Driving an EV from San Diego to Las Vegas

I drive a BMW i3.  It’s a terrific electric vehicle that gets me around San Diego County with no problems.  I have the model with the Range Extender (REX) that uses a small BMW motorcycle engine to charge the batteries after I exceed the ~80 mile EV charging range.  The REX adds another 60 miles, but when driving around San Diego County I rarely use it.

In September 2016 I decided to attend a conference in Las Vegas.  As part of my deal to get the i3 my dealer, BMW of El Cajon, offers me 14 days of a traditional gasoline BMW to drive for free.  It’s a great way to solve the long distance problem that EVs pose.  But I was up for an adventure, so I decided to see if I could drive my i3 all the way to Las Vegas.

I was somewhere around Barstow when the electrons began to take hold.

I packed my Level 1 charging cord that I normally have in my garage.  I packed a 1 gallon gas container as a safety net in case I ran out of both battery power and gas in the desert.  I carefully planned my trip plotting commercial EV charing stations along the way.  I knew there were stretches where there might be trouble, but I am a thrill seeker.

I left San Diego County along I-15 and used an EVgo commercial EV charging station at the Lake Elsinore Outlet Mall.  I got a drink and a snack and then 25 minutes later I was back on the road.  I stopped at the Inland Center Mall in San Bernardino to use an EVgo commercial EV charging station but it didn’t work.  I called EVgo customer support and while they were friendly they could not offer a solution.  I had a bit of electricity left and a full tank of gas for my REX (1.7 gallons), so I decided to get back on the I-15 and see if I could make it over the Cajon pass.  This could get interesting.

My batteries did not deplete until I was about 80% of the way up the hill.  Then my REX kicked in and I easily made it over the Cajon pass and then cruised into Hesperia.  My destination was the The Mall of Victor Valley where they had an EVgo fast charging station.  I plugged in, then headed into the mall to get something at the food court.  After some rather bland Chinese food (who orders Chinese food in Hesperia? Me, apparently) I hopped back in the Beemer and with a full charge I headed to a gas station to top off the REX tank.

I am a pretty efficient driver and can milk my batteries pretty well.  I made it from Hesperia all the way to Baker purely on EV power without kicking on the gas powered REX.  So I ultimately made it from San Diego to Baker while only using my gas powered REX for a few miles at the top of the Cajon Pass.  That’s terrific.  218 miles almost entirely electric.  It would have been 100% electric had the EVgo station at the San Bernardino mall worked properly.

But now we are in for an adventure.  There was no high speed commercial EV charging station in Baker (note: EVgo has one in Baker now in January 2018).  In fact, there were no high speed chargers until I got to Las Vegas (94 miles away).  There was a Level 2 ChargePoint commercial EV charging station in Primm NV at the state line.  But basically there was nothing between Baker and Primm.  I was on my own with my little 1.7 gallon gasoline tank and my REX which will only give me about 60 miles on a full tank.

I then drove along the I-15 freeway, I put the car into Eco+ mode (which is most efficient), got in the slow lane and putted along at the 56 MPH max when in Eco+ mode.  Incredibly, it went well.  With the hills and wind many trucks drive at that speed, so I was able to caravan with semis.  I made it to Mountain Pass 36 miles east of Baker without a problem.  There I filled up my gas tank and continued east.  I only had to go up the hill a bit and then it was downhill all the way to the state line.  I got to Primm and immediately went to the ChargePoint EV charging station at Whiskey Pete’s.  But it didn’t work!  It appeared damaged.  So now what?  Top off the REX gas tank and head into Las Vegas.

Once in Las Vegas I checked into my hotel and enjoyed the conference.  But when it was time to head back I decided to first visit an EVgo high speed commercial EV charging station to charge the car.  But for some reason those stations were not compatible with my BMW i3.  I visited 3 different EVgo sites and had the same problem.  There was a connectivity problem between their station and my car.  I called EVgo technical support and they said it could be a software problem with my car, but had no other logical explanation.  #frustrating

I headed back to San Diego and did the reverse of my drive to Las Vegas.  Gasoline all the way to Baker and the EV charging from Baker to San Diego.

This technology is still relatively young.  The charging stations that failed to work are frustrating, but why were there so few commercial EV charging stations to choose from?  Why the long stretch between Baker and Las Vegas without high speed commercial EV charging stations?

There is a huge need for more infrastructure handle the growing number of electric vehicles on the road.