Originally published on CleanTechnica
Road trips rarely consist of scripted fueling stops, nicely packed sack lunches, and firm itineraries, so when EV enthusiast Dennis Pascual and I decided to make the 540-mile | 869-kilometer run from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back, we intentionally shot from the hip. The quintessential road trip from LA to Vegas is a staple coming-of-age trip that thousands of youngsters embark on every week.
This Demands A Response
The trip was necessary to respond to the sensationalist headline from the EV road trip undertaken by one New York Times journalist claiming that the 8-hour drive required 5 hours of EV charging. In the real world, the majority of EVs sold can do the trip in much less time, with far less time spent charging. So we met up at the predetermined starting point of our journey in downtown Los Angeles, jumped into our trusty Tesla Model 3 with just 207 miles | 333 kilometers of range (325 miles | 525 kilometers is what’s available on a full charge), and hit the road.
“Our trip was different. It was to be a classic affirmation of everything right and true in the national character. A gross physical salute to the fantastic possibilities in this country.” Okay, so our trip to Las Vegas was not about the country like it was in the deranged classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but rather, it was a celebration of just how far electric vehicles have come in the last few years. And there were no bats, thank God.
To avoid traffic, we left Los Angeles at 5:00am (4:59am on the official clock for the trip) and headed east. The navigation said our first charging stop should be at the 150kW Tesla Supercharger in Yermo, California. We made good time, until we didn’t. An accident ahead of us resulted in parking lot traffic where we moved 2 miles | 3.2 kilometers over 1 hour and 38 minutes. The break gave us a chance to put Tesla’s new arcade game to the test.
The built-in arcade function with a game that’s actually modern and entertaining definitely helped pass the time — though, Twitter, email, and other social platforms admittedly played a significant role as well. A few practice rounds down and we were able to level up, earning a new character and a new level in the game. It’s not worth celebrating in the real world, but when you’re literally parked on the freeway for who knows how long, every success is worth celebrating. Thankfully, traffic started to move before my bladder did and we were on our way towards Yermo once again.
Yermo is one of Tesla’s less utilized charging stations and was one of the answers to the congestion at the original LA to Vegas charging stop in Baker, California. Stopping along the way at one of these three towns is a part of the journey no matter the type of vehicle used.
We were eager for the stop to grab some breakfast, stretch our legs, and answer the call of nature (pro tip: don’t send that one to voicemail). Yermo is a single stop exit. There is one attraction there and it just so happens to have a handful of Tesla chargers. Across the parking lot, a few new ChargePoint 50kW Tritium VeeFil chargers were being installed, which was a nice treat, as Dennis spent some time at Tritium.
After the quick pitstop in Yermo, we were eager to get back on the road for the 145 mile | 233 kilometer sprint over to Las Vegas.
Leaving Las Vegas
We arrived in old town Las Vegas at 10:47am and parked for a few minutes for a quick stretch of the legs. We opted to check out the new Fremont Experience, where we would assuredly lose a few bucks each. Dennis put a few bucks onto the craps table and came up empty after a few rolls of the dice. I was equally successful with my first venture on the Roulette wheel, in far less time.
Having checked the box in Downtown Las Vegas, we scrambled back to the car and started the trip back to Los Angeles. Before leaving town, we stopped at the South Las Vegas Tesla Supercharger for a very brief charging session to top up. We were not there for the food and found that we only needed 15 minutes of charging to get to our next stop in Baker, California, to see Tesla’s massive Supercharger and EVgo’s ultrafast charging station in a single stop.
The South Las Vegas Tesla Supercharger. Image credit: Dennis Pascual. Used with permission.
Juiced back up, we hit the road, back onto Highway 15 South towards California and the roadside refueling station that is Baker, California.
Charging Our Batteries & Bellies In Baker
Baker and Barstow are the usual suspects when it comes to midway stops between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. They both have well-established lines of fast food chains, gas stations, and tourist traps designed to extract as much money in as little time as possible from those passing through. After taking the exit, we breezed through the alien jerky stand and the large mothership parked out front and went straight for the new EVgo DC fast charging station.
Driving a Tesla Model 3, we knew we would not be able to charge there, as Tesla still has not released a CHAdeMO adapter for the Model 3. (Though, it is expected “soon.”) Just the same, we are supporters of electric vehicles of all shapes and sizes and that goes for EV charging stations as well. We took in the beauty of the new 6-stall EVgo station and ogled at the beautiful bifacial solar panels hung overhead. The shade they cast was welcome, as the “World’s Largest Thermometer” that protruded awkwardly into the sky a few feet away reminded us that it was a toasty 102°F | 39°C.
We had neglected to bring our solar ovens, so after a few minutes exploring the new station, we enjoyed a few Beyond Burgers from the nearby Carl’s Jr. The final stop for us in Baker was at Tesla’s Supercharging station, where we would drink down the largest charge of our journey in a 31-minute charging session.
We could have moved on in less time and with less of a charge, but we were busy just taking it all in. The 40-stall, solar-bolstered Tesla Supercharger in Baker is impressive. We wandered from station to station, just taking it all in. Compared to the 6 stalls up the road at the EVgo station, which is tucked behind a tourist trap shop, the Tesla Supercharger just a few blocks down a dusty road sends a completely different message. It sits comfortably on the side of the main drag in town, next to a Shell gas station and a lot next door that is actively being developed into another gas station.
The Tesla Supercharger isn’t attempting to project hopes and dreams. It’s just a part of the normal boring layout in Baker. And that’s a great thing. It is there to tell the world that charging EVs on long road trips is not only possible, but completely normal. 120 kilowatts of power at 40 stations hurts the brain to think about in technical terms, but to onlookers, it’s just a part of the normal landscape of Baker now.
As impressive as the physical footprint and charging capacity is at the Baker Supercharger, it is also the most poorly designed Tesla Supercharger I have experienced. The entire station is designed around every vehicle charging pointing in the same direction, but that is absolutely unclear when pulling up to the station. The result is chaos. Cars end up parking in every imaginable direction. Some pull in from the road and just park precariously between two stalls to let the charging cables reach. Others drive in circles before choosing their similarly ill-fated parking configuration. The station was not anywhere near its capacity, but that didn’t make it any less painful to watch.
We stopped for 31 minutes to charge, which, if anything, is rushing the trip. We ate the remains of our plant-based fast food meals, snapped a few photos for posterity, and packed up. There’s not a lot to see in Baker, but after hours in the car, we needed some time not being in the car. Just the same, we pushed onward, for science.
The Return To Los Angeles
Thus began the longest stretch of our trip. That 15-minute charge we picked up in Las Vegas was nice, but it also meant that we were backloading our driving towards the end of the trip. I was getting tired after waking up at 3:15 am to start this crazy adventure. “How long could we maintain,” I wondered. But we must continue. It had truthfully not been that long, but the sweet siren song of Autopilot threatened to lure me into a sleep that would not end well.
Dennis and I chatted it up for the last few hours of our trip, as we had been doing for the majority of the day. The time flew by. Before we knew it, we were back in the comfort of LA traffic. OK, so there is no comfort in traffic, but we were back. We snapped a few photos as we rolled into downtown Los Angeles to officially log the mileage, time, and state of charge, and that was that. Here are the official timestamps with driving time and charging times parsed out for clarity:
What Did We Learn?
Driving an electric vehicle on long road trips is easy as long as you have the right one. The Tesla Model 3 is the top selling electric vehicle in many markets around the world today because it delivers on the key requirements that real EV drivers have. Fast charging is a critical component of functional long-distance driving in an EV, and Tesla delivers on that in spades. The Supercharging network is the largest DC fast charging network in the world and that shows on road trips like this one.
They don’t need to be planned. They don’t need a ton of thought put into them. Just get in and go. Tesla drivers know this, as evidenced by the dozens of Teslas we spotted on the long dusty stretches between exits on the road to Las Vegas and back. They were absolutely all over the highway, with a few of them flying past us as we settled for our fixed cruise control speeds.
Autopilot made this trip easy. I would almost say too easy, but I’d worry that Tesla would take it away from me for the rest of my life and leave me Autopilot-less. I’m not saying it is perfect, as Autopark still tries to work more times in traffic than it does in actual parking lots, and Navigate on Autopilot’s automatic lane change is painful to experience most of the time, but overall, it improves with each and every over-the-air update that comes down.
For the long stretches of highway that constitute the majority of the Los Angeles to Las Vegas journey (and back), Autopilot was king. It allows the driver to exert far less energy towards the rote task of steering and acceleration while delivering improved safety. That is a game changer, my friends. If you haven’t tried it, get out there and do it. If you have tried it, I’m sorry. Now you have experienced the future and you’ll forever be tainted as a result. You’ll also probably end up buying a Tesla in the next few months.
If you are worried about the capabilities of electric vehicles, just do a bit of reading or get out there and take one for a test drive. The top selling electric vehicle out there is likely far more capable than you thought, but be warned: driving a car that is packed with so much future technology will ruin all other cars for you.