Tuesday, July 4, 2017

900+ mile trip in the 238-mile Bolt shows challenges can be overcome with proper planning

So a few months ago, I read the following article on GreenCarReports about a new Bolt owner's saga of an 800-mile road trip in CA: http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1109117_chevy-bolt-ev-800-mile-trip-in-238-mile-electric-car-shows-challenges-remain

What a disaster! The owner of that Bolt did about everything wrong you could possibly do wrong when long distance traveling in an all-electric car. I was actually amazed that she did NOT end up on the back of a flatbed. I felt the article should have been re-titled "Clueless Bolt owner drives 800 miles and somehow doesn't end up stranded in the middle of nowhere". It was a complete debacle. Poor route choice, poor energy conservation (Wow, I'm speeding at 80 mph and the range meter keeps going down way faster than I thought....guess I'll keep driving 80!), poor understanding of charging network pricing options...reading the article made me want to do the following:

Words cannot convey my reaction to that story
That Bolt owner concluded that due to her poor experiences on her 800 mile trip, she would not take the Bolt on any long distance trip again. Good choice, because with her track record, she was destined for the flatbed sooner or later.

This weekend, I embarked on a 900+ mile road trip from Maryland to Connecticut and back, with a pit stop in PA, determined to show that with proper planning, a long distance road trip is possible in a Bolt, with a few compromises of course (but nothing like that debacle referenced above).

As some of you may know, I completed a "313 miles on a single charge" drive across Maryland last weekend, just to see if it was possible to drive from Western MD to the Eastern Shore/Ocean City. I admit up front that I engaged in some light hypermiling practices and was assisted by elevation changes. However, this time, I decided to drive the Bolt like any other person would drive a regular gas car, as Joe Schmoe buying his first BEV will not drive like I did last weekend.

My Saturday actually started with an autocross event in Southern MD (see previous blog posting about my experience here). As the autocross site was ~50 miles away, I had already logged over 100 miles on the day before I even started my main journey! After returning home and getting my things ready for the trip, my Bolt was just about topped off and I was ready to go! I had an estimated 250 miles on the guess-o-meter as I departed my driveway. As the drive to CT was 320 miles, I would need to stop and charge during the trip

Fast charging the Bolt after the autocross event
As the temperatures were right near 90 degrees when I departed just shy of 7PM, I turned on the AC and set it at 70 degrees. For the whole first half of the trip, the AC stayed at those settings. Luckily, I encountered little to no traffic, so I was able to maintain a speed of 5-10 mph OVER the speed limits, which was completely opposite my cross-MD drive the previous Saturday. I averaged between 65-70 mph for the entire drive up to CT. 

Fortunately for me, 4 new EVgo, CCS-compatible fast charging stations had just been installed at 2 locations along the New Jersey Turnpike just a week prior, and they were perfectly located for my MD-CT trip. Literally right smack dab in the middle of my route. What is interesting is these 2 new EVgo locations (located at the Molly Pitcher and Joyce Kilmer rest areas on the NJTP) were co-located with existing Tesla Supercharger stations. I believe these are the first such locations in the country that have Tesla and non-Tesla fast charging stations located together. 

I arrived at the Joyce Kilmer EVgo station with 75 miles left on the GOM, and 155 miles to go on my drive. Armed with my EVgo On-The-Go monthly plan, my charging sessions would cost just 10 cents/minute on top of the base monthly fee. 

Go, electrons, go!
I was at the rest area for approximately 1 hour, hitting the restroom, eating my dinner, and relaxing catching up on email while waiting for the Bolt to charge. After about 45 minutes of charging (had to restart the EVgo station after 30 minutes because of their 30 minute hard cap), it was back on the road! I had gained 103 miles of charge in 45 minutes. 
***Note: the EVgo stations on the NJTP are 50 kW/100-amp max rated stations, so the Bolt will only see peak charge rates of around 36-37 kW in ideal conditions, compared to 46-47 kW when connected to a 125-amp max DCFC station.

Plenty of range to make it to my destination 155 miles away

The rest of the drive was fairly uneventful, as I continued my ~70 mph pace with the AC now off since temps had cooled down considerably. I arrived at my mother's house in CT just before 1AM. 
Trip summary - 
Distance: 325.4 miles 
Average economy: 4.1 miles/kWh
Total time taken (including charging stop):  6 hours, 2 minutes

Arrived with PLENTY of range to spare
The next morning I ventured out to an EVgo station about a 1/2 mile from my mother's house to top off the Bolt. Again, it was a 50 kW/100 amp max station, so I was able to fill 130 miles of rated range in 1 hour, compared to GM's official estimate of 160 miles in 1 hour when connected to an 80 kW capable station. 

EVgo station at Cumberland Farms in West Hartford, CT
After spending Sunday around town, it was time to head back home to MD Monday morning. However, a stop to visit the grandparents in Mechanicsburg, PA, was planned, so the total drive would be 420 miles for the day. 

Free L2 charging station at my old elementary school
I did NOT start my trek back home with a full battery, however. Due to having to go to the airport late Sunday night to pick up a family member, I only had about 207 miles of rated range when I departed CT. Despite not having a 100% charge, I knew the DCFC station on my route was only 160 miles away, so I still had plenty of a buffer. HOWEVER, starting with a 100% charge from CT would have made my return trip easier, as you'll see later. 

Was not able to top off before leaving CT

Once again, with temps in the low 90's, I had the AC cranking at 70 just about the whole drive, speeds between 65-70 mph. My stop at the Molly Pitcher rest area EVgo station was uneventful. I noticed that a Tesla Model X owner was Supercharging when I pulled in. He seemed to give me a rather puzzled look, probably wondering what a non-Tesla EV was doing at the Supercharger site.

I eat my sammich while my Bolt sucks up the e-juiice.
After a little over an hour of charging (two 30 minute sessions plus a few minutes more), I was on my way, with 169 miles on the GOM and 152 miles to the grandparent's house. While the grandparents were only 152 miles away, the nearest DCFC I was planning to stop at was actually over 180 miles away! As I had found a EVgo station about 60 miles from the Molly Pitcher stations (a 125 amp one no less), I decided to pull the plug at Molly Pitcher and do a quickie charge in Willow Grove, PA, since it had a slightly higher charging rate. I also needed to go to the bathroom, so it worked out nicely.

Departed Molly Pitcher rest area with 169 miles

Quick pitstop in Willow Grove, PA

148 miles on the GOM, 144 miles to the next DCFC...that works
I arrived at my grandparents, who despite being over 90 years old, expressed a lot of interest in the Bolt. After spending some time catching up and eating dinner, it was time to hit the road yet again. The GOM said I had 31 miles remaining...but the next planned DCFC stop was 33 miles away. I decided if I drove at the speed limit rather than over it, I would have plenty of range to get to the next stop, as my range estimate was based off me going 5-10 over the speed limit.

31 miles of range, 33 miles to go....math works for me!
I must admit, during the last 15 miles of the drive after the GOM simply blinked "LOW" at me, I got my first bit of range anxiety. However, based off my previous experiences, I felt reasonably comfortable I had enough range to make it. The constant hills gave me some worry though. Turned out I had plenty of miles to spare! I made it to the EVgo station (another 100-amp station. Bah!) located at an Arby's in York, PA.

Whew, that's cutting it close!

Had tons of range to spare
I spent an hour at this EVgo station, and when I was ready to go I had 95 miles of range and 63 miles to home. I burned down the road at 70-75 MPH the rest of the way, leaving the range worries in the dust. Here are the numbers for my CT-PA-MD return trip:

421 miles traveling 65-70 mph with AC on....not bad
So all in all, I drove over 900 miles over the course of 2 1/2 days, averaging 4.2 miles/kWh driving like an regular person on the highway this 4th of July weekend. While I did have to go a little out of my way to charge my Bolt at certain times during the trip (and it did take longer than a regular gas car), in no way was my trip a near-disaster at every turn like that Bolt owner mentioned at the beginning of my blog. With a little preparation, you CAN road trip in a Bolt. It just will take a little longer and you have to use a little brain power before and during the trip. You need not be a rocket scientist in order to drive a Bolt outside the city limits; you just need to have a clue. 😃

As far as charging costs go, I engaged in a total of 4.5 hours of fast charging at EVgo stations. Billed at 10 cents/minute, it cost me $27 in total charging costs for my 916 mile trip ($41.95 if you include the $14.95 monthly fee in the total).

To compare, a 30 MPG gas car would have needed almost $70 in gas to complete the same trip, assuming $2.20 for a regular gallon of gas.

All that driving...and no complaints about the front seats, btw!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Autocrossing the Bolt?!

As some of you are aware, last Saturday I completed my "Drive 313 miles on a single charge across the state of MD" journey successfully. By engaging in light hypermiling techniques and with some elevation help, I was able to stretch the Bolt's range over 31% past its official 238 mile EPA range number! What could I possibly do to follow up such a feat? Doing the polar opposite and entering my Bolt in an autocross event!

Photo credit: Terry Krebs Photography
For those of you not familiar with autocross, these types of events are usually held in empty parking lots with a track consisting of a series of tight turns marked by cones. As you can guess, handling, acceleration (and sticky tires) are the keys to the game in autocross as opposed to raw straight line speed in a drag race. Vehicles such as a Dodge Challenger Hellcat need not apply. Instead, modded Corvettes,  Miatas, Scion FR-S's, Subaru BRZ's and the like rule the roost. And in my event's case, one helluva souped up '99 Dodge Neon!

So what was I thinking entering my totally stock 2017 Bolt EV Premier in the event? Why not! While the Bolt has the low end acceleration needed for autocrossing, its rather hefty weight (over 3,500 pounds) and unconventional shape (for an autocross event) are a couple of negatives. Racing on the Bolt's LRR OEM tires was also a huge disadvantage, as most everyone else was at a minimum running performance tires. Toss in the fact I had never participated in an autocross event.....ever, and my set expectations for myself were very modest: don't kill anyone, don't end up on my roof or wrapped around a light pole.

The only preparation I did before the event was to wash and wax my Bolt (hey, it should at least LOOK nice) and empty out any random junk that was laying around inside the car. I aired up my tires to the max (as someone recommended) and I was off to Blue Crab stadium in Waldorf, MD! As the drive was 50 miles to the event location, I didn't need to charge before the event.

If it's nice and shiny, it'll go a little faster right?! Ehhh.....
After arriving at the autocross location and checking in, I drove to the "paddock" area where all the other drivers were prepping their cars. I quickly found out that I was the only electric car entered in the event. When I went through tech inspection, one of the inspectors popped the hood, stared at the Bolt's "engine" bay for a few seconds, then went "I have no idea what I'm looking at!". Since nothing was loose that he could see, he passed the Bolt with a shrug of the shoulders.

Hanging out in the paddock
There were a total of 118 entrants in the event, and 3 heats scheduled consisting of A and B groups. As I had registered rather late in the process, I ended up in Heat 3, group B, so I ended up watching the other drivers make their runs. Before the actual event, drivers get a chance to walk the course to try and memorize the layout before making their runs. I also chatted up an owner of a 2016 Ford Focus ST. It turned out it was also his first time to an autocross event. I wished Abdullah luck, and I went off to watch some more runs.

One of these is not like the other
The format for the event was fairly straightforward. There were 3 total heats consisting of A and B groups. While group A was making their runs, the B group was out on the track to call in missed turns and replacing hit cones. Numerous cones were sent flying during the day. After group A made 3 runs, group B went to their cars while group A replaced them on the track.

When Heat 3 started, I was assigned to a section of track with 2 other guys. One of them asked me what I was driving, and I replied a Bolt EV. He then went "Oh, so you're the guy in the Bolt!". I asked them if they see any other EVs at these events, and both (including the guy that owned 6 cars total including a Miata he entered) said they had never seen an electric car at an autocross before. I asked about Teslas, but one guy responded they are too heavy for this type of event, so he had never seen one. After about 25 minutes, it was finally time to hit the track!

Car #919 ready for action
I got into the Bolt and rolled it up to the staging area. One by one, cars peeled off to make their runs. As my time approached, I started to feel the adrenaline start flowing. I was actually going to autocross a friggin' "greenie" Bolt EV! I made sure to turn off traction control as recommended by another driver, and lined up at the line. 

At this point of the story, I want to be able to say that I, a complete novice, blew away the rest of the competition of 'vettes, Miatas, 911's, and FR-S and BRZ's with the all-electric Bolt's 100% torque from 0.

You kidding me?
It turned out I placed 114/118 cars that ran that day. But I was not the worst! Moral victory! In fact, the person that was the slowest turned out to be Abdullah, who I had chatted with earlier. Sorry dude.

Below are the 4 runs I made, captured on my super crappy GoPro knockoff camera. Apologies for the crappy video. 

Run #1: went off course early, no time recorded. Doh.


Run #2: 54.42 seconds. A guy actually jumped in before the run, as his girlfriend was interested in buying a Bolt and he wanted to see what it was like. 


Run #3: 52.04 seconds. Improvement!



Run #4: 51.58 seconds. Because I was only running the morning session, they gave me a 4th run


So all in all, even though I sucked, I still had a blast at the autocross event, and met some cool people in the process. Now I am left to wonder what a Bolt with AWD, lowered springs, sticky tires, and a competent driver could do on the course...


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Drive across the state of Maryland (313 miles) on a single charge? Yes, you can!

Hello friends! It's been quite a while since my last blog post, but the stunt I pulled yesterday deserves a nice, thorough blog entry all to itself.

Everyone knows that the Bolt's EPA-certified range is 238 miles. A lot of owners (including) me have found that it is quite easy to attain, and exceed that range figure without even trying (at least in non-winter months). I found during several moderate range (100-200 mile) trips, I could attain or even exceed an average of 5 miles/kWh (or a projected 300 miles on a single charge) without even trying. What if I actually tried, though?

Chevy has recently started playing localized radio spots for the Bolt EV in the MD/DC/VA area, stating that you can travel from Annapolis to Ocean City and back on a single charge. Another version of the ad stated you could travel from Annapolis to Virginia Beach on a single charge. Both of those trips are within the Bolt's official range....BORING! Pretty much anyone could do those trips in their sleep without issues. How about going across the entire state of Maryland on a single charge, or over 300 miles? Now THAT sounds more compelling!

Mapping out such a trek, a cross-state drive from Deep Creek Lake (McHenry) to Ocean City is 315 miles, way beyond the Bolt's official range...by 77 miles to be precise. Who would be crazy enough to attempt such a stunt?! This guy.

Despite the length of the trip being way beyond the Bolt's official range, there is a 2,500 foot overall elevation drop driving from McHenry to Ocean City. Factoring that into my calculations, I figured that would help boost the range of my Bolt beyond it's official limits. While the elevation change almost certainly helped maximize my range, it may not have helped as much as I initially thought. According to the below elevation chart, there was over 7,700 feet of climbs on the drive compared to the 2,400 elevation drop!

Looks like Ford's stock value in recent years

Now that I had my trip planned out, the only thing I had to do was get out to McHenry in my Bolt and charge it to 100%! How hard could that be, right? Well, as the saying goes, "Half the journey is getting there". In my case, it was probably more than half.

Maryland is fairly well developed for EV charging infrastructure compared to all states not named California, and even has a very good number of CCS fast charging stations that the Bolt is compatible with.

 photo Screenshot 30_zps5q9ity6s.png
Look at all those charging stations!

However, taking a closer look at Western Maryland, we go from charging station Utopia to Scorched Earth.

 photo Screenshot 31_zpsc60mlnas.png
I think the Mad Max world had more stations than this
Absolutely 0 CCS fast charging stations anywhere in the western half of the state, with 2 DCFC sites in Hagerstown being the most westward sites. Hagerstown is 108 miles from Mchenry, so not a chip shot.
I wanted to minimize the time it took to get and then charge back to 100% in Mchenry, so I decided to hit a couple charging sites in between my home in Columbia and McHenry. My "Ocean City or Bust" journey started at 4:41AM on a rainy Saturday morning.

The rain sucked up a lot more energy than expected

My first stop was at the EVgo fast charging station at the Hagerstown Premium Outlets. The 67 mile drive out to Hagerstown included driving through a torrential downpour of rain, as the remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy passed by the area. I was also forced to used the defroster, which drained even more energy. I arrived at the EVgo station and after plugging in, the station told me I was at 56% battery state of charge (SOC). This leg of the journey before The Journey used way more energy than expected, which would result in more downtime charging. Luckily, no more rain was encountered the rest of the day. In fact, the weather was almost perfect for driving an EV.

Gaining back charge as quickly as possible

Obligatory gratuitous selfie. (swear to God I did not color match my shirt to my Bolt. Literally just realized that)
After about an hour of charging (including 1 session restart because EVgo can't be bothered to extend the maximum session time past 30 minutes. grrr), I had charged up to 92%. At that point the L3 charging speed was barely any faster than the Bolt's L2 max rate (7.2), so I decided to move on.

While I could have driven all the way to McHenry at this point, I saw on Plugshare that there was a free charging station at Rocky Gap Casino in Flintstone, MD, so I figured I'd stop there to kill some time and visit a place I had never been to before. In hindsight, I probably should have skipped this stop. Though it did make my wallet lighter, which may have helped with range.

Completely free charging (as long as you ignore the $40 I lost on slots

I had noticed that even though the Clipper Creek unit was a 40 amp version (and thus should have maxed out the Bolt's 7.2 kW onboard charger), I noticed via my JuicePlug I had brought along that the charge rate was only topping out at 5.9 kW. For whatever reason, the voltage was only reading around 190 instead of the 240 I had expected, which reduced the charge rates. As saving time was a priority, I pulled the plug early and hoped the L2 station in McHenry charged faster.

Too slow for my blood

50 miles later, I had arrived in McHenry. The location of the L2 charging station was actually located at a local bed and breakfast, the Lake Pointe Inn. I had noticed that they had a single L2 station along with a couple of Tesla destination chargers. I had emailed the Inn a few days prior to make sure I would be able to use their L2 station.

When I arrived at the Lake Pointe Inn, I found that the charging station I needed to use was blocked! And it was marked as employee parking only, no less. I was starting to worry I had driven all this way for nothing, but I found the manager and explained my situation, and he offered to have the employee car moved so that I could charge. Thanks a lot, Scott! The EV world needs more EV-friendly establishments like the Lake Pointe Inn!

Free charging courtesy of the Lake Pointe Inn

Luckily, the Clipper Creek station (same exact unit as the one at the Casino) was wired better or something, because I was able to achieve charge rates above 7 kW.

There we go, much better

For those of you curious, the following are the stats for the Columbia to McHenry leg of the trip.

Used up just about a full charge worth of energy. The mountains are not kind to range.
As I had almost 4 hours to kill before my Bolt charged to 100%, I spent most of the time exploring the Wisp Ski Resort, which was just across the street. All said and told, I walked almost 8 miles while waiting for my Bolt to charge. The Deep Creek Lake area could really use a DCFC station or 2.

When the Bolt was finally done charging, it was almost 3PM. I had to cover ~315 miles, while the Bolt's guess-o-meter (GOM) stated a figure of 234 miles. I was 81 miles to the bad!

Despite the fuzzy, if not crazy math, I departed right at 3PM, determined to show that the Bolt could cross the entire state of Maryland on a single charge in as close to real world conditions as possible (no driving around in circles at 25 mph stuff). In fact, the only preparations I made to my Bolt before embarking in this trip was to air the tires up to 44 psi (the maximum allowed). Driving wise, on certain stretches of highway in Western Md, I kept speeds 5-10 mph below the speed limit, as I knew there was no way I could make it traveling at 70 mph for extended periods.

One interesting thing I noticed is that 100 miles into the drive to Ocean City, the GOM stated I still had 226 miles of range. Which means it dropped only 8 miles after driving 100 miles. The elevation drop definitely messes with the range calculations. My estimated range remaining actually spiked to 268 miles at one point....50 miles into drive!

 photo DSC_0005_zpsscdj8kor.jpg
A little over 70 miles into my trip, my 80 mile range deficit went 1 mile to the good

The rest of the drive was, frankly, rather uneventful. Once I cleared the mountains of Western MD, the GOM stopped bouncing around like a ping pong ball. I maintained about a 20-25 mile buffer on the GOM asI crossed the Bay Bridge.

The last 1/3 of the drive was very flat, so the GOM estimates remained steady. The last hour of the drive I actually sped up (going 5 miles ABOVE the 55 speed limit) as I wanted to arrive in Ocean City before it got dark. My 25 mile buffer slowly ticked down to a 12 mile cushion, but I pressed on.

With 30 miles left on the GOM, I got the "Charge Vehicle Soon" message. Yeah, I will, as soon as I get to Ocean City!

 photo DSC_0009_zpskkkkef2k.jpg
I did not know that
With about 5 miles to go until Ocean City, the GOM changed to a blinking "LOW" instead of a number. While I was fairly confident I would make it, it's still a little unsettling to see that message.

5 hours, 36 minutes after I had departed McHenry and 313.4 miles later (56 MPH average btw), I had made it to Ocean City! And the desperately needed DCFC station at Royal Farms. Huzzah! After charging up for about an hour, I got some Thrasher's french fries (who stops in Ocean City without getting these?) and then headed back home, which was 135 miles away.

 photo IMG_20170624_203935863_zpsqmis1uya.jpg
313.4 miles on a single charge! And I could have gone a little farther too!

 photo IMG_20170624_204140536_zpse0drk0fm.jpg
Much needed electrons following a day of driving
So I had done it! I had answered the question probably only I had ever asked, "Can you drive across the state of Maryland in a Bolt on a single charge?" with a resounding "Yes, you can!".
I do have to point out that the opposite drive is definitely NOT possible on a single charge due to the elevation change. However, being able to obliterate the official EPA range by a good 75 miles without going to hypermiling extremes was certainly satisfying.

Another mark I ended up setting was my Bolt is now #2 on the "Most EV miles traveled in a day" page.
https://www.voltstats.net/BoltEV/Stats/Achievements

 photo ZomboMeme 25062017112312_zpssqgarof0.jpg

That's it for now. I did enter into an autocross event next weekend, which is a complete 180 from what I just did. I may blog about that one as well!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Attention to detail!

The story I am about to tell can serve as a warning as to how a couple of missed details can cause a huge headache when going on a road trip in an all-electric vehicle...even one with a relatively ample (compared to non-Tesla BEVs) 238 mile EV range like my Bolt EV.

This past weekend I took my family on a trip to the Philadelphia area to go to the Brickfest Live! Lego fan festival as an advance birthday gift for my son and daughter. After purchasing the tickets 3 months prior, I had looked in the area where the event was being held to scope out the charging station situation. As the trip would be a minimum 250 miles round trip, I would need to charge my Bolt at least once while in the Philly area. 

I noticed that there was a Hilton property listed on Plugshare that had a 240V L2 charging station (along with a couple of Tesla destination charging stations) that I could use to charge overnight. I thought to myself, "Perfect!". To top it off, I also noticed that there were several DCFC fast charging stations listed on Plugshare as well. I was going to be staying in a charging station haven! Shortly after doing my research, I booked the hotel and that was that. Or so I thought.

As I thought charging my Bolt would not be an issue during this road trip, I actually departed from home with only about an 85% charge on my Bolt (this was mistake #1 ). The Guess-O-Meter (GOM) stated I had 233 miles of range, but I knew that was an overly-optimistic estimate due to the fact that number was achieved mainly through local city driving. During the drive up to Philly, it was raining decently the whole way up, so I had to use the defroster whic ate up some range. Combined with driving 65-70 mph on the freeway, the 233 mile estimate quickly disappeared. 

We arrived at the Brickfest location with about 60 miles of range displayed on the GOM. After the event, which was overall entertaining (if a tad nerdy), especially for the kids, we headed to the hotel, which was 10 miles away, to check in and figure out what to have for dinner. After arriving at the hotel, about 50 miles remained on the GOM. 


One of the many Lego sights I saw

After checking in to our room, we relaxed a little while discussing what to have for dinner. It was then I realized my first big problem: the hotel were were staying at did not have any onsite charging stations! It turned out the hotel I had booked 2 months earlier was DIFFERENT from the one I originally was going to book and looked up on Plugshare. Both the original hotel and hotel we ended up booking were Hilton properties, and I had mixed them up like an idiot! Doh!

But no problem, I said to myself! I had seen those handful of fast charging stations listed on Plugshare previously, so I could still just quick charge at one of those before leaving for home the next day, right? Ehhhhh, no. While looking at Plugshare that one fateful evening, I had inadvertently set the filter to list all CHAdeMO stations in addition to CCS stations, so non-compatible CHAdemo fast charging stations were listed as well (mistake #2 ). It turned out among those few DCFC stations in the area, none were actually of the Bolt-compatible CCS variety! All that was available were CHAdeMO-only Blink stations! 

So no fast charging options, no hotel L2 option, no nearby L2 station. Not even a 120V outlet, as I found out after chatting with the hotel staff. The nearest CCS-compatible station was over 20 miles away, and even then its operational status was questionable at best, based off its Plugshare rating. I was in a pickle!

Mind you, the whole time I was humming the “Everything is Awesome!” Lego Movie song in my head, and did not want to let my wife in on the fact I was secretly semi-freaking out. The last thing I wanted to do was to give her the impression the Bolt was not suitable for a road trip. That is one reason I did not resort to some late night charging station searching like I read in other Bolt road trip reviews. 


Or something like that

My wife then asked me, “Hey, where is the nearest Lego store? Let’s go get some new Lego sets for the kids”. I Googled the nearest Lego store, and it turned out there was one at a large mall about 10 miles away from our hotel Then I look at Plugshare and saw there was actually a couple of 240V charging stations located in the mall's parking lot! But I found out that they were the notorious Blink stations (f**k). However, the Plugshare rating was 7.6, so there was a decent chance they actually worked.

After agreeing to get dinner and shop at the Lego store at that mall, we drove the ~10 miles and found both stations empty. After downloading the Blink app (and noticing the 39 cents/kWh pricing....gross), I start the charge session. But the Bolt’s charging light indicator stayed yellow. You gotta be kidding me, I thought to myself. I restarted the session a couple of times, but still no go. I then tried the other station, and luckily I got it to start charging. Whew, crisis averted! The GOM stated 37 miles of range when it started charging.

A working Blink station! Holy crap!
After chowing down on some Shake Shack and getting the aforementioned Lego sets, we came back to the Bolt 2 hours later. It turned out my Bolt had ingested 10.88 kWh of juice, and the GOM stated I had 79 miles of range. I also found a Volt owner putting some shopping bags in his Volt, and chatted with him a bit as he asked me how I liked the Bolt. I told him I loved my Bolt, and that the only potential issue would be charging while road tripping, though I didn't let him in on my self-inflicted problems. Afterwards, I (carefully) drove back to the hotel and parked the Bolt for the night with 72 miles of range on the GOM.

I woke up the next day, realizing the charging fairy did not visit my Bolt and finding I still needed about 70 miles of range to make the trip back home. After grabbing some breakfast, we head back to Brickfest to check out a couple of things we didn’t get to see the day prior. 60 miles of range remained on the GOM when we got there. Ended up seeing a Delorean from Back to the Future and equipped with that 1.21 jigawatt onbaord charger. If only I had one of those in my Bolt!


Where's Doc Brown when you need him??
After we were done with Brickfest, the wife decided we should head back to the mall to grab lunch and do some shopping (and to get some much needed charge!).

When we arrived back at the same Blink station I had used the previous night, I saw a Porsche SUV was plugged into the (broken) station #2. Whoops. First time I had ever seen the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid (turns out it only has 14 miles of range). I plugged into the other, working unit, and while were gone for 3 hours and 40 minutes exploring the mall and grabbing lunch, I was able to put 20.56 kWh of juice into my Bolt. The GOM now said I had 133 miles of range, and since our drive home was only 121 miles, we were probably good to go!

I drove around the speed limit (55-60 mph) during most of the trip to MD, trying to preserve that 12 mile buffer, and by the time we were about 40 minutes from home, I had built that buffer up to 19 miles. That’s when I decided that we have enough to make it home comfortably, so I then droved to 65-70 mph the last 40 miles or so. We end up stopping at the local Whole Foods (GOM was now blinking “Low” by this point...guess I shouldn't have sped up. Whoops), and I found a Bolt was plugged into the only working station! Cool since it was my first Bolt sighting (besides my own) in the wild, but also not so cool because I wanted to “top off” my Bolt.


Why hello there!
During the 5 mile drive back home, in propulsion power reduced mode and the Bolt’s GOM still blinking LOW at me, I drove gingerly and made it back home on e-fumes. According to my Torque Pro app, the battery SOC (probably raw SOC) was 5.7%. I parked the Bolt and I got the GOM to tell me I had 5 miles of estimated range left. Plenty to spare!

Tons of range left!

So lessons learned during this trip:

#1 – ALWAYS start out with a 100% charge before any trip you will need to charge to get back home, even if you think you are in a charging station heaven at your destination
#2 – triple check that the place you think you are staying at is actually the hotel you are staying at
#3 – don’t be a dumb@ss and leave the CHAdeMO filter on while checking DCFC stations on Plugshare
#4 – Check items 1-3 again

My Bolt performed just as advertised. The owner just screwed up with the trip planning. The morale of the story is to never assume! Or else you may end up even unluckier than me getting the "Tow of Shame". ;)

Friday, March 3, 2017

Fast charging experiences with the Bolt

Wow, it's been forever and a day since my last blog post! Turns out the blog update frequency tanks once the object you've been obsessively blogging about ends up in your possession! 😋

So after almost 2 months over ownership and 2,000 miles on the road, I've also managed to use CCS DCFC fast charging stations several times (once out of necessity, the other times purely for testing purposes). What I've found is that, like with EV range, your mileage will vary when fast charging the Bolt....literally.

The Bolt is outfitted with a SAE Combo Charging System (CCS) charging port, so it can only fast charge at locations with CCS plugs. It cannot use CHAdeMO plugs that Japanese vehicles such as the Leaf can use. While CHAdeMO stations vastly outnumbered CCS-compatible stations a few years ago, the gap is closing as the number of CCS fast charging stations is increasing every day. Most new non-Tesla DC fast charging stations have both CHAdeMO and CCS plugs.

In my area (Howard County, MD) there is a fairly decent CCS-compatible fast charging network. There are over 60 CCS stations within 100 miles of where I live, so I can pretty much drive anywhere in Maryland without having to worry about range. Hell, the Bolt's 238 (more like 190-200 miles in sub-freezing temperatures) mile EPA range is usually more than enough for my family without even factoring in fast charging capability!

 photo Screenshot 26_zpsakkwilql.png
Not too shabby a network!

While there are several companies that offer fast charging stations, the main 2 in my area (and pretty much across the country) are Chargepoint and EVgo. Both currently have fast charging stations that advertise 50 kW charging rates. As we will see a little later, 50 kW advertised does not equal 50 kW observed in real-life charging. The Chargepoint stations in my area (mostly installed at Royal Farms locations) cost 29 cents/kWh, with a $3.50 minimum charge. EVgo charging prices vary by the plan you choose, but the best plan for people charging multiple times a month is its "On The Go" plan, which costs a flat $14.95/month and 10 cents/min while fast charging. Again, these are Maryland rates, so if you live in another region the pricing will vary.

While GM has been coy with the 2017 Bolt's exact fast charging capabilities, it has stated that the Bolt can achieve "about 90 miles in 30 minutes", presumably based off the official 238 EPA-rated range. There is some fine print stating charging performance is dependent on factors such as ambient temperatures.

 photo Screenshot 28_zps0tltj4au.png
90 miles in 30 minutes *HUGE ASTERISK*

Having experienced at least 6 separate instances of fast charging at various Chargepoint and EVgo stations in my area, here are my findings:


  • No one will actually see 50 kW charge rates at a 50 kW fast charging station with a Bolt...at least not a a station rated at a maximum 125 amps. 46 kW has been the fastest rate I have observed. I DO believe the Bolt can charge faster than 50 kW if hooked up to a fast charging station rated higher than 50 kW/125 amps. Too bad none exist yet that are available to the public.
  • The Bolt's battery is pretty sensitive to temperatures when it comes to fast charging. With data logged by my OBDII reader and Torque Pro app, I've noticed that I don't experience max (125 amps) charge rates until the Bolt's HV battery temperature is between 65-70 degrees F. If you are planning on fast charging first thing in the morning after parking your Bolt outside in sub-freezing weather unplugged, you will likely experience throttled charge rates till the battery comes up to temp.
  • The Bolt tapers the max charge rate fairly early compared to say the Spark EV. While Spark EV owners reported near 50 kW rates from 0% to almost 80% SOC, I've noticed the Bolt starts tapering rates at around 50% SOC (ramps down to ~38kW/~100 amps) and again at 70% (down to ~24 kW/~60 amps) from peak ~46 kW/125 amp charge rates at a 125A station. At a little over 80%, the rate again tapers down to <20 kW and stays there till fully charged.
  • The ~0-50% SOC window is where you will see the Bolt charge at the advertised "about 90 miles in about 30 minutes" rates, assuming the HV battery is up to temperature. In the spring/summer/fall, battery temps shouldn't be an issue, but in winter areas that routinely see sub-freezing temperatures, this is something to be aware of.
  • The most I ever saw in a 30 minute session was 21.84 kWh charged at a 125A EVgo station. Translated in EPA-rated miles, that's ~87 miles in 30 minutes. Slight throttling was experienced.
The below chart might be an info overload, but you can see that the max charge rates (125A/46 kW) aren't realized until the HV battery temp reaches around 70F. 

 photo Bolt_DCFC_zpsdfll7sfy.jpg
2 minute gap as I started the charge session

And the charging figures:

Session start time: 5:27AM
HV battery SOC% (SOC-R value in Torque Pro): 9.02%
Battery SOC% according to the station: 5%
HV battery temp: 60.8F
Ambient temp: 57F

Session end time: 6:08AM
HV battery SOC% (SOC-R value in Torque Pro): 50.2%
Battery SOC% according to the station: 47%
HV battery temp: 77F
Ambient temp: 57F

Total kWh charged: 26.73 kWh (according to Torque Pro) / 27.6 according station
Total time charging: 39 minutes (2 minute gap when stopping/restarting charging)
Total SOC% gained: 41% (according to Torque Pro) / 42% according to station
Max charge rate observed according to car: 46 kW

Once a >125amp CCS station is online, I am eager to see just how much power the Bolt can suck in! If amperage exceeds 131A, a guy I know owes me 100 bucks. 😎

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

So....what's it like owning a Bolt?

Apologies for the huge gap since my last blog post. For some reason, something has been taking up a lot of my free time...😉


 photo IMG_20170118_164517669_BURST000_COVER_TOP_zpsjjxdy3ag.jpg
Just chilling among some gasmobiles

I've been in possession of my Bolt for over a week now, so I think I have enough time in the seat to give some more in-depth impressions. Bottom line, the Bolt is pretty much what I expected, and even exceeds my expectations in a few ways. The Bolt is not perfect, but the positives waaaaay outweigh the few negatives. Since a lot of you guys have never driven a Bolt (or perhaps even seen one in person), I'll try to comment on aspects of the Bolt prospective buyers probably care about the most.

First off, I'm going to address the front seats (I have a loaded Premier with leather seats, btw). From reading online forums and social media, it seems that the front seats are by far the most polarizing item in the Bolt. I've seen quite a few complaints saying the front seats are "worse than a 10 year old Kia!", "horribly uncomfortable", and other comments along those lines.

My take? They are fine for me (not the greatest, but perfectly acceptable). However, I understand where the complaints are coming from. I am 6', 190 pounds, so I would rate myself "average" as far as body type goes. I find that when seated in a normal position, I can feel where the ridge of the seat on the left side presses against my thigh. It does not cause me pain or discomfort, but it is definitely noticeable. I've yet to log any long distance (100+ mile) drives in the Bolt, but for around-town driving, the seats are serviceable. The Bolt's front seats are narrower than both my Volts, and also have less cushioning due to the new, slimmer seat design.

Could the seats be made perhaps an inch wider to increase comfort? It sure looks like there is room to do that. My advice for any potential Bolt owner worried about the seats is to arrange at least a 30 minute test drive in the trim you are planning on getting. That should be good enough to let you determine whether the seats will be an issue for you or not.

Ok, now that I got that out of the way, let's get into more interesting items, like that "One pedal driving" GM has been pushing so much! Basically, it's a blast to drive the Bolt, especially in L! With the gear selector in "L", you will almost never need to touch the brake pedal except in emergency/sudden braking situations.

The regen level while in L is MUCH stronger than any plug-in I've driven to date (G1/G2 Volt, Spark EV, C-Max Energi). I've found that even without using the regen paddle on the steering wheel (for extra regen), I can stop at a light without using the brake pedal. In fact, there have been many times I've actually had to step back on the accelerator a little to inch up to the car in front of me because slowing in L was so effective. The regen paddle gives even more regen, which means you can come to a stop fairly quickly without ever touching the brake. For you tech nerds, max regen observed (either D or L) without the regen paddle was 50 kW, and 70 kW combined with the paddle. These regen numbers may vary based on the battery's state of charge, however.

Once stopped in L, the Bolt will not "creep" like many gas cars do. It will remain stationary until you step on the accelerator again. In "D", the Bolt will drive and function like any plain ole gas car, for those of you that find "L" driving not to your liking.

How about the gitty up? The Bolt has plenty! If you floor the Bolt from a stop, you WILL squeal the tires. In fact, you will want to grip the Bolt with two hands firmly if you do just that, because there is also some torque steer you will need to deal with. The Bolt's chief engineer said he actually had to tune down the "off the line" power, as the torque steer could literally rip the wheel from an average driver's hands if they weren't careful. I'd be interested to see how a Bolt fitted with stickier tires would fare. I've also only flipped to Sport Mode (increased throttle response, same max performance) once to make sure it works, since performance in normal mode is more than enough!

The driver safety packages are pretty cool. Here's a quick rundown of what each does and my take:

  • Lane Keep Assist (LKA): If you don't engage the turn signal and drift towards a painted lane divider, the Bolt will "nudge" you back towards the center of the lane. I've found it works well in the daytime as well as at night. The Bolt can even guide you around a slight curve on the highway all on its own with LKA active. However, anyone watching you from behind will think you are drunk, so you probably don't want to do that very often...especially if a cop is behind you. If you let it "bounce" around the lanes too much, it'll beep at you and display a message telling you to grip the steering wheel.
  • Rear view mirror camera: pretty cool. It gives a crisp view out the back and offers a wider angle view compared to the standard mirror. I've found I usually have the rear view mirror flipped to "video mode" during daytime driving. However, video mode fairly useless at night. Also, if it is wet or snowy, the view can get obstructed. The Bolt does have a dedicated sprayer for the rear view cameras, however.
  • 360 degree birds-eye surround camera: Very cool! Combined with the rear vision camera (along with the front camera), if you can't park the Bolt properly, you probably need to just give up your license. The 360 degree birds-eye view lets you see everything around your car out a few feet in each direction, so there should be no curbing of tires, bumping into other cars, or running over of pets or kids. 😉
    If you put the Bolt in "R", the backup/birds-eye cameras will activate on the center display. Put the Bolt back in "D" or "L", and the center display will switch to the front camera view, so you can see what's in front of you (will shut off automatically once you hit 5 mph). The Bolt does not have audible front parking sensors, however, so the front camera/birds-eye cam is all you get for judging front distance, along with your own eyeballs of course.
  • Rear cross-traffic alerts: ....they work. That's all I can really say about that. If you are in "R" and the Bolt detects a car approaching from the left or right, it will trigger an audible alert combined with some red arrows on the center display pointing in the direction the car is coming from.
  • Front Collision Alert (FCA)/Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB): I've had the FCA trigger twice so far...both times on the highway when I was approaching traffic that had started slowing suddenly. The FCA will flash some red lights in the lower left corner of the windshield in addition to triggering audible alerts. There are 3 settings for FCA you can select via a button on the left side of the steering wheel that adjusts sensitivity. Also, in the settings menu, you can choose to turn FCA off, in addition to "FCA on, EAB off", or "FCA on, EAB on". I haven't had a chance to see how EAB works (nor do I want to).
  • Front Pedestrian Braking: Haven't had a chance to see that in action either, as I haven't tried to mow anyone down yet. If someone wants to volunteer and be a guinea pig and you're in Central Maryland, let me know. You'll have to sign a waiver saying it's not my fault if I run you over, though. 
The Infotainment Package adds Bose speakers, wireless charging for compatible smartphones, and 2 USB charge-only ports in the rear. I've yet to test the wireless charging feature, since my phone (Motorola Droid Z Play) needs an accessory to use it, but the phone (5.5") fits snugly without a case. Any phone bigger than 5.5" likely won't fit. The wireless charging pocket is located in front of the center storage compartment...big improvement over the location in the Gen 2 Volt, which was IN the center compartment. Also, the center armrest can be adjusted to slide forward a few inches.

 photo 2017-01-20_23.03.41_zpsh4kgqbts.jpg
2017 Volt and Bolt side by side

What if people don't really sit in the rear, you don't care about wireless charging, and you aren't an audiophile? It's likely you won't find the infotainment package of much use, so you can probably save yourself $495. FWIW, the Bose speakers sound pretty nice, but I am definitely not an audiophile.

Also, there is a fairly large storage compartment between the driver and front passenger seats. Perfect for putting a purse (ladies), murse (metro guys), or other random items.

 photo IMG_20170122_132817477_zpsm6dwphjc.jpg
Can also fit a large box of latex gloves for when you need to handle those bodies stuffed in the hatch.....wait, what?

I haven't had a chance to test out the DCFC port yet (too much range!), but I'll probably eventually end up using it sometime soon.

Android Auto works pretty much like in my Gen 2 Volt....except the Bolt's display shows these 1 inch black margins on each side, which is sort of annoying. According to GM, this is an Android Auto/Google issue, not a GM one. I recommend peppering Google via the Android Auto app's feedback section to get this issue fixed!

 photo 1484615889384_zpsxijwoeor.jpg
"Squeezed" Android Auto display....bleh
If I were to give the (loaded) Bolt EV Premier a grade, I would give it a 93/100. Room for some improvement in a couple of minor nit-picky areas, but the main things (range, performance, utility) meet or exceed my needs!

p.s. completely random, but the center display will actually display Korean characters if you are streaming some Korean music via an app or something. As LG (Korean company) supplies a lot of components of the car, it makes sense. :)