it’s still the best car I’ve ever owned, but I’m more acutely aware of the little nuisances that I used to overlook. Regardless, I’ve decided to buy the car when its lease is up next year.

Some unorganized observations after two years in a VW ID.4:

Driving isn’t much different.
When I was driving a hybrid, I often let the internet convince me I was a “bad” EV driver because I had too much of a lead foot or didn’t brake or coast correctly, or whatever else people say on EV-oriented forums. I’ve concluded it’s mostly nonsense. I drive pretty much like I always have1With the caveat that “like I always have” includes 13 or so years of driving a hybrid, meaning I’ve gotten very used to coasting to a stop to regenerate power. The biggest difference is that it’s nice to finally have decent acceleration, and enough power to confidently merge or change lanes on the freeway.

Road trips take longer but are much more calm.
I already noticed this while making frequent trips between Oakland and Los Angeles while we were looking for a place to move. Now that we’ve moved to southern California, I’ve taken a (slightly) wider variety of road trips, and I’ve seen that the phenomenon isn’t limited to just I-5. Any trip longer than 200 miles or so, you’re adding at least an hour for charging. And in almost every case, I haven’t minded having the extra time to just sit in the car and relax.

Plus it lets you see some of the picturesque sights of the American west, such as the abandoned Tastee Freeze near the Electrify America station in Firebaugh, CA.

The charging infrastructure itself can be unpredictable.
I made sure to say “almost every case” above, since our recent trip back from Las Vegas took an absurdly long time. It took us over two hours just to get out of the city, since every charging station that we could find south of the Strip was full.

The reason, we discovered after talking to some other drivers at our second stop, was that the chargers were running extremely slowly. Units that promised 150kWh were charging around 20kWh at best2For my car, that would turn the 1 hour charge time to about 7 hours. It was an unusually hot day, so I was assuming that all of the electricity of the grid was going towards HVAC systems, but maybe it was all powering The Sphere or something. We did eventually find an unoccupied charger and let it run just long enough to get us into the desert. And because there are so few charging stations in the desert between Vegas and LA, we were essentially trapped in town until we could get a full charge.

This was a case where driving an internal combustion engine car would’ve cut at least three hours out of our travel time, probably more like four.

There are some neat charging stations in the US.
I’ve been watching the Fully Charged Show channel on YouTube for a while, and they’ll frequently have a video about some new, utopian charging center in the UK or Europe, with dozens of chargers, a comfortable lounge area with a book store and cafe, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see customers getting free massages. I always assumed that that kind of thing would never make it to the US, because there’s just no business model for it. Gas stations explicitly don’t want you spending an hour sitting in their parking lot when they can have 30 or more ICE drivers in the same time span.

But there was a stop in Baker, CA that had at least a dozen Electrify America chargers (and maybe twice as many Tesla chargers), all under huge solar panels that were providing shade to the drivers and electricity to the cars. There’s not much in the way of shopping apart from a gas station mini mart, and I still can’t really wrap my head around a business model that would make these huge stations more common and with more amenities. But at least it was a sign that it is possible over here.

Volkswagen’s “free” charging wasn’t quite as good a deal as I’d thought.
I’d thought I was being really clever by getting a three-year lease on a Volkswagen EV while they were offering three years of free charging at Electrify America stations. And for the first couple of years, it’s worked out pretty well — there are sufficient ones in the Bay Area and in Los Angeles that there was rarely a wait. And as I mentioned before, there were enough along I-5 that road trips between SF and LA were virtually free.

But that luck seems to have run out this year, since I’ve generally had about a 20% success rate of actually being able to find an open and functioning Electrify America charger at a place I actually want to be. I’ve all but given up on the four at our favored grocery store. And the monument to obscene excess that is the Burbank Empire Center has 10 chargers, which are all somehow perpetually occupied.3I just checked and at 11 PM, the time I’m writing this, it says there is only 1 charger available.

I’m guessing that’s a sign that EV adoption has probably crossed some crucial tipping point, so that’s a good sign overall? But I’m also thinking that the days of easy, free charging are over.

Paying for EV charging isn’t cheaper than gasoline for a hybrid car.
I’ve been driving an EV for two years, and a hybrid for around 13 years before that, so I’m out of touch with gas prices. But if I remember correctly, my Honda Insight would usually cost around $35 to fill up in Alameda, CA, with a range of around 400 miles on a tank. My ID.4 would cost around $25 for a full charge were VW not subsidizing it, and it would have a range about 230 miles.

So unless you have a more efficient car than I do, or you have cheaper energy than I do, you’re still having to be a little bit altruistic and doing it for the environment (or hatred of the gas companies, as in my case) to go full electric.

Even with the improvements to public charging infrastructure, it doesn’t make sense to have an EV without home charging.
I was extremely reluctant to concede this point for a very long time. After all, Volkswagen was subsidizing my EV charging. And I work from home, so I usually only need to make a charging stop once every two weeks, at most. It was at worst a minor convenience to spend 45 minutes at a Target or a grocery store buying stuff I’d be getting anyway.

But the model really only works if you’re able to keep the car topped up at home. It’s necessary for emergency travel or even non-emergency unplanned trips. And the unpredictability of public charging means you don’t know how long it’ll take, even if you are able to find a free spot.

I can charge at home where we’re living now, but that wasn’t an option at the house we were renting in Oakland. If we were living in a condo or apartment complex, it’s extremely unlikely we’d be able to charge there, either. It’s a huge block to widespread adoption. The cost of EVs is already a barrier — some manufacturers, like Volkswagen, aren’t even bothering to sell their most affordable EVs in the US — and the fact that charging is all but completely inaccessible to most renters adds another barrier on top of that.

It’s all very discouraging, because I still like my car an awful lot, but I can’t really recommend it to most people. As much as I hate to say it, I’d only recommend a full EV for people who own their home, or have access to a home charger. Anybody else would be better off with a hybrid or plug-in hybrid.

  • 1
    With the caveat that “like I always have” includes 13 or so years of driving a hybrid, meaning I’ve gotten very used to coasting to a stop to regenerate power
  • 2
    For my car, that would turn the 1 hour charge time to about 7 hours
  • 3
    I just checked and at 11 PM, the time I’m writing this, it says there is only 1 charger available.

2 thoughts on “Peaceful EV Feeling”

  1. Thanks for the update Chuck! I too noticed that our plug-in hybrid has such good fuel economy that it’s cheaper per mile using gas than electricity (except when gas prices were really high). However we just got solar panels so I should redo the math in the spreadsheet and see how that looks. 🙂

    1. Congrats on the solar panels! I’d definitely be interested to hear how it affects charging costs — I’d been hearing for a long time how charging an EV was so much more cost-effective than buying gas, but I think that was deliberately slanted (by Tesla, most likely) to compare to the least fuel-efficient ICE cars possible. I routinely got over 40mpg in my Honda, and that wasn’t even a plug-in hybrid.

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