How difficult is it to take a cross-country road trip in an electric car? If you happen to have a Tesla, it turns out it's not very hard—the right infrastructure is already mostly in place. To prove that point, and to demonstrate what could be possible for other electric cars some day, Norman Hajjar is driving a Tesla Model S nearly 12,000 miles.
When we spoke, Hajjar was on the road somewhere in Maine, and had been driving—solo—for 5,912 miles. The Epic American Road Trip, sponsored by the electric vehicle data company Recargo, is passing through 28 states on a zigzagging journey down both coasts, and across the country twice. On Day 8 of the trip, in Chicago, Hajjar broke the world record for the longest vehicle trip ever powered entirely by electricity.
"The reality is that it’s not difficult at all, other than the whole ordeal of driving which is the same with any gasoline vehicle," says Hajjar, who manages Recargo’s driver research division. "The key to this is fast-charging infrastructure."
Tesla has a network of "superchargers" that can top up a battery in as little as 20 minutes. But right now, other cars like the Nissan Leaf have to rely on slower technology—which can take four or five hours to charge, making long road trips impractical.
"The slower chargers work if you’re at home, or staying in a place like a hotel overnight," Hajjar says. "They also work for plug-in hybrids if you’re parked at the grocery store. But if you’re a battery electric vehicle on a long trip, they're not that useful."
Fast chargers are the magic ingredient that he believes will allow the electric vehicle market to really grow. They also need to be placed in the right locations—though there are a few planned routes, like the West Coast Electric Highway, most are placed somewhat haphazardly wherever a company can find land, permits, and a power source.
"They tend to just crop up in places that are convenient as opposed to strategic," Hajjar explains. He argues that car manufacturers should help take the lead in getting a well-planned network in place.
"I think Tesla has an enlightened approach to it. They see, correctly, that the infrastructure is part of the vehicle. It’s every bit as much a part of the vehicle as the nuts and bolts and the steering wheel."
He makes an analogy to current high-end TVs. "If you imagine the coolest TV you can buy today, a 4K super high-res television, and that was beamed back in time to 1998, it’s completely worthless because it has no infrastructure to support it," he says. "Similarly, the actual value of electric vehicles is affected by the infrastructure. You can’t expect people to wildly adopt these vehicles when they’re range-impaired like this."