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A Road Trip in a Range Extended EV

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Below is a guest blog from one of DENC’s staff members, who recently purchased a 2013 Chevy Volt and drove it from Ohio to Colorado.


In the last several years working for the Electrification Coalition I have organized and hosted nearly 85 EV Ride and Drive events. Our Ride and Drives on average are four hours long, meaning over the last three years I have spent roughly 340 hours advocating for EVs, only counting the time I’ve spent on test drives. I know the ins-and-outs of almost every electric vehicle on the market. I’ve also overseen our blog and social media, constituting countless hours of online EV advocacy. After all of that advocacy, on December 22, 2016, I finally became an EV owner.

At age 24, 2016 was the first year I had considered purchasing a vehicle. Having learned about the difference between battery electric vehicles (BEVs) like the LEAF, plug-in hybrid vehicles like the Ford Fusion Energi, and range extended EVs like the Chevy Volt, it was an easy decision for which type of vehicle I would consider.

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The Volt ready to depart on the 20 hour road trip.

As a “millennial” a few of my primary concerns were cost, the flexibility to travel if needed, and alleviating those concerns with owning one vehicle. This eliminated current BEV models, as I would be purchasing a used EV based on cost, and current used BEV options would not meet the range I need for my long-distance road trips to visit my family in the mountains. I was also focused on the ability to drive on all electric for the majority of my driving, so this eliminated plug-in hybrids due to the limited electric range, and the integration of the engine and battery which makes driving on all electric challenging. For example, with PHEVs, stepping on the accelerator too hard will turn on the engine. That decision-making process left me with the Chevy Volt. I am confident in the engineering of the Volt as a range extended EV. This means that I will be able to drive on EV mode for 90% of my driving needs and deliberately use the gasoline range extender when I need to do so.

My road trip from Cleveland, Ohio to Fort Collins, Colorado was the perfect opportunity to test out my travel and road trip needs as an EV owner. On December 22, I purchased my 2013 Chevy Volt and on January 3, I drove it across the country.

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Driving through parts of Winter Storm Helena, my Volt got a little icy.

I checked the weather the day before I set off to drive across country to find Winter Storm Helena hovering directly over Highway 70, the route I would be driving over the next few days. I am confident in the handling of the Volt, having run test drives with it for the last few years, but it is still a front wheel drive vehicle. I felt it was worth putting snow tires on the vehicle to increase my confidence driving through the snow storm. Luckily the worst of Winter Storm Helena had passed by the time I was on the roads, but it left ice and snow across Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas. The Volt handled very well in these conditions, particularly with the snow tires. Because of this I wasn’t concerned for my safety at any point during the drive, even with the winter conditions.

As I was not the first to drive a Volt across country, I was able to learn from blogs and online forums for recommendations on maximizing efficiency of the Volt on long distance trips. When fully charged, the Volt can be placed into “Hold” mode, and the efficiency of the vehicle increased when driving on gasoline. Note: 2012 Volts and before do not come with the “Hold” function, so if this is something you plan to use I recommend purchasing a 2013 Volt or later. I noticed this was effective and used this method for the entire trip.

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Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City offered EV charging to recharge on my trip.

Half way through the 20 hour drive I stopped in Kansas City to visit a friend. A true Colorado native, one of my priorities was to investigate the local craft beer culture. As in Colorado, breweries tend to have strong sustainability platforms and generally have an interest in innovation—the perfect fit for EV advocacy. I was excited to find EV charging at Boulevard Brewing company, where I charged back up to full battery capacity for the second half of the drive.

Overall the road trip took me 22 hours, not including the day-long pause in Kansas City. I stopped to get gas 6 times, slightly more than a conventional gas vehicle would because of the smaller tank size of the Volt. The Volt handled great on the trip and made the trip incredibly easy. The option to drive instead of ship likely saved me $500-$1000 and was an exciting way to prove the durability of my new car.

For those considering distance trips in your range extended EVs, here are some of my lessons learned:

  • As is likely anticipated, snow tires will negatively impact the MPG of the vehicle. In my experience, it was by about two MPG.
  • Having a full charge and placing the car on “Hold” mode will increase MPG.
  • Read through some of the owner forums before your trip to learn about the experience of others. This will make you feel more comfortable about your drive and may help you find additional recommendations to increase efficiency of the vehicle on long trips.

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