Forget the long kerfuffle that erupted in February between Tesla CEO Elon Musk and New York Times reporter John Broder, who took -- or, tried to take -- a Tesla Model S on an interstate road trip to test out Tesla's fast-charge stations, designed to make EV road trips a reality.
Know, instead, that I managed to take a week-long road trip last summer, driving a Nissan LEAF and using a little-known network of fast-charge stations along U.S. Highway 2 in Washington State. Know, also, that road trips are a possibility in many cities around the world, thanks to improving infrastructure, more cars with fast-charging capabilities, and projects aimed directly at making highway corridors EV-friendly.
In short, pure (non-hybrid) EVs aren't just for commuters anymore.
There are caveats. The first is that road trips are most accessible to Tesla drivers, both because of the car's superior battery range and the fact that Teslas can use anything from a household outlet to one of Tesla's proprietary charging stations, plus most public charging stations, to refill the battery. But the Nissan LEAF and the Mitsubishi MiEV also offer an advantage because they support "level 3" or DC charging, which can replenish a battery in around 20 to 30 minutes, versus four hours at a level 2 charging station (or up to 8 hours at a level 1 charger, which is a basic wall outlet). Soon, more EV makes and models will support fast-charging, too.
North American EV drivers planning a road trip can benefit from PlugShare, a mobile app that shows the nearest charging station to your current location and also offers reviews by other users, who comment on things like the functionality of the charger and how much the charge costs (users can also ping PlugShare members with garage chargers if they find themselves on the road, low on charge and nowhere near a public charger). A recent merger with its competitor Recargo -- used largely by Tesla owners -- has bolstered PlugShare's network. OpenChargeMap is a global EV charge-point map.
"Three years ago, we only had 600 charging stations mapped [in North America]," says Forrest North, CEO of PlugShare parent company Xatori. "Now there are 5,500 level-1 chargers, 15,000 level-2 and 282 level-3."
Where are the best places to take a road trip in your EV? Allow me to suggest these five great EV-friendly cities.
The European Union has grand long-term plans to make EV chargers as ubiquitous as gas stations -- so far, this strategy is only inching toward reality in Estonia, which has invested heavily in charging stations. But a growing network of fast chargers is enabling road trips from Amsterdam to, well, the nether regions of the The Netherlands -- and into neighboring countries, as well.
You probably don't equate Nashville, or the south, in general, with EVs. But with Nissan producing the LEAF at its plant in Smyrna, Tennessee is banking on the LEAF catching on and has the charging network needed to support them. More than 15 level 3 chargers, located along highway corridors (mostly hosted by Cracker Barrel restaurants) that link Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville means an EV road trip through these hotspots is not just possible, it's easy.
Portland (Oregon) and Seattle
I've grouped these two Pacific Northwest towns because they are connected through the West Coast Green Highway project, a network of level 3 charging stations located every 25 to 50 miles along Interstate 5. Eventually, the network will extend all the way to the Mexican border. Even better, charging stations along arterial highways means you can reach great mountain towns from Leavenworth, Washington, on Highway 2, to Hood River, Oregon, on Highway 84. "Oregon is expanding the fast-charging network quite a bit, west out to the Oregon coast and inland from I-5," notes Frank Wong, director of commercial sales for EV charger manufacturer AeroVironment.
Japan is the birthplace of CHAdeMO, the moniker of the initial fast-charging plug standard, on which subsequent standards in the United States and Europe are based. No surprise, then, that the Tokyo Electric Power Company has been installing these charging station around Tokyo since 2008. While public opinion about powering cars with electricity has fallen since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, there is still a large base of EV drivers all over the country.
(Top Image: PlugShare screen capture)