What my 800km Tesla road trip taught me about EV range and public charging
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Feb 26, 2020
James Carter

A winter drive from Toronto to Ottawa and back showed James Carter and his family how, with the current state of destination charging, EV road trips require planning and precision. Read on to see how the trip unfolded

Photo: James Carter

A winter drive from Toronto to Ottawa and back showed James Carter and his family how, with the current state of destination charging, EV road trips require planning and precision. Read on to see how the trip unfolded

We’re now almost ready for our first family electric road trip in our Tesla Model 3 SR+, from Toronto to Ottawa and back for the long weekend to see the Toronto Maple Leafs play the Ottawa Senators. The trip is 400 kilometres each way, which is theoretically possible without stopping, but given that the car isn’t fully charged (it’s currently at about 75 per cent) and it’s cold (-5°C), we’ll have to stop and charge at least once, maybe twice.

Things we’ll find out:

  • Value of Tesla Superchargers vs. J1772 chargers
  • Accuracy of cold weather range and Tesla energy usage predictions
  • Ease of finding charging stations
  • General cruising comfort and long-distance autopilot usage

Let’s see how it all goes.

Pushing off

We left Toronto with an indicated 280 km range from a 75 per cent charge. Upon leaving we entered the Ottawa address in the Model 3’s navigation, and it suggested that two charging stops, one in Port Hope for 20 minutes, the other in Kingston for 30 minutes, meaning we’d arrive with 10 per cent charge remaining – not much of a buffer. It also predicted a five-hour trip, which is one hour longer than normal.

Tesla charging in Toronto driveway
James Carter’s electric car, charging pre-departure in Toronto

Once we’d cleared the city, it became obvious that the car was using much more energy than it had assumed – about 230 Wh per kilometer at 120 km/h. This meant we arrived at Port Hope with less energy than expected, so I decided to leave it on the Supercharger for an extra 15 minutes.

We faced the same issue at Kingston, and were fortunate to grab the last available Supercharger. As we were having lunch, we let the car fully charge to ensure a large buffer, with 365 km range indicated.

Just as well, as we made the remaining 180 km to Ottawa with only an indicated 35 km left, taking just under six hours. There’s no charger at the hotel, so after we settle, I’m off to find juice, with the car indicating “very low charge.” By the way, the Leafs beat the Senators 4-2.

The best of times

A couple (very) high points about road tripping with a Tesla:

  1. Autopilot: Though we all know it is completely mis-named, the self-steer/active cruise control is a huge benefit in reducing driver fatigue. Even though you’re still actively engaged in driving, reducing the focus in always ensuring that the car is properly aligned in the lane is a seriously big help, in much the same way normal cruise control alleviates constant throttle inputs to maintain a constant speed, and therefore reduces fatigue. Ours does not have FSD (Full Self-Driving Capability), and I can see one touch lane change from that being a real help.
  2. Supercharger network: It is an absolute understatement to say that using this is completely seamless and hassle free. I can’t emphasize how important this is in EV ownership. More on this later.

These two parts of Model 3 cruising are particularly good, if not industry leading. The Model 3 is also pretty close to its direct competitors in cruising comfort – it’s a quiet, relaxing place to be, with perhaps the biggest issue being a slightly fidgety ride from the 19” sport rims with winter tires.

Problems plugging in

Once we had arrived at the Ottawa hotel, we had to figure out charging – which had to be sorted before the big hockey game. My wife’s family had arranged the hotel and hadn’t considered our EV, so there’s no charger on site. A real drag.

This meant consulting PlugShare for nearby destination chargers, and with only 30 km remaining, it had to be close. With some looking, we found one about a half mile away, outside a condo. However, due to a unique app sign-up and an ominous warning about non-registered visitor vehicles being liable to towing, we decided to move on.

“There are still some very large infrastructure gaps for EVs”

James Carter, Vision Mobility

The next was at a Mitsubishi dealership another half mile away. On arrival we did a loop around the building and found the Level 2 ChargePoint charger, which was available. Unfortunately, my ChargePoint account, which I needed to add a credit card to, wouldn’t work. I rang the helpful customer assistance who got it working, but at this time an hour had gone by, and I now faced a one mile walk back to the hotel in -5°C before getting ready for the game.

In other words, if you think pumping gas is a pain, the worst of EV charging can be much worse. There are still some very large infrastructure gaps for EVs.

After seeing the Toronto Maple Leafs win the hockey game, a huge wait for Ubers and an eventual order mixup meant I ended up walking back to get the car from the Mitsubishi dealership charger (the rest of the family took Uber), about one and a half to two miles. This meant a 45-minute walk/run in -7°C at 10pm, and on occasion, shin deep snow. On the bright side, it was good exercise, but this is not something I would want to do regularly.

“Non-Tesla charging is still the wild west, and dealers clearly don’t ‘get’ the opportunity in front of them – and that equals disruption”

James Carter, Vision Mobility

Arriving at the dealership, I found that dealer staff had blocked my exit path with a vehicle, but with *just* enough gap to squeeze past. Clearly the dealer was sending a message – this charger isn’t for use outside business hours, despite the listing on PlugShare.

It goes to show that non-Tesla charging is still the wild west, and dealers clearly don’t “get” the opportunity in front of them – and that equals disruption.

The journey home

Today we return to Toronto and it’s going to be interesting.

Last night we Supercharged in Ottawa to just under 100 per cent during dinner in preparation for returning, with the car showing around 350 km of range. Leaving our dinner party halfway through to move out the Supercharger bay, however, wasn’t cool.

However, after the 24 km back to the hotel and some range loss in the -15°C overnight, the car was showing a range of under 300 km, meaning it was unlikely we’d make it to Kingston even though it was only 180 km away.

Our Tesla's route from Ottawa to Toronto
Part of the route mapped from Ottawa to Toronto

This meant getting up early and driving to the nearby Brookstreet Hotel for Tesla destination charging, where I stayed for about an hour and a quarter, topping it up to an indicated 335 km. Getting to Kingston, however, would still be tight.

Out on the road we decided to keep our speed to 115 km/h to play it safe with our battery life. After only about 20 minutes in the car, in fact, it told us to “Keep speed below 120 km/h to reach destination”. Soon after, it gave us the same warning for 115 km/h.

Much to the chagrin of my wife, we dropped our speed to 100 km/h as a precautionary buffer. After 20 km we saw our buffer quickly increase, allowing us to up the speed to 110 km/h and later 115, then 120 km/h. We’ll be fine, we figured.

Lessons learned

After reaching Kingston safely, but with only 10 per cent charge remaining, we discovered all the Superchargers were in use. We only had to wait a few minutes, however, before someone left.  

While we ate lunch, the car charged to about 80 per cent before we headed for Toronto. We had one more stop at Port Hope for a 15-minute charge and restroom break, and landed home with about 20 per cent charge remaining. A complete non-event after our Ottawa issues.

Some reflections on the trip:

  1. Cold weather, plus 120 km/h speed, plus load, plus 19″ sport wheels with winter tires all resulted in a big hit to range.
  2. Destination charging is essential for a pleasant road trip.
  3. EV charging, apart from Tesla, is still the wild west. If you’re using J1772, a road trip would be much harder.
  4. The Model 3 is a pleasant road trip companion, and auto pilot is worth its weight in gold.

Key learning: It’s perfectly possible to road trip a Tesla Model 3 SR+. Just do a little planning beforehand to avoid some major hassles.

This article originally appeared as a seven-part post on LinkedIn.

James Carter Vision Mobility

James Carter is Principal Consultant of Vision Mobility, a Toronto-based consultancy that provides services to OEMs, Tier 1s, dealers, startups, industry organizations and companies on strategies to succeed in a New Mobility environment. Prior to that, James worked for Toyota for 19 years in Australia, Asia and North America.

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