Friday, February 8, 2019

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Canadian Concert Crusade

It's been a hot minute since I have written about my EV adventures. While I have always focused on my Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV), but I do have a "Range Extended EV," a 2014 BMW i3, which is technically a series hybrid. I've always struggled with how I think about the i3, and I describe it as a fully electric vehicle that has an optional 650cc generator. It is by no means a Volt, which can attach its gasoline engine to the wheels in certain circumstances. With the i3, you're limited to the abilities of the electric motor because that's the only thing driving the wheels -- the generator is attached to the battery with a high voltage cable.

So, I use this car for my distance driving. It's been to Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater house (1055 mile round trip), my friend rented it to visit his family in Naples, FL (2700 miles round trip), and most recently... we did 2098 miles going to see Aqua in Canada. Yes, we drove 14 straight hours (on a little under 13 gallons of gasoline) to see the Barbie Band. It was well worth it!

I am sure you're wondering how the i3 REx was capable of handling such a trip. The answer to that is, in its stock configuration it wouldn't have been able to. To get the most carbon credits, BMW limits the REx to coming on at 7% battery power, and its range cannot exceed the battery's 85-mile rated range. In reality the REx can provide 90 to 120 miles of range (depending on conditions), but you have to change the software coding so that the fuel pump meters the full 2.4 gallons instead of the 1.9 gallons it's set to. You also need to enable an option that shipped on my car, but got removed at the last minute (and is standard in Europe): Hold State of Charge.
This function enables you to hold the current battery charge level, so long as you're below 75% state of charge. This is the secret to long road trips. It's far from automatic, you must manually turn on the generator every time you stop to refuel it -- unless you have a passenger! See, BMW turns off the car when the driver door is opened. Most often, you still use up to 10% of your battery during a road trip with the REx on. When you stop, the REx can catch up and generally gets the battery to within 3% of the Hold point (i.e., if you set it at 74% and it dropped to 68%, it would charge to at least 71% before turning the engine off when the car is stopped). A passenger can exit the vehicle without it turning off, and thus, allowing the generator to continue to run while you refuel so it can top off the battery.

You do end up stopping every 80 miles or so for fuel, 1 to 1.5 hours. This is a deal breaker for many people, however, on a 14+ hour trip it is a life saver. The forced break to get out of the car prevents fatigue, something I feel I can prove since I didn't get out of the car at all for most of this trip and my back was killing me for it (like it does in every other car I drive for more than 6 straight hours).

I'd love to say we had a close call, but we never did. In the West Virginia mountains we ran 60mph (which was 5mph under the limit), and I recorded a max of 11% battery consumption with the REx engaged. Every time we pulled off to refuel, it would get it almost back to the hold point. By the time we reached Ohio, we were no longer eating into the battery reserve -- the REx was capable of sustaining the 74% state of charge.

The most exciting thing about this trip, aside from seeing Aqua, was using ChargePoint stations so far from home -- including Detroit, Windsor, Toronto, and London (Canada). There were other stations we used that were non-networked, like a Schneider Electric station in Charleston, WV. We also crossed 50,000 miles on this trip, meaning my car is out of it's factory warranty and is now using it's 2 year/50,000 mile Certified Pre-Owned warranty.

All in all, it was no different than any other long trip I've taken in a conventional car. The difference was that we could run the car on battery alone in Windsor, London, and Toronto and only use gasoline to get between those locations. We managed to fully, or nearly fully, charge the car at all the cities we visited. We did encounter ICEing in Toronto (where a gas vehicle is parked in the EV charging space), but I had my J1772 extension cable so I could plug up even though I was in the next space over.

If you'd like to see my album of photos and videos from the trip, follow this link.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Quest 2018: Myrtle Beach

426 All Electric Miles in one weekend.

This route avoided grated bridges

Every February I attend a conference in Myrtle Beach called Quest. This year I decided that I wanted to take my Zero SR ZF13.0 (with ChargeTank), due to the unbelievably spring-like temperatures forecasted for the weekend. Having gone to Myrtle Beach in the Smart last year, I was already familiar with one route to get there. However, I'm still a novice rider. This wouldn't just be my first long trip, this was going to expose me to a number of environments I've never encountered, mostly wind-related. I did know that there was a grated bridge that I had to cross to get into Wilmington. I had read online that motorcycles are a little scary on grated bridges, and that even the most seasoned rider feels weird when they cross one. I decided that was a little too outside my experience level, so I plotted a different route. This route started out like the last one: first stop Campbell University in Buies Creek. After that I'd head over to UNC Pembroke, then have lunch in Shallotte, NC while charging on a Tesla Destination unit at a Smithfield's Chicken-n-BBQ. From there, the Myrtle Beach Tanger (which was 4 miles from the hotel) was only 25 miles away. I had a departure target for 5:30am. I would up leaving an hour earlier, sometimes you just wake up raring to go at 3:30am. So I hit the road by 4:10am. Google took me a different route to Campbell this time around, down 401 to 55 and through Angier. Usually, it sends me Old Stage Road. But, there was no traffic and 401 is 55mph for most of the way once you're outside the city limits. It was cold, much colder than I had anticipated. I arrived at Campbell around 5:05am, and plugged in. The bike estimated 1.5 hours for a full charge. While I was standing around, the Sheriff pulled up and talked to me about the bike for a good twenty minutes. This would be the first of several conversations I had about the bike on this trip. The Sheriff took off, and wished me a safe ride. I let the bike charge to 95%, which took a little over an hour.

Charging at Campbell University
I then unplugged and set off. This leg of the trip was just as cold, but now we had fog. For those who have never experienced fog on a motorcycle, it's an experience. It's a colder moist patch of air, and it makes seeing out of your helmet almost impossible. I ended up flipping open my visor, because I couldn't see the road. I was lucky in that there wasn't a lot of outbound traffic on the roads, but I did have to contend with the headlights of all the late shift workers headed home. I also had to maintain 55mph, through sweeping curves. I got pretty tense, and pulled over one or twice to let cars pass by. I wasn't sure I could make it to Pembroke. However, I persisted, and I arrived at 7:32am with 15% power. I had two hours of downtime here, which I needed to thaw out, recover my nerves, and get something to eat. I have a friend who works at Pembroke, and he was going to come and meet me for breakfast at the Starbucks on campus. However, before he got to the school, a campus police officer came over and asked me if that was a Zero. He told me that their force considered Zero for their motorcycle officers but went with BMW because the dealer was closer. He said he really loved how it rode and wanted one.
Charging at UNC Pembroke
So, I can say that law enforcement loves the idea of an electric motorcycle. After my chat with the officer, who kindly gave me directions, I wandered over to the Starbucks for hot chocolate and a breakfast sandwich. My friend showed up shortly after I started to regain feeling in my hands, and we chatted for a good bit. I hadn't seen him in several years, so it was good to catch up. After he had to go start his day at work, I found my way to the gym which has lounge chairs. I camped out for an hour and caught up with my people via social media. At 10am, it was time for the next leg to Shallotte, NC. The ride to Shallotte was amazing. I was riding faster and more confident than ever before. It was only supposed to be 78 miles, but somehow I missed a turn and made it 88 miles. I then missed the service road entrance to the Smithfield's, and had to go up US-17 at 65mph, turn around, and come back. I rolled into the parking lot scared the bike was going to die on me, with 0% indicated power remaining. This particular location required the use of my QuickChargePower Tesla jDaptor on a Tesla Destination Charger. 
Cutting in close in Shallotte

As I expected, an F250 is blocking the parking space. However, this used to be a handicapped space so there was a wheel chair ramp space that was marked off with do not park lines. I pulled the bike right up next to the F250 in the lines, and plugged the Tesla conenctor into my adapter, then plugged it into the bike. The bike started charging, and I went inside to eat. I was a tad keyed up, and left the keys in the ignition of the bike (which was still powered on), but I did lock the Tesla adapter to the bike so no one could have taken off with it even if they tried. I didn't notice this under about 25 minutes into the charge, and after I had my third 20-minute conversation about the bike with an enthusiastic motorcycle riding employee. He told me the Tesla unit was new, had just been changed out two weeks ago because the old one just stopped working. I went outside and got my key after our chat and my meal, came back inside to wait until I had enough power to reach the Tanger 30 miles away in Myrtle Beach. I decided to go check on the bike and was really shocked to find that it had stopped charging. 
QuickChargePower Tesla JDaptor Stub in action

When I took the key out it was at 24%, and when I turned the bike back on it was at 28%. I really had a panic here, as it attempted to start charging again but all I heard was a clicking coming from the ChargeTank. I really thought the on board charger had just failed, so close to my destination. I disconnected the adapter from the bike, no dice. I disconnected the Tesla unit from the adapter and the bike, plugged it all back in, no dice. Restarted the bike, no dice. Restarted the Tesla unit (which you can't see the lights on in daylight), no dice. I had to know if it was the bike, so I looked up the next closest charging station -- Ocean Isle Beach Welcome Center, 5 miles away. OK, let's go. I set out, and got to the giant bridge that takes you to the island. I am not a fan of heights, and I'm also not used to the sea wind, and I made a hard stop in the median and threw on my hazard lights. I felt like this was it, I was going to end up renting a van to take the bike back to Raleigh. I pulled out my phone and it said there was a Novant Health center with a Charger, 8 miles from where I was sitting. I had 16% power -- enough to get me there. It's worth the shot. I back tracked to 17, and took it down to the Novant Health. 
Novant Health saved the day!

I rolled up with only 6 or 7% power (I didn't take a photo -- you know, this was a crisis). I plugged in the Schneider Level 2 and heard its relay thunk on, and to my amazement, the bike started charging. It wasn't the on board charger after all! I still need to test the Tesla adapter to see if it was it, or the station... This location was fortunate enough to have a Goodwill next door, so I spent some time in their air conditioning browsing at nick nacks while the bike charged to at least 30% power. When I hit 31%, I headed off to the Tanger. What was only a 20 mile ride from where I was at took me about 45 minutes with all the traffic. I forgot how crazy traffic was in Myrtle Beach, I also forgot there is no helmet law in South Carolina. It's still weird to see people in no protective gear riding 70 down the highway. This ride was really uneventful, and luck was with me as I was able to snag an open EV parking space (in fact, none of the spaces were ICE'd)!
As I was plugging in, and older couple came up to me and asked me what it cost to charge. I told them that it's free -- the bike, or most cars, can't really draw more than $2 in power, so it's like a small discount for shopping here. And shopping I had planned to do. I needed a new pair of Sketchers shoes! I did my shopping and wound up waiting for my the rest of my party at the food court. Once everyone had arrived we headed over to check into the hotel. I'd love to say that all the negatives of this story were over, but I got hit with one last blow. The hotel didn't allow motorcycles to park on their property. I had to mark in a metered space on the street, however, they aren't charging until March 1.
The conference itself was fantastic as it always is. But all good things must come to an end. Sunday morning at 5am, having waken up bright eyes and ready for today's challenge. I chose a new route home - Novant Health to Nissan of Lumberton to Campbell University. The mileage was about the same, but I knew all these chargers worked. 
State of Power at Novant Health

I got to Novant at 5:37, and plugged in for about an hour to get a full charge. It was dawn when I left, and I could clearly see the roads. I was able to run 55+ mph the entire way to Lumberton. I arrived at Nissan of Lumberton with 7% power. As promised, they left a space open so I could get to the charger (I called ahead and asked permission to use this location). I plugged in and walked down the street to Dunkin Donuts for breakfast, and hung out there for an hour. I needed a full charge, which was estimated to be 2 hours and 35 minutes, so when I felt I'd stayed my welcome at Dunkin, I walked back to the dealership and found an old bucket to use as a chair and sit. I mostly read stories on my phone while the bike charged. About 2 hours in I checked on it, and it had stopped charging.
Charging at Terry Chapin Nissan of Lumberton
I turned it on, and it resumed charging. Weird, I thought, so I pulled out my phone. The battery pack was at 104F, and at 122F it stops charging. I'm parked in direct sunlight. Had the pack gotten too hot? I monitored it for the remainder of the charge, and it did just fine. It reached 100% and was at 102F, I knew once we started moving that the cool air would bring it back down into the 80-90F range. So, at 11am, I took off for Campbell. I arrived there at 12:30pm, plugged in, and went to the subway for lunch. I ate my sandwich and looked at the weather, which said I could expect rain. I decided that 30 minutes was sufficient (47% power) to get me home, so off I went. The last leg home was filled with anticipation, as I was really ready to get home and be off the bike for a while. I got to US401 with exactly 20%, and arrived at the house with 11% battery left about 2:10pm. I plugged the bike in, and it fully charged on my ChargePoint Home without any issues. 426 round trip miles and only one big scare. I think that's par the course for a motorcycle journey, regardless if it's electric or internal combustion. I posted the first photo to my social media, and have been getting a lot of 'street cred' from my friends. One said that "400 miles on an IC sport bike is a challenge, to do it on an electric is epic." If you say so, my friend! I just wanted to do the whole trip on $1.93 in electricity!

Monday, October 9, 2017

The All-New Smart ForTwo (453) Electric Drive: Reviewed

It's been a hot minute since I've posted about my antics in the EV world. I'm sorry for that, but if you're not following me on Twitter, you should be! That's where the up to the minute stuff happens. I recently took an Amtrak to Memphis, by way of New Orleans, as part of a mini-vacation and also family business trip (dad has a car he wants me to sell, one that isn't electric). This trip afforded me a wonderful opportunity: I could stop in at the Smart Center of Buckhead, in Atlanta, and test drive the new 453 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive. The manager for the Smart center is Mr. Emmanuel Lindsey, and he is one of the most knowledgeable Smart ED folks I've ever met. At the time of my visit, they only had a single electric that was available to test drive -- but they had three that had just been unloaded from the truck and were awaiting their pre-delivery inspections. So, what did I think about the EPA lower-rated, higher horsepower second act?

In short, I like it a lot and would recommend it. I can't say I love it, and I'll get into why in a moment. First, let's look at what Smart got right. The 453 has a greatly improved suspension: instead of jarring you over speed bumps and pot holes like the 451, it almost floats over them. I've been told, by the now defunct Smart center of Cary, that the Smart 453 shares the same front suspension as the current C-Class. It certainly feels like it, as the handling is head and shoulders above the outgoing model. The new car also features height adjustable seats -- helpful since they did not add a tilt or telescoping steering wheel. All Smarts now have cruise control, auto up/down on both windows, and a bluetooth radio as standard features. Much to my dismay, but probably to the delight of many, the ignition switch was put on the steering column instead of being directly in front of the gear shifter. Other notable improvements included better headroom in the coupe (which matters for someone of my 6 foot 3 inch stature), and a tighter turning radius! The new electric motor has a little more horsepower (80HP, up from 74HP). The battery has stayed the same, at 16.7kW. I was really delighted to find out that the go pedal still has the kick-down button (this is a stopper that limits you to 75% engine power output, you had to press harder to engage 100% power to the motor). They also included a charging indicator light, which glows white to illuminate the charging port when you first open the charge port door.
Another notable departure is that the dual-gauge pods are a single gauge pod, showing % Motor Power and % State of Charge (Battery) in easy to read analogue gauges. The center cluster is nicely done, updated with a color display that easily relays all the information you'd expect: charge level, speed, miles, range estimate, and even suggestions on prolonging your driving range. Despite being 300lb heavier (2450lb vs 2150lb on the 451 ED), the new model still zips right along with ease carrying two passengers.

The model I test drove had less than 20 miles on it. The range estimator, with a 100% charge level, said 39 miles. It dropped to 37 miles when Emmanuel turned on the AC. During our test drive -- which included a small freeway stint --
the range estimator continued to clime up to 49 miles of range, at 95% power when we returned back to the dealership. Upon returning, Mr. Lindsey showed me the two Electric Cabriolets that were pending delivery inspection. The new cabriolet has a quieter top motor, and it opens the roof in about 10 seconds -- a 3 second improvement on the older model. Unfortunately, Smart decided to redesign the tailgate. This is why I can't say I love the 453. The new tailgate isn't as deep as it used to be, and the top's rails are stored standing up, as opposed to laying flat, so they protrude into your cargo space when stowed. That's a big problem for such a small storage compartment. While we are talking tailgates, they also eliminated the charger-in-the-tailgate on all models, instead offering a clip-in hard wall bag to store the unit in. The bag could also be used to stored bottles, cans, or loose vegetables.

Overall, I think that the improvements outweigh the caveats. I'm not ready to upgrade, but should something happen to Gopher, I'd certainly consider the new model. I also want to thank Mercedes-Benz of Buckhead for retaining their Smart Center franchise. I've got a gallery link of all the photos I took here. Check them out, and if you are in NC and want a Smart 453 ED, Mr. Lindsey said that they would ship the car right to your door from their Atlanta dealership.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Delivering Jason's 500e to South Carolina

This post is being back-dated, as I forgot to write it up when it happened.

Over Memorial Day weekend, my friend Jason bought this robins egg blue Fiat 500e. When he drove his Mercedes C250 up to Raleigh, he asked me a lot of questions about living with my electric Smart car for a year. He told me that if he could get into one for under $200/mo, it would be saving him money and it would save his a hefty over mileage fee on his Mercedes lease. I asked him what he thought about Fiat's, and he said he liked them, so on Sunday we went to Westgate Imports which had 15 used 500e's on the lot. He fell in love with a $9,998 low mileage 2015, which he bought and I agreed to deliver it to his home (380 miles away).

I had my route fully planned: Tanger in Mebane, Havana Phil's in Greensboro, Mallard Creek Park and Ride in Concord, Lowell County Library, overnight in Columbia at my friend's house, then a charge at Fountain Inn before making it to Columbia, SC. Each location was between 70 and 80 miles apart, well within the range abilities of the Fiat. The initial stop went as planned, Tanger was not busy and I was able to plug in quickly. I was reading Paul Orfalea's autobiography Copy This!, and grabbed a tea from one of the restaurants before taking off for Greensboro. This is where I hit a snag. I'd used Havana Phil's charger back in April when I drove my Smart ForTwo Electric Drive Cabriolet to the Greensboro Odyssey event. However, Phil's single-plug ChargePoint was giving a charging error on the Fiat. I won't lie, I had a moment a panic...had the on board charger failed? I pulled out my phone and found that the Greensboro Coliseum had installed a ChargePoint dual plug station just a few weeks ago. I had 20% power, so I was able to get there easily.

As I was plugging in, a maintenance guy in a truck drove past. 10 minutes later, as I'm reading my book with the AC on, four maintenance guys roll up on a golf cart and ask me a million questions about the car. They'd never seen anyone use the charger, didn't know how it worked, and couldn't believe I was driving this car 380-miles using free charging infrastructure. The local's recommended Stamey's Barbecue for lunch, noting that President Bush had eaten there. The food was good, and they didn't rush me from the counter after I finished my food and camped out reading my book for an hour.

My next charge wouldn't be until Concord, at a park and ride. I had one staff member inquire about the car while I was waiting. Keep in mind, I'm spending 3 to 4 hours at each location to recharge this car. I had one more charge stop before I'd reach my overnight in Greenville, which was the Lowell County Library in Belmont, NC. Due to the crazy traffic, I took back roads to get from Concord to Belmont. This was the only time I've ever seen an EV charger that was placed on a sidewalk. It was truly the strangest location, almost an after thought. However, I wasn't the first car to use it. I was really glad it existed, because I would not have made it to Greenville otherwise. 

The drive to Greenville was not smooth, it was late at night and I missed an exit and had to take a longer way to my destination. I was really scared, because the battery had been at 0% for at least two miles. I got to my friends street and couldn't find his house. Finally, I managed to get to his home and plug in. I'd been on the road for right at 12 hours at this point. My friend had swapped over a 6R20 plug for me, but the circuit wasn't upgraded to be a 20A 240v, so I had to charge on Level 1 speeds. That was OK, as I planned to get a full sleep and only needed to go 20 miles for my next charging stop at Fountain Inn. 

This was the second most annoying stop behind the Park and Ride because there was nothing to do. I had to wait an hour for the Subway to open, on a Saturday, so I could get breakfast. However I only needed 2.5 hours here to make it to Jason's house. I left Fountain Inn and drove down 26 at highway speeds with the AC and Cruise Control on. I arrived at Jason's house with 30% battery leftover, and used my charging adapters to fully charge the car from his oven's power outlet before he got home. When we got home, he drove me in the Fiat downtown and we located all the charging stations he would be using. He treated me to a meal, and then dropped me back off at his house so I could wait for my friend Nate to pick me up and take me back to Raleigh.  It was quite the adventure -- and not something I'd want to do frequently. However, the fact that it could be done is what's important.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Mission: Myrtle Beach

Let's talk about the trip stats before we get into the detail. 427.1 miles door-to-door from my home to Myrtle Beach and back. Let it be known that I am crazy, the good kind of crazy. The kind of crazy that looks at a hypothetical situation and says, "Let's try!"

I don't remember who, but a member of a group of friends that I attend an annual conference in Myrtle Beach told me it was a shame my little Smart couldn't make it. I've had Myrtle Beach on my radar ever since, and it happens that I had a good push to do it: a neighbor from our last neighborhood bought a Nissan LEAF and was asking about taking it to Greenville (piece of cake) and Wilmington. We looked on Plugshare and discovered that there were CHAdeMO DC Chargers in Wilmington, but the city was 20 miles outside the EPA-rated range of 109 miles on the LEAF. There were two Level 2 charging opportunities: Campbell University and Nissan of Clinton. Because I love my dear neighbor, and because Wilmington is a mere 65-miles from the Tanger Outlet in North Myrtle Beach, I decided to put America's Shortest Range EV* currently for sale to the test. If I could make it in the Smart, ANY EV could make the drive.

I really pulled the stops out for this trip. I left at 8pm from my home in Raleigh and stopped first at Campbell University for a quick top up. I was driving lightly and averaging 3.9mi/kWh, having used only 42% of the battery to travel 35.2 miles. I started watching the movie Run Lola Run and recharged to 70% before departed for Nissan of Clinton -- 40 miles away. I arrived with around 15% battery left, and having called the dealer earlier in the week to confirm the charger was usable after hours, plugged in. Now, it's a little after midnight, and there isn't much here except a 24-hour McDonalds. I decided that I would sleep in the Smart. You read that right: I, a 6'3" well over 250-lb adult male intended to sleep inside a car that is hardly 8 feet long.

It was much easier than I expected it to be. The Smart features a flip-forward passenger seat to allow longer boxes to be carried home. I folded the seat flat and put one leg between the gear selector and the head rest, and the other leg between the door and the other side of the head rest. Much to my own amazement, when I leaned back, I had about a half-inch of room from the top of my head to the tailgate. Add in several (like 6) pillows, and you've got a decent make-shift tent for the night. However, you run into the problem of light pollution keeping you awake. Never fear! I already own a "popcorn showercap" (as my spouse calls it), a half-car cover designed to keep the interior cool on sunny days when the top is down. Used in just the right way, it blocks out all the offending light so that you can sleep.

I made my passenger seat bed and laid back. It wasn't as comfortable as I'd remembered earlier in the day, so I found a way to get into the fetal position, with most of my body in the trunk behind the drivers seat (which I also leaned forward some so I could snuggle a pillow with both arms). As I lay here, thinking about how utterly insane I must be, it started to rain. I love the sound of rain on a convertible roof, hearing it on the cover made it sound like rain hitting a tent. I immediately had wonderful nostalgic memories of camping with my family as a child, and soon fell asleep. However about an hour later I woke up because the car had become quite stuffy, so I switched on the ignition and turned the fan on. I drifted back off to sleep. Somewhere around 5:30 I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep. I generally run on a mere 6 hours of sleep, and 5 hours was about 90% of my norm, so I decided to get "up" and sit in the driver seat till the car reached 100% charge. Apparently my driving had the battery management module all kinds of confused, because it went to 100% then 99% then 100% then 99% a few times. Finally I decided when the guess-o-meter said I had 78 miles of range (we only needed to traverse 61), I'm going to go. So I left, and arrived in Wilmington around 6:38am.

I parked in the downtown parking deck, right on the water front. The first hour of parking is free, then it's $1/hr there after until you reach $8 which is the daily maximum. I plugged into one of the two Eaton chargers, and decided to wander around and take a lot of photos. It was going to be an hour and a half before any of the breakfast places opened up, so I had ample opportunity to find all the usual tourist sights to snap without any interruption from other people. I truly love the 5-7am time space, because the world is just so peaceful. Anyway, once I'd gotten my photos I decided maybe I should get some cash because there were ATMs on just about every corner. Small downtowns don't always take plastic, and I wanted to be prepared. However, I wasn't up for a $3 transaction fee, so I wandered two miles to the nearest CashPoints ATM to withdraw my money without a fee. The walk was through a rough part of town, so I called a Lyft to get me back downtown. I spent $8 (with tip) on a car ride to avoid a $3 fee, lesson learned. Once back downtown I ate at The Dixie Grill, a truly wonderful little spot. They were very friendly to the stranger with a laptop (I was teleworking while charging), and never pressured me to give up my table even after my meal was complete. A little over an hour after I sat down and ate, I used their restroom and went back to the car. I tried to catch a quick nap, but it wasn't happening, mostly because I needed to use the bathroom. I walked all around the downtown looking for the public restrooms I'd seen just two and a half hours earlier, and finally found them -- literally they were on the other side of the wall to which my car was charging.

I sat in the car until it hit 99% and unplugged - destination Myrtle Beach. It's 65 miles, well within my car's ability, and the route I took only had a small stretch that was 65MPH. I didn't get the Low Battery warning until I was exiting off the highway for the Tanger Outlet (HWY 17 location, since there are TWO Tangers in Myrtle Beach for some reason). I had to make a U-Turn since you can't make a left right off the exit anymore into the mall. I slowly crawled my way around to the Car Chargers, to find one of them (the Handicap/EV space) ICEd by a handicap marked car, and another space ICEd by a Dodge Journey. Luckily, the other two EV spaces were wide open, so I pulled in and plugged up. The car reported a 5.5-hour-to-full charge time, but I believe it's being pessimistic. A young family were walking past as I plugged in and the dad pointed my car out to his daughter. I piped up and told him I'd driven it from Raleigh, to which he and his wife were really impressed. He said he wished he saw more of them on the road, and I said I agree. The whole purpose of this trip was to prove that the lowest-range car in America* most certainly could be used, if planned accordingly, to take a long weekend in Wilmington or Myrtle Beach.

While I was at the Tanger, I let their management know about the ICE-ing issue, where a non-plugin car parks in the plugin charging space, and how the Mebane, NC location addressed it. Their management was very receptive to the idea, and said they'd reach out to the manager of the Mebane location for more information. I decided that since I was at a mall, I should be a patron, and I bought a new $38 outfit. After a few hours of charging, with two more to go before I could get back to Wilmington, I remembered that I passed by the home of another Smart electric drive owner. Having just exchanged emails with Len about the annual battery service, I emailed him to let him know I was in the area.

Enthusiastically, as only EV owners could, Len invited me over for a slow charge and tea. I asked if he happened to have a NEMA 240-volt outlet in his garage, and being the good car guy he is, he had one for his air compressor. Off to Ocean Isle I went, arriving to his private community in about 40 minutes. I needed another 22 miles to get back to Wilmington for the night, about an hour and a half's worth of charging. The time flies when you're chatting with a car geek! I learned Len has owned Mercedes cars for quite a while, and has a number of other MB two-seaters as well! He and his wife are slowly pairing down to just their Smart electric and their 99 Turbodiesel E class. I truly enjoyed our chat, mostly about cars, but also about energy, art, and where we grew up. This was a very unexpected and special treat for me. Len was my inspiration to try and take my car to the coast, because he had to get his car to the Cary Smart Center for its annual battery health check.

After leaving Len's beautiful home, I got back to Wilmington and met up with my buddy William at the Whole Foods. I plugged into the GE Wattstation, and we left to get dinner at Flaming Amy's. My phone kept buzzing saying the car was charging and not charging. I have no idea if someone was messing with the plug, or if the charger was just having issues (I don't have the best luck with the GE Wattstation units), so we moved the car to a ChargePoint charger at the local BMW dealer. We left it for a full charge -- not to be done until nearly 3am due to the severely low state of charge -- and headed to his home for the night. To say I crashed out hard puts it mildly, I really needed the 5.5 hours of sleep I got. Like a true gentleman, at 4am he got up to take me to my car. I cannot thank him enough for his generosity, and for playing Lyft when there were no Lyft (or Uber) drivers available. After a hug goodbye, I unplugged my car and headed back North on NC421 towards Clinton's Nissan dealership. I arrived with 8% charge remaining, due to terrain, elevation, and chilly weather. I plugged in and walked over to the McDonalds for something to eat and to eavesdrop on the locals conversations. At 5:30am, you get the good town gossip from the hard working citizens!

I moseyed back over to my car and finished watching Run Lola Run, when Phillip arrived to open up the dealership. He was a really nice fellow, and he knew a thing or two about African Grey parrots (my front plate says 'Life is Greyt,' a play on words nod to my parrots). We chatted quite a bit, and he said I was welcome to use the charger as long as I needed. When they opened up officially, I went in to ask about buying a hat as a token of thanks. They gave it to me, on the house, they were happy to see someone use the charger and to prove that the technology was ready for everyday use. I met the owner, who told me they are installing a CHAdeMO Fast Charge unit this year, and they he has high expectations that the new 2018 200-mile car will sell well in his rural community. His wife had one, and loved it, except she would get nervous going to Benson if there was a headwind. He had several in his rental fleet and that convinced people, he said they all came back talking about what a rocketship the car was. He's a very smart man to put the cars in peoples hands as a loaner while their car is in for service, a technique I wish others did. I told him about the $10,000 Plug-in NC Nissan Rebate going on, and he was very intrigued since he hadn't heard about it before. He was really impressed with my Myrtle Beach trip and told me that he hoped I'd stop back by, and that I was welcome to charge whenever I needed. I truly love the sense of community that these car inspires.

After topping up, I headed back to Campbell University. I had a scheduled work appointment to attend to at 11am, so I figured this was a good place to camp out for an early lunch and 3-hour charge. I popped into the Subway and ordered some food, sat down and started working on emails and putting together this post. Around two hours in, after having completed all the scheduled work tasks I had, I called a friend of mine in Fuquay-Varina to see if she was home. Amanda was home, and she had some items for me from her recent IKEA trip. So I decided to top off my charge on Level 1 (standard house outlet) at her house, and help her make a vinegar-baking soda volcano with her 6-year old daughter.

I wound by way from Campbell to Angier to Fuquay, and I came across a little gem: a Th!nk City Car parked in a Fuquay resident's yard. The car looks like it's being used, which is really cool. It's basically the front wheel drive version of my Smart car! I arrived at Amanda's and plugged in, checked into work for a bit, and then helped to make science more fun for her daughter. We also used her VW TDI (not a scandal model, a much older one) to go and get lunch at the a deli down the road, and her daughter was very interested in sitting in my "toy car." After about two hours, I'd charged just enough to get home, so I hugged everyone and set out on the final leg of my journey. I took 401 to McDowell St to Atlantic Ave. I pulled into my driveway with around 3% battery power, and promised my little car it could sit for a good while on it's home charger before I asked it to do anything else.

All said and done, had I done this trip in a 2017 Smart Electric Drive, I'd have spent half the time charging. The hour in Campbell would have given me more than 50% charge, and I could have cut down my time at Nissan of Clinton to a max of 2 hours. I think this would make the trip reasonable for more people, because it's a little longer than a sit-down meal would take start to finish. My 4-hour stops work if you've never been to the destination before. Looking at Wilmington as an example, you could get in a tour or two of the city along with a meal before you're ready to get to Myrtle Beach. Many hotels in Myrtle now have chargers, so you could get to your hotel and plug in for the night (and rent a bike, or walk, around the Myrtle strip).

This trip was a test. I have wanted to drive my little Smart to the Tail of the Dragon (US129 along the NC/TN boarder), and I now know I have the patience and craziness needed to do a 370-mile one-way drive. When I make that trip, you can bet you'll read about it on here. If you'd like to see my pictures from the trip, click here.

*The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is technically the loss leader for range, with an EPA rated 62 miles per charge. However, Mitsubishi hasn't really imported any of them since mid-2016 (as 2017 models), and having driven one with it's aggressive regenerative braking, I have no doubt that it would make this journey without fail. In fact, since all the 2014-on models have CHAdeMO standard, it would be even faster to reach Myrtle Beach in a race with the Smart.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Wilson Whirligigs and Plugshare excursion

Historic Downtown Wilson is a neat place. For starters, It has free WiFi by Greenlight, the city-run fiber internet service, these fascinating wind-powered sculptures called Whirligigs. Icing on the cake? Four ChargePoint EV chargers, but three of them aren't on Plugshare! This has made Wilson an excellent place to visit in my little EV, and it provides a convenient stop to destinations east such as Greenville (which is where I was headed).

The first ChargePoint charger was located inside Centre Brick #1 Parking lot, hidden back behind the dumpsters. I circled the parking lot several times, passing the Whirligig Park, before I pulled in and found it. I pulled into Wilson around 2pm and quickly found out that I had arrived during the 'food sieta,' as Big Harold's Diner had closed for the day and neither 217 Brew Works nor Heroes Sports Oyster Bar and Grill opened until 4pm. The only place that was open was across from the Amtrak station, SaYum Jamacian Deli & Ice Cream Shop. But before I wandered over there, which is very close to one of the three ChargePoint chargers not listed on Plugshare, I took a look at all the Whirligigs in the Wilson Whirligig Park, formerly known to most ECU students as Acid Park. I highly suggest you look at my photo album from this trip to see the videos of the machines in action. These are truly neat sculptures, and I wonder how difficult it would be to turn them all into electricity generating wind-powered turbines. I seriously spent about an hour just walking around the Whirligig park taking photos and talking with a couple from Pennsylvania who stopped in on their way to Cary (quite the detour) because they saw the Whirligigs on Roadside America.
Wilson Whirligig - the Big One
After playing tourist, and seeing that the local Brewpub didn't open till 4 (and was also very close to the Centre Brick parking lot I was charging in), I decided to head over to SaYum for lunch. The food was excellent and the ice cream a good size portion, all for very reasonable prices. After I got my bite to eat, I headed across the street to find the ChargePoint by the AmTrak station so that I could get it on Plugshare. It was easy enough to locate, and then I headed over to the Police Department to find their ChargePoint. I was really surprised that all of Wilson's chargers were 24/7 accessible and in FREE to park areas, with no restrictions at all. Each EV charger had the striped lines directly in front of it, and two spaced on either side with one marked (with a sign) as EV parking only. Sadly, it didn't say "while charging," but that's OK. I don't imagine there are more than a handful of Volts who use these machines on any kind of frequent basis, only two of the four chargers had ever shown a connection according to the ChargePoint app on my phone. I finally stopped in at the City of Wilson Customer Service Center to add a photo of the charger to the PlugShare entry, and update the network to ChargePoint.

With my mission complete, and enough charge to get to Greenville, I started to wander back towards my car. I cut across some parking lots and found myself on a side street looking in the window at Art at 123 Studio. I am a sucker for an art gallery, so I walked in and was greeted by the owner, Andrea, who introduced me to two other local artists (one just so happened to be Louis Small Jr). We chatted quite a bit about the little roadtrip adventure I was on, about my car, and about how the city of Wilson has become so progressive with it's fiber internet and now free public car chargers. I'd seen the advertising, but they all reminded me of the art expo happening next weekend, and asked me to come visit again. I assured them I would, as today's adventure was a proof of concept test drive as part of a larger plan I have to take my EV to the NC coast (specially to photograph Cape Lookout before it gets its LED upgrade).

I made it back to my car, unplugged it, took out my roof rails and continued east to Farmville. I met up at The Original Barber Shop in downtown with my buddies Logan & AJ (who live in Farmville) and my Raleigh neighbor Rich (who still owns a house in Greenville). All three of them happened to bump into each other at the same barbershop. Such is small town American life! We chit chatted and caught up, since I haven't seen Logan and AJ in quite a while, and the owner of the shop took a break to check out my little electric car. After Rich got his ears lowered, we drove to his house (a mere 8 miles away) and I plugged my car into a 120v outlet to top up before the boys met up with us at the house. Part of this trip was to help Rich evaluate his semi-kitchen tear down/remodel, since he needs to sell the place. Once Logan and AJ arrived, we agreed to eat at Crave Uptown Restaurant and Bar.

Coincidentally, this was the same venue that the Drag Review was to be held at. Crave is a unique space, half restaurant and half bar/dance floor, two separate spaces in one building. It's right next to the downtown parking deck, which has two AeroVironment-made Nissan branded EV chargers donated by the Nissan dealership. My little car had a big friend to charge with at the deck: a Tesla Model X from Virginia! We plugged in and settled in at Crave, which has some of the best home made bread I've had in a while. After dinner (which was 5 stars, by the way), we wandered over to The Sojourner and I spent more than half my trip budget on bracelets, an LGBT Rainbow Windsock, and a really cool Parrot totem made of stone.  We finally wound up at Uptown Brewing Company for a beer, which was the last stop for AJ and Logan before they went home. After saying our goodbyes, Rich and I returned to Crave for yet another cocktail and to await the drag performance. Check out my album (link above) for all the photos from the 12+ performers, all previous pageant winners, that night. Greenville's drag scene is way better than Raleigh's (sorry, but it's true)! After the show ended, around 2am, my car was fully charged and we drove the 5-miles back to Rich's house for the night. I plugged back into the 120v outlet (we plugged in his Ford C-MAX Energi to recharge while we were gone), and went to sleep.

The next morning I headed back to Raleigh, with a strong headwind. I made it to Wilson without much trouble, but my Moto Z did crash just before a turn to stay on 264-Alternate and I ended up on the normal 264 for a mile. I pulled back into the Center Brick #1 parking lot and plugged in, but this time I was able to eat breakfast at Big Harold's. I only stayed about 45 minutes this time, which gave me just enough power to get home with 1% remaining, due to the really strong headwind. Next time, I'll plan to pull into Wilson a little later in the morning so that other shops are open to kill time. Either way, I managed to prove that a battery-only electric city car with a mere 68-miles of EPA ranted range can enjoy a drive in the county like any other car. Thanks in part to progressive cities adding charging infrastructure, and by taking the road less traveled.