Electrifying road trip

Will Beckett, who drove up to the Oregon coast from California with his wife, Michelle Murray, shows the bells and whistles in his Chevrolet Bolt as he charges up at the Inn at Otter Crest in Otter Rock. (Photos by Madeline Shannon)

Electric vehicle drivers push for more local charging stations

OTTER ROCK — Driving a Chevrolet Bolt from Southern California up to Oregon, married couple Will Becket and Michelle Murray stopped at electric vehicle (EV) charging stations along the way, taking anywhere from three hours to overnight to power up before embarking on the next leg of their journey. 

However, with some parts of the West Coast still lacking infrastructure to support electric vehicle charging, the couple, as well as fellow EV drivers, want more charging stations in rural stretches of the state. 

“That’s a problem for us,” Beckett said. “There’s not as many from here to the California border. There’s one station at the [Seven Feathers Casino & Resort], I think.”

Beckett, a California native, and his wife started driving in Santa Cruz and drove up to Ashland, Ore., the site of several charging stations. There are four or five stations in downtown Ashland alone, by Beckett’s count, and one quick charge station for drivers like Beckett, who likes to do “the long hauls,” as he called longer trips. 

“Quick charge stations become a real necessity,” Beckett told the News-Times. “We had really good luck coming up here. We heard so many horror stories about people going to stations either having them blocked by gas cars or not functioning. So you go there and expect to get a charge and you can’t do it.”

Another challenge, especially for electric car drivers going on rural roads like the California couple did, is that many EV charging stations are only along major highways or freeways.

“Especially if you’re doing these road trips where we go on back country [roads] and unusual places, not down freeways, then it gets tricky to find a recharge station that’s powerful enough,” Murray said. “We plan to stay overnight usually, but sometimes you’d like to go someplace in between or way out, and it’s hard to find something that will charge you in a short enough amount of time.”

The trips Beckett and Murray go on are helped along by smartphone apps like PlugShare or ChargeHub, which tell EV drivers where charging stations are located. Those apps provide a crucial service for drivers of various makes and models of electric cars, since charging stations can differ for drivers of Teslas versus drivers of other makes like Beckett’s and Murray’s Chevy Bolt.

Those apps also inform drivers of the quality of those stations — drivers stop at one station and can write a review on their chosen app for other drivers. Those apps can tell drivers whether or not that station is open and functioning, Beckett said. 

“There are great apps that tell you what experience people had,” Beckett said. “So you kind of use those to get a flavor for if that is a safe station to go to.”

The couple’s Bolt has a range of 238 miles, which presents a problem when there’s a long stretch with few or no charging stations. While an EV driver can stretch out the range depending on how they drive, Beckett said, it’s easy to be at the mercy of where the closest quick-charging station is and the kilowatt capacity at each station. 

“Quick-charge stations vary,” Beckett said. “The lowest level is 24 kilowatts. The highest is 125 right now, but they’re planning on 350.”

The Inn at Otter Crest, where Beckett and Murray stayed, already has a Tesla charging station, but it also makes other outdoor electrical outlets available to drivers of other EV makes and models. The station at the hotel is configured as a plug so that non-Tesla drivers can hook up to the Tesla charger and power up. 

“We put a request in with Tesla to become a destination charger,” said Vince Pappalardo, himself a Tesla Model X driver and operations manager for the Inn at Otter Crest. “We’re going to put in a 240-volt plug, 50 amp, so you can get 25 miles of charge an hour.”

Pappalardo, who bought his Tesla Model X a year ago, drove to San Diego in July 2018 and credits the supercharging network with making the journey easy. The Tesla charging network will show a driver where each Tesla charging station is, how long it will take to power up and prepares the battery to go to the station. 

“It knows you’re going to a charging station, and it pre-conditions the battery so that it’s a faster charge,” Pappalardo said. “Charging, it wants to have it at a certain temperature.”

Some stretches of the road on long journeys require some planning, Pappalardo said, since EV drivers can’t just find a gas station to fuel up on the drive. 

“But Tesla beat that by putting charging stations all over the place, and I really don’t have to worry about going anywhere in North America,” he said. “Even Canada — I wanted to go up to Tofino. [There are] two charging stops.”

For Tesla drivers, finding a charging station within driving range isn’t difficult. There are three on the Oregon coast alone, in Bandon, Lincoln City and Seaside. There are 11 others throughout the state, north Grants Pass (at the Seven Feathers Casino & Resort), Klamath Falls, Eugene, Woodburn, Tigard, Sandy, The Dalles, Detroit, Bend, Pendleton and Baker City. 

For drivers of other EVs, like the Jaguar I-Pace, Audi e-tron or the Volkswagen I.D. Crozz, among many other makes and models, the charging station landscape can be more challenging. 

Non-Tesla EV drivers can use Plugshare.com, a website that maps where electric vehicle charging stations are located. Some stations are listed with a wrench in place of a gas pump, which shows that station has yet to be turned on. There are currently two charging stations in Newport at Power Chevrolet — one functioning slow-charging station, and another fast-charging station that is out of service.

“The fast-charging station quit working,” said an employee of Power Chevrolet, who declined to be named. “The manufacturer has some issues, and they’re way on backorder.”

The employee of the car dealership said electric vehicles aren’t without their problems. While the concept behind EVs is to cut down on pollution emitted by traditional gas-powered cars, the environmental cost of manufacturing those vehicles mirrors the effects of gas vehicles. 

“The entire idea was to help with pollution and to cut down on that,” the employee said. “But they’re more pollutable than what gas cars are today. The whole thing is a scam.”

Despite the criticism of electric cars, including that they do leave people stranded, the employee said the car dealership does plan to have the out-of-commission charging station up and running again in the near future.

“Hopefully, our electric station is going again soon,” the employee said. 

With the evolution of EV technology over the years, EV drivers believe the technology and the cars will become more and more commonplace as more manufacturers adopt electric cars and make them more widespread. The technology won’t just evolve, according to Pappalardo. It will also require an evolution of how people think about traveling via car. 

“It’s also a mindset in traveling,” he said. “People just want to drive really hard and get there really fast and then collapse. Well, you can’t do that in an electric car because if it’s over your range, you’re not going to do that.”

Those aren’t the only changes electric car drivers saw over the last several years to the EV landscape. Cars can go a lot further on less battery charge, Beckett said, and batteries are more reliable.

“They, for the weight, give you more range,” he said. “And the cost in the last four years dropped significantly. So that’s why you’re seeing a lot more electric cars now than you ever did before and ranges are going up.”

Several car manufacturers started developing technologies that continuously one-up the competition. Kia upped the mileage to 258 miles on a single charge, and Chevy engineered the terminals to be more efficient. 

By Beckett’s own admission, it might be silly to worry about the continually-increasing mileage on an electric car since most people only drive an average of 40 miles a day, he said. But the assurance is good for long trips. 

“Michelle and I, when we got this car, we thought, ‘Why don't we take this new car on our road trip?’” Beckett said. “We did a 2,400-mile trip to Yosemite, Death Valley and down to Tucson. We came back through Santa Barbara and up to the coast.”

The longtime electric car driver expects the cost and weight of electric cars will go down as battery efficiency and driving range goes up. The most important facet, Beckett added, will be the cost efficiency of electric cars versus traditional gas-powered vehicles.

“On the showroom floor, electric cars are going to be lower-cost than gas car equivalents,” Beckett said. “Right now, the cost of operation makes the long-term cost lower for an electric system. But when they’re lower at the showroom floor, why would you buy a gas car?”

With the development of increasingly more efficient technology, Murray sees long trips becoming available to more and more drivers, if the bottleneck of enough stations doesn’t impede EV drivers from being able to charge up. 

“I foresee a future not very far away where it’ll be just like a gas station,” Murray said. “You go, you plug in, buy your lunch and you’re on your way.”

The other challenge might be the difference in infrastructure between Tesla chargers and charging stations for other EVs, Murray added. She hopes to see a future in which manufacturers make their charging technology the same. 

“I don’t know if this is possible, but I wish there was some way electrical car manufacturers could cooperate to make it more universal for everybody so there wouldn’t be three different kinds of stations,” Murray said. “[Nissan] LEAF needs this, everything else needs that and the Tesla needs that.”

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