By JASON TCHIR
Special to The Globe and Mail
Friday, September 7, 2018
VANCOUVER -- The app reported that the charger at this location wasn't working yet, but I pulled into the rest area anyway.
I'd at least get the Volkswagen e-Golf off the highway to figure out a plan.
Maybe I'd try to limp as slowly as I could to the next charger 60 kilometres away - even though the car told me I wouldn't make it - and hope I didn't get stuck on the Coquihalla Highway as trucks veered around me.
"You're lucky, they just got it working three days ago," said Manjit Abuja, who runs the snack shop at the Britton Creek rest area, halfway between Hope and Merritt, B.C., just past the sign marking the 1,244metre Coquihalla summit. "I've been here for 15 years and I can say that you are the very first electric car that's ever charged here."
When you're trying to trek 1,300 km across British Columbia and Alberta in just two days in a car with a 201-km posted range, range anxiety is with you for the whole ride.
I'd left Saturday morning and was trying to get from Vancouver, where I live, to my folks' house outside Edmonton in time for Sunday dinner.
It's a trip I've always done in one day, with stops only for gas and drive-thru along the highway. But this time, I'd have to stop at least a dozen times. Most of those were at public DC fast chargers - which promise an 80-per-cent charge in about a half hour.
There's a growing network of them across British Columbia, but they disappeared for the 406-km stretch of the Trans-Canada highway between Revelstoke, B.C., and Calgary. That meant two charging stops of four to five hours each - in Golden, B.C., and Banff - at a 240-volt, Level 2 charger.
And, I worried that if I did make it to a charger, it might be busy or it might just not work at all (as it turned out, this didn't happen until the way back).
The worst-case scenario? Waiting at least 26 hours to charge the e-Golf's 35.8 kWh-hour battery at a normal 110-volt wall outlet.
ACTUAL MILEAGE MAY VARY That range warning between Hope and Merritt - a 120-km distance and technically well within the eGolf's range - was a reminder that 201 km isn't always really 201 km, even though I'd been trying to conserve every possible kilometre of range.
Besides driving the whole way with the air conditioning and fan off (and the windows down) on a 27 C day, I'd done something I'd never done before - I stuck to the right lane and went the 120 km/h speed limit, mostly.
I also drove the 2017 e-Golf in Eco mode, which limits the 134-horsepower engine to 94 hp (Eco+ mode cuts it down to 74 hp).
Plus, I kept e-Golf's regenerative braking on max. It gives power back to the battery, and slows down the car, as you lift your foot off the gas. I'd also have to turn it off to coast down hills.
Instead of a tachometer, the e-Golf has a power meter - the needle points to a series of blue numbers. If the needle points to green, you're gaining power back.
So, instead of passing every car I could, I'd focus on keeping that needle from dipping too far into the blue. Driving to maximize range was weirdly calming - the couple of times cars (usually with Alberta plates) got too close on my tail, I just stayed at the speed limit until they could pass.
Slow and steady meant a slightly shorter wait at the next charger.
SATURDAY: 565 KM IN 12 HOURS After four more stops to charge - in Merritt, Kamloops, Chase and Salmon Arm - I made it to Revelstoke at nearly 9 p.m.
In 12 hours, I'd come just 565 km from Vancouver. That's about six hours of driving and six hours of charging. And that was with the fast chargers.
The biggest challenge was figuring out what to do with that 40 minutes (the average time I spent charging) in places I'd usually just sped past on the highway. People promoting electric cars always say charging is a chance to grab a latte. But, mostly, the stops were far from open coffee shops. So, at the Britton Creek rest stop, I'd answered constant questions from fellow motorists (including a couple who'd run out of gas, were waiting for a tow and wondered whether they could have avoided that with an electric car). In Merritt, I toured a historic house built for a mail-order bride who never showed up. In Kamloops, the charger was at a rec centre, so I went for a swim. But, mostly, I just waited. And did math. My thereby-Sunday-evening plans had hinged on getting to Golden, another 150 km farther from Revelstoke, on the first night so I could do the first long charge.
By the time I got to Revelstoke, it was clear that I'd be missing Sunday dinner. I didn't want to risk running out of power on the highway in the dark, so I decided to stay overnight.
SUNDAY: 735 KM IN 20 HOURS On the second day, I started to look forward to highway construction. All that slowing down to 50 km/h meant I got range back from the brakes.
So after a harrowing first half of the trip to Golden, where the range remaining and distance remaining stayed neck and neck and it looked as if I might not make it, I ended up getting there with 70 km left to spare.
That still meant a four-hour, 10-minute charge there - at a hotel along the highway while I sat in a McDonalds. Then, in Banff, which was swarming with tourists, I sat in a coffee shop and took a 20-minute nap in the park.
In Banff, the charger disconnected twice before it was full, and I had to talk the parking officer into not ticketing me for staying longer than three hours. I left there at 6 p.m. - 12 hours after I'd left Revelstoke that morning - with 436 km left to go.
After two more stops - at closed Canadian Tire gas stations in Calgary and Red Deer, where I worried that the police might be called for a man lurking in the parking lot - I made it to my parent's house in St. Albert just after 2 a.m.
I'd made it 178 km from Red Deer on a single charge by taking back roads and going 95 km/h on the highway, sticking behind a slow-moving transport truck. I got there with 20 km to spare.
MEANT FOR THE CITY Freed from the sensible shackles of Eco mode, the e-Golf, with 214 pound-foot of torque at 0 rpm, was a blast to drive around town.
And that's what it's built for.
Other than a Tech package that took away the volume button, I had no real complaints. In the city, the e-Golf makes sense - there's no sacrifice in cargo room over a normal Golf. Keeping it plugged in while parked in the driveway was effortless - I drove around town all week and didn't need to take it to a public charger.
It's cheaper than a Tesla, and even a Chevy Bolt, but it's not cheap. The 2017 e-Golf I drove - the 2018 version wasn't available to buyers until the spring - was $38,660 as tested ($35,995 MSRP for 2017, which went up to $36,355 for 2018), before rebates in Quebec and B.C. With the rebates, it's still within range of a similarly-equipped gas Golf.
And for the 2,600-km trip, it was cheaper than a gas car, not including the overnight stays.
Charging at the fast chargers cost $102.58, total, there and back.
Relatively soon, the tale of a 1,300-km trip taking 32 hours in an electric car might seem a little far-fetched.
While Volkswagen said it won't be boosting the current e-Golf's range, their next generation of electric cars, set to begin arriving in 2020, will reportedly get 500 km on a charge.
And, even though Alberta isn't adding chargers at the same pace as British Columbia, the number in both provinces is growing. The Red Deer fast-charging station started working just two weeks before my trip. And Golden was set to get a fast charger about a month after I got back.
There are plans for 350 kWh ultrafast chargers that could add 200 km of range in less than 10 minutes, but, right now, there are currently no cars that could handle that flow.
The biggest surprise of the trip? Sure, it took forever. But, even with range anxiety, it was one of the first times that I actually enjoyed it instead of swearing to just fly next time. Who knew that all those people driving in the right lane and stopping for lunch, were actually on to something? The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
While en route to Edmonton from Vancouver in a Volkswagen e-Golf, Jason Tchir takes time to check out a farmers' market in Revelstoke,
B.C. JASON TCHIR/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
One of the biggest challenges of driving the VW e-Golf from Vancouver to Edmonton was figuring out what to do during the 12 charging stops.
JASON TCHIR/THE GLOBE AND MAIL