One Reporter's Road Trip Nightmare Proves the Electric Vehicle Skeptics Right
As much as the environmentalist crowd and proponents of "green" renewable energy enjoy touting the newest technological innovations as something of a godsend, many Americans remain skeptical of the advances. Even the seemingly unstoppable climb in gas prices fails to move many who simply don't believe their neighbor's Prius is the solution to their fiscal woes. Perhaps it's just intransigence. Maybe Americans simply aren't prepared to adopt the new technology simply because we're stuck in our ways--who doesn't enjoy hearing the purr of a finely tuned vehicle or the roar as you stomp the gas at a light that has only just turned green.
But it may also be that people have weighed to pros and cons, looked into the capabilities, and made an educated choice based on all the relevant factors. If they haven't, or if they are still thinking about making the move to an electric vehicle, the story of one journalist's nightmare road trip might be the final bit of information they need to make a decision.
Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Rachel Wolfe prepared and planned for a recent trip with all the glee of a child counting down the days to Christmas the year before finding out Santa doesn't actually exist. She is hopeful to the point of giddiness, unaware that the fantasy she's been told is all about to come crashing down, in due time.
She's responsible about the planning, outlining the entire itinerary, and planning every stop to charge her rented Kia EV6. She's so sure about her plan that she invites along her friend who has a hard time to meet--a shift at work at the end of the trip.
What Wolfe and her friend Mack find out, however, is the truth.
The reality of the electric vehicle infrastructure immediately slaps the duo in the face. Not only are chargers apparently divided into quick chargers and, well, not, but among those chargers there exists an extremely and ultimately disconcerting caveat to the moniker "quick charger." This categorization is given to those machines capable of supplying from 24-350kW, a range that proves troublesome as it translates into far longer charge times when the machine you've stopped at is on the lower end of that spectrum and even worse when it can't even meet the minimum standard, like the machine Wolfe came across in the first leg of her trip.
From there, it only spirals. Suffice it to say, deficiencies in the charging infrastructure as well as flaws in the vehicle itself, which especially suffers through inclement weather, repeatedly deal blow after blow, heartache after headache all the way to the end. What's more, it would seem the universe was attempting to warn the two women about their decision, as person after person along the way voiced apprehension, skepticism, and regret regarding the purchase of electric vehicles.
At one point, to conserve energy, Wolfe and her friend frantically work to cut power consumption to prevent a breakdown on the road in the middle of a storm. "To save power, we turn off the car’s cooling system and the radio, unplug our phones and lower the windshield wipers to the lowest possible setting while still being able to see. Three miles away from the station, we have one mile of estimated range."
Don't worry. This isn't about to turn into a horror movie where they break down in the middle of the night or something. They make it to the next charging station but only right in the nick of time.
"At zero miles, we fly screeching into a gas-station parking lot. A trash can goes flying and lands with a clatter to greet us."
They also manage to make it back to Chicago in just enough time for an emotionally drained and physically exhausted Mack to walk into a shift at work, at least she didn't miss it.
In the end, even Wolfe was forced to come to terms with the reality of the present state of EVs and their support, obviously coming to the conclusion that they aren't all they're cracked up to be.
"The following week, I fill up my Jetta at a local Shell station. Gas is up to $4.08 a gallon. I inhale deeply. Fumes never smelled so sweet."
While I've editorialized quite a bit and condensed her story down to just a few snippets, you can rest assured the entire story is there. And for those of us who have honestly kept an eye on the burgeoning electric vehicle industry, absolutely none of this comes as a shock. The tech is getting there, and I will even concede that it may well become something great and reliable in the future, but that future is not yet upon us. So, while politicians and celebrities laugh at Americans still driving around in gasoline-powered vehicles, pointing at the skyrocketing gas prices and laughing at those forced to pay them, the truth is that even those financially capable of making the change to an EV will find themselves wrestling with the same issues encountered by Wolfe during her brief trip.
Now, I just moved. The drive was about 350 miles one way, and I did it on a single tank of gas. And while even my trip suffered from a few spats of rainy weather, I never had to stop or sacrifice my AC or unplug my phone, turn off the radio, or worry about if my windshield wipers were going to suck up the last bit of fuel in the tank. And if I had run low on fuel, I knew that any gas station could fill me up. And the high prices notwithstanding, that's a level of peace of mind no EV driver can say to have. Or rather, not if they want to pull out of the station in under an hour.
Perhaps what is necessary is not to force Americans to make the transition to EVs; this would only serve to stress an already weak infrastructure. What we need is more responsible policies to lower gasoline prices, make driving more affordable, and provide the requisite amount of time to build that infrastructure if and or when that transition occurs naturally.
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