About midway into our drive from Toronto to Montreal during the March Break, I stopped to charge our electric vehicle at a rest stop along the highway, reclined my driver’s seat, closed my eyes and took in the late-winter sunshine.
Life seemed pretty good with an EV at that point in our journey. We were already saving a bundle on gas, and it was easy to find an available fast-charging station when we needed a boost.
But little did I know that dissatisfaction was brewing among my passengers. At the next stop, also to charge, they got a little testy.
“It’s pretty slow to travel this distance in this car, because you won’t charge above 80 per cent. I just don’t get it,” my wife said.
Before I could defend myself – getting a full charge is not good for battery health, slows things down even more at public fast-chargers, and demonstrates poor etiquette if anyone is waiting – my daughter piped in with a couple of pointed questions from the back seat.
“Can we go?” she said. “What are we waiting for?”
“We’re charging,” my wife told her.
Those few lines defined our 550-kilometre drive to Montreal, which took – I’m embarrassed to admit this – nearly eight hours. Yes, one way.
I’ve often driven distances of about 300 km in our Hyundai Ioniq 5, an all-electric vehicle I purchased a little over a year ago. But most of those trips were in the warm summer months, when batteries are more efficient and I can drive for a relatively long time before needing a quick recharge.
But by the end of our road trip to Montreal, I was stumbling for an explanation to calm my mutineers.
In the cold, and driving on winter tires at speeds of about 100 kilometres an hour, the range of our car was noticeably lower. Though our car can travel nearly 400 km on a single charge under ideal conditions, I faced a reduced range below 300 km.
Include a safety buffer – I like to keep at least a 20-per-cent charge, just in case – and my actual range was considerably less, forcing me to stop three times on each leg of the journey.
Adding to the journey’s clock: The fast-chargers I found weren’t charging my battery particularly fast.
They should have charged the battery to 80-per-cent capacity in less than 15 minutes, based on the advertised power, or just enough time to run to the washroom and grab a snack. The actual delivery was far slower, raising the charging time to more than 30 minutes at most stops. At one location, it took an hour.
That adds up over a long journey with a number of stops, and I shudder at the thought of waiting in line (fortunately, a charger was always available when we needed one).
Combine that with time to park and fiddle with a charging app and, well, you have all the ingredients for a mutiny.
According to Jeff Turner, director of clean mobility at Montreal-based Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors, which has worked with the Canadian government on developing charging infrastructure forecasts, the ideal time to recharge at a highway rest stop is about 15 minutes.
“Most people should be able to look at that and say: ‘I need a break every three or four hours anyway, so 15 minutes sounds about right,’” Mr. Turner said.
That doesn’t mean we always need to charge quickly, he added. EV owners don’t need to charge superfast at home if they have access to an overnight charger. Similarly, charging while shopping might favour a more leisurely pace.
“Slower chargers are appropriate in some locations. But when it comes to, for example, getting from Toronto to Montreal as quickly as possible, I think that’s where you need to get charging times down, certainly under 20 minutes,” Mr. Turner said.
Despite its disappointments, I hope Montreal was not our last road trip because it had a number of good points.
We saved at least $150 in gas charges during the round trip because charging was mostly free during a brief revamp by the Ivy Charging Network. We also prevented about 120 litres of fuel from billowing into the atmosphere.
Plenty of roadside charging stations in Montreal meant that we could charge – and park – for just $1 an hour while we visited neighbourhoods in the city.
I can only assume that the highway fast-charging experience will improve with time, as EV travelling becomes more mainstream and we can rely upon chargers to give us the boost we need, now.
Still, I may have to cajole my passengers into taking another long-distance road trip in the winter.
Perhaps next time we’ll travel to Montreal in the summer, when battery efficiency is better and I can drive longer distances between charges.
We can save March Break for somewhere warmer – like Miami. Rather than face a 2,400-km road trip to Florida in an EV, though, I’m guessing my passengers will insist on flying.