Your Mileage May Vary
Updated: Oct 27, 2021
When Covid19 first burned its way into the Salt Lake City, Utah, area, most business activity came to a standstill for a time. At least one very welcome result of the shutdown had to do with Salt Lake Valley’s air quality. Whereas geographic and atmospheric factors combine to make grossly unhealthy smog a common Valley feature, our air became noticeably clearer than usual. It was a clarion call’s object lesson: the contribution motor vehicle driving makes to our clean air problem is significant. Which motivated, in April, 2020, my wife and me to buy a brand new, 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric. Why 2019? Because no Kona Electrics but that one were to be found within hundreds of miles of Salt Lake. Initially, we were drawn to the Kona by Consumer Reports’ highly positive evaluation and also by what seemed to be its longest expected driving range, coupled with the most digestible price, this side of Tesla.
EPA’s range estimate for the Kona Electric is 258 miles. On a warm summer day, our fully charged Kona would claim a more ambitious 320 mile range. Admittedly, we indulged in a bit of what we termed “guilt free joy riding” early on, but our use since then has become more practical. And our faith in range estimates somewhat more jaundiced.
Our now married son (son in-law to me) and his bride had set their wedding date for June 20, 2020, to take place in Boulder, Utah (an event that really could not have turned out more splendidly). From our home, Boulder is 250 miles away. We were excited to take our new EV on its first, semi long distance trip, through some pretty impressive scenery.
On June 19 we loaded our Kona up with wedding paraphernalia, a large Yeti cooler full of food/beverages, and our personal travel kits. The sun was shining in the heavens and our spirits were giddy in anticipation of the wedding and our maiden extended highway travel.
The road to Boulder leaves Interstate 15 at Scipio, Utah, where gusting winds, semi trucks, and a rotating inventory of travelers are a constant. As we left the freeway, I noticed an electric billboard at the Scipio Flying J service station announcing EV charging. From Scipio to Boulder is a little less than 130 miles. According to our Kona’s dashboard display, our expected remaining range at that point was just slightly less than 200 miles. Feeling smugly confident that we could make Boulder with a fair cushion of miles to spare, we boldly opted to forgo a stop to charge.
Initially, the road toward Boulder from Scipio climbs steadily, if not steeply, gaining about 1600 feet of elevation by Koosharem Reservoir. Not long after passing Koosharem, we became uncomfortably aware of an unexpectedly sharp reduction in estimated remaining driving range. In fact, our onboard computer now was telling us we would need to find a place to charge first before we could reach Boulder. Our EV app told us there were a few charging opportunities in small towns coming up: Loa, Bicknell and Torrey. First up was Loa, where no EV charging was available at all. Hoping it would help, we plugged our 110 charging cord into the LOA hardware store outlet and went for a long walk.
EVs in general, and Konas in particular, are slow to charge. The 110 solution we attempted became a traveler’s learning moment: 110 charging, absent many available hours to wait, is only slightly better than gaining mileage by pushing the car. Still, additional opportunities appeared to await farther up the road. In Bicknell, our app showed 3 charging options. They all were campgrounds that lacked fast chargers, but did have 220 outlets. Unfortunately for us, the campgrounds were full and plugs were all in use. Oh, there was one EV charging station in town, but it was a Tesla Supercharger. We can now attest confidently that no amount of wishing otherwise can make a Tesla connection compatible with a Hyundai receptacle. Elon Musk is officially off our Christmas card list.
After an additional 110 attempt in Torrey, one that delivered the same message we’d received in Loa, we set out to climb Boulder Mountain. Torrey’s elevation is 6837’, while Boulder Mountain Summit reaches 11,316’, for a climb of not quite 4500’. We were, without doubt, in trouble.
I’d noticed a Roadside Assistance telephone number etched onto the driver side passenger window and began hatching an “if all else fails” plan.
“If we have to,” I told my wife as we drove toward the mountain from Torrey, “we can drive until we run out of juice and call for a tow from wherever that is.” She can become devoutly tentative under sufficient stress and pronounced me, if not barking mad, at least mildly unbalanced. Still, other than spending the night in Torrey (or the car), vanishingly few options were available. Up the mountain we drove!
A ways into our climb, Kona’s onboard system began suggesting we find a place to plug in soon. That admonishment became progressively more strident, warning possible battery damage if we didn’t comply right away. We were, at this point, experiencing the absolute apex of range anxiety.
A road sign announced an upcoming view area. With what must have been little more than static electricity remaining in our battery we pulled into the view area lot and parked.
Real trouble often comes in bundles. Ours was no exception as we realized cell service was, to put it in the best possible light, spotty. The good news, though, was that if I could reach someone to help I could identify precisely our location. The gods smiled and, with minimal walking around the parking lot, I found a spot with enough signal to permit calling. The connection was distinctly poor, but eventually we worked out that a truck would come from Scipio to assist us in an hour or so. We made good use of the time, enjoying the jaw dropping views and a glass or two (but who’s counting?) of wine as we waited.
The view area where we parked was no more than ¼ mile from the summit, adding appreciable insult to our stranding. Had we been able to reach the summit, we could have made it to Boulder easily using regeneration on the descent. Oh well.
Luckily, we had enough power left when the tow truck arrived to drive onto the truck bed and off again when we reached Boulder. Our motel had level 2 EV charging, so we plugged in and charged our troubles away.
The indelible takeaway for us? Despite what an EV owner might read, or what the EV itself might report, Your. EV. Mileage. May. Vary!
Postscript: The trip to Boulder proved to be a seminal learning experience. We learned, indelibly, that long trips in EVs a) take more planning than trips in more conventional or hybrid vehicles, b) that range estimates are to be taken cautiously with not grains, but cellars of salt, and c) require that time be budgeted (if ETAs are important) for charging along the way. Since being taken brutally to EV school on our Boulder trip, we’ve successfully taken a few multi-hundred mile trips (San Diego - maximum charge time enroute, nearly 60 minutes; averages between 30 and 40 minutes, Springdale and Kanab, Utah – same average charge times but fraught now and then with cases of range anxiety). New tricks!