Electric Adventure: Driving from NYC to LA in an Audi e-tron

A road trip is supposed to be fun. You’re supposed to stop, take in the sights, and enjoy the journey. Blasting across the United States to prove a point is sort of the opposite fo the regular road trip ideal. But that’s what we just did in an Audi e-tron. From the Redball Garage in New York City to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, three of us just went from coast to coast in an electric vehicle.

Kelley Blue Book’s Micah Muzio along with myself and Josh Ostrander (representing the team from KBB’s new mobility outfit Ride.Tech) flew to New York City. We picked up our Audi e-tron and set about preparing for the trip ahead. The car was fitted with smaller 19-inch wheels prior to our arrival, and then we pumped the tires up to 50 psi. In the back, a pair of full size spares ate up most of our luggage space.

When planning such a trip, you start with what you’re assumed range will be and then you throw that out the window. We arrived in New York City to find the first real cold snap of the season. Temperatures were dropping below 40 degrees, which means our available driving range also began to dip. Our very first stop of the trip was changed from Carlisle, PA to somewhere in New Jersey.

The good news though, is that the e-tron is capable of recharge speeds of 150kW. That means we can go from nearly empty to an 80% full battery in as little as 30 minutes. Some of our stops will be even shorter, while others require us to wait for a full recharge. Our longest stop of the trip is in Woodstock, Virginia where we need to go from 5% to 95%. This was at 2am. It was freezing cold outside. And we sat there for one hour and 40 minutes. The fastest charging stop? A 15 minute splash and dash in Pecos, Texas. We came in with 43% remaining and filled the e-tron up to 84%

The journey was long. Our total time from start to finish was 60 hours and 36 minutes. Not exactly record breaking pace here, as the current EV record sits at a bit over 45 hours. But the e-tron performed quite well. It’s built with the same German-minded highway stability the gas-powered Audi’s enjoy, and thus it chewed up the Interstate mileage. We could gain range when necessary by slowing down for a bit, and then we could speed up and hold that speed efficiently. Our total average speed was 50.34 miles per hour. Our average moving speed was a more impressive 86 mph.

Because of the current layout of the Electrify America network, we had to go farther south than we would’ve liked. This means we covered the entirety of Texas, all the way down to El Paso before heading back up through New Mexico, Arizona, and on into California. But that network is constantly growing, so better routes can be fun. In fact, there’s a smarter route that cuts through Colorado, but we didn’t want to go that way during the colder months.

Most of the charging stations are located in Walmart parking lots. This is quite convenient because many of those stores are open 24 hours a day. So bathrooms, snacks, and other odds and ends are available.

Would I make the trip again? Yes. I’d love to give this another go when the weather gets a bit warmer. Still, the goal here wasn’t to set a blistering pace. It was simply to show that it can be done in a non-Tesla electric vehicle. The Supercharger network is robust, but locked down. Running on the Electrify America network, we had plenty of places to stop and juice up. And we didn’t need to stick to that network. We did though, and used their nice clean app to help locate the chargers, pay for the charging, initialize the process, and keep a record of it all as well.

[Disclaimer: Audi provided us with the use of the e-tron and included a pair of spares, which we thankfully didn’t need to use.]

30 Comments

  1. “Our average moving speed was a more impressive 86 mph.”

    There appears to be a glitch in the way Garmin is calculating this, as 3101 miles over a “Time Moving” of 39:53:57 is just under 78 mph, not 86 mph.

  2. This gets a bit political, so I apologize for that, but my main beef here is the business/economic case of the fundamentals of the EV charging infrastructure that will be necessary to keep long road trips a feature of our Hooniversal culture. Bear with me (or completely ignore me) here, I’m an actual professional nerd in related precincts.

    The line-ups in California that made headlines on the Tesla Supercharger network around US Thanksgiving highlight the current [accidental electric pun, I’m leaving it] challenge of EV’s. When everyone hits the road, whether it’s gas pumps, food, or restrooms, these essentials will be maxed out. A charger in Pecos, TX (look it up on the map, it is desolation incorporated as a town) is there for EV makers to be able to say that such trips can be technically accomplished, but they will only be feasible to the extent that EV’s are not widely adopted as tech sits today. Guessing on what I see from the satellite shot of I-20 at Pecos, there are probably ~30 gas pumps for passenger cars that at times of peak demand will be utilized 100% for a large portion of the day. For every 5-10% of vehicles that switch to battery power, if your charge time is 10-20x as long a gas/diesel refuel stop, you need double the existing footprint to accommodate something as simple as a road trip over Thanksgiving. That’s inefficient.

    A specific hypothetical: whoever sets zoning restrictions in places like Pecos can surround a charging lot that their brother in law owns with businesses that their cousin owns that raise prices on hotel rooms, cheeseburgers and other stuff because there is only so much land to go around. Rates on the electrons you buy from the local electric co-op aren’t going to look like they do now when you need another couple of megawatts in the middle of nowhere for a few weekends a year. Want to build up a competing charging station outside of town? Welcome to rural America politics, and good luck with your permit application. The market can sort this out, to be sure, but the first steps of such changes are very expensive and involve way more mundane work and unforeseen challenges than anyone cares to talk about.

    The “see, it can be done” angle here is cool, but worth emphasizing that, the more people that want to go the EV route, the bigger the challenge will be. While it will create a bigger prize for those that can solve it, it looks like vaporware now. When these things are driven by mandates or subsidies, such arrangements drive resource allocation away from productive (self-supporting, tax-paying, pension fund solvency sustaining) investment from the economy for a speculative miniscule change that may or may not be a benefit.

    In the meantime, I’ll look into investing in whoever is making the skid-mounted diesel generator/portable charging stations. They will get to name their price for a while if EV adoption speeds up.

    1. As you say, this will solve itself once the tech improves. The Tesla 3 is about to be able to be charged at 250 kW. That is so much energy, it makes the ground hum, so to speak.

      I am not yet convinced EVs are the way to go, but they sure are convenient vehicles at least 90% of the time – your mammoth commute excluded. And the tech is evolving in leaps that are quite impressive. The US may hold back a fair bit politically, but until the hydrogen car comes – /s – this is what will suck up R&D money and customers will buy it.

      1. With a home charger, an EV would work well for my daily slog, but I need something else for weekend family duty and holiday road trips. The distance isn’t so bad as the thick traffic. I’m interested to see how the EV fleet pencils out in 4-5 years when I will be in the market.

    2. As you say, this will solve itself once the tech improves. The Tesla 3 is about to be able to be charged at 250 kW. That is so much energy, it makes the ground hum, so to speak.

      I am not yet convinced EVs are the way to go, but they sure are convenient vehicles at least 90% of the time – your mammoth commute excluded. And the tech is evolving in leaps that are quite impressive. The US may hold back a fair bit politically, but until the hydrogen car comes – /s – this is what will suck up R&D money and customers will buy it.

    3. While the lower power demands means it’s not the same thing, plenty of northern cities have parking lots wired for block heaters, and if there’s something North America doesn’t lack, it’s parking lots.

      Ultimately, while I don’t think it’ll be a smooth transition, like you allude to, plenty of businesses will do the math on trying to ensure they’re the ones securing a captive audience of travellers (and their important dollars).

      1. Like I said below, it’s an interesting puzzle and I like the tech, but I don’t trust the business case or the powers that be on this one. The whole enterprise has thus far been a rent seeker’s sandbox. It can certainly be done, I just don’t like the current trajectory of the “how”.

  3. Had a really long diatribe that I typed out about EV infrastructure in places like Pecos, TX that Disqus mercifully (for you) ate.

    Cliffs version: until better tech comes around, EV’s can only be used for long road trips by a very few folks. I’m guessing you’d need double the current gas station footprint in such places for every 5-10% of market share that EV’s take doing this kind of trip. Subsidies, mandates, small town politics, electric grid, vaporware, blah, blah blah, you fill in the blanks.

    1. But you understand that we allowed thousands of gas stations with bigger foot prints and higher setup and operating costs to be built, right? If that got done, ev chargers are much easier to deploy.

      1. My footprint point is this. To fuel 1000 cars with existing infrastructure in places like Pecos (a requirement for long trips), the existing ~30 pumps need to run six hours a day. To recharge 1000 EV’s in six hours you would need about ~300 EV chargers and something for ~500 people to do at any one time for a couple of hours.

        The difference between “allowed” (which carries its own baggage) and “subsidized” or “mandated” is rather large in my mind here. Development of the required infrastructure is completely feasible and it would be fascinating to watch develop organically, but not to the detriment of higher and better uses not made uneconomic by .gov carrots and sticks.

        If EV’s can get close in range to what people will tolerate for a long days drive, all this becomes a concern of the past when the overnight stop takes care of the charge time issue entirely, I think that’s the big shift, and it’s not that far off. Cannonballing is a rare thing for anyone, but a 600 mile day isn’t so bad at 80 mph.

  4. “Our average moving speed was a more impressive 86 mph.”

    There appears to be a glitch in the way Garmin is calculating this, as 3101 miles over a “Time Moving” of 39:53:57 is just under 78 mph, not 86 mph.

      1. Come on, these are professional automotive journalists. I’m confident they remembered to hold the Garmin pointing the other way whenever the vehicle was in reverse.

    1. And our Garmin Tracking software, which includes a link shows we went 3,055 miles for some reason. I’m not sure why there’s a discrepancy, but since we’re not claiming any records I think we’re ok.

  5. What was the cost for the electricity? I’m curious how it compares to driving an efficient gas SUV of similar size.

      1. FWIW, that’s about double what it cost me to roadtrip a full-sized SUV a similar distance last year, including the cost of an oil change at the end of the trip.

      2. That’s significantly more expensive than gasoline would have been on the same trip in an IC engined car. Interesting. An Audi Q8 at 22 mpg highway using $3.15 national average for premium gas would cost $444, right around $400 if you took a more direct route. Drive something that takes regular and gets high 20’s and you’re less than half the $507.

      3. And right there is why this whole there aren’t enough chargers thing breaks down. The providers charge a huge premium for the electricity. I’ve got a PHEV, so it doesn’t do DC charging, however the rates for the level 2 AC charging are 4x what I pay at home, if you are a member of the network and near 5x if you are not. So yeah driving the C-Max Energi on public station electrons is twice as expensive as filling it with gas, or about as expensive as driving a Panther. DC rates are even worse and you can really get screwed depending on your vehicle and its state of charge when you plug in and how long you charge. With the Level 2 charging they charge you based on the actual amount of electricity used. On the DC chargers they charge you per minute in tiers based on the charge rate when you first plug in. The problem is that a battery doesn’t charge at a linear rate. That shows in the 15 minute boost of 41% and the 1hr 40min time for a 90% boost. So it took 6.66 times as long to put 2.2 times as much energy in the battery.

        People will figure that out and plug in Hybrids will be the way to go if you ever do road trips at all. Sure an EV will be great if it can do 99% of your driving on electrons from home. That also shows why building out the infrastructure to accommodate Thanksgiving travelers will never happen. 90% of the network would be superfluous all but 2 days of the year. That means the price of charging will have to be even higher and that could make driving your Mustang Mach E to see Grandma cost way more than say an Expedition or Suburban.

      4. Both my Tesla Model S and Model X are “free forever” on the Tesla Supercharger network. Competing public charging networks like EVgo and ChargePoint are significantly lower cost.

  6. Based on the above data, you spent more than 40% of your time charging. Was the car fully charged when you started? That would make it even worse. I’ve averaged 77 mph door to door from Charlottesville to San Diego, and I don’t think I even had a rolling average of 86 mph. All of my time spent fueling totaled your shortest recharging stop. I also had a couple of sit down meals without stopping the clock. EVs only work for people who don’t need the practical capabilities ICE cars have had for longer than any of us have been alive.

  7. Perhaps nobody mentioned that all currently produced Tesla cars can use all the Electrify America stations, too, with an adaptor. Plus, Tesla cars can also use all the other public charging networks… AND all the Superchargers that non-Tesla cars can’t use.

    Tesla cars currently charge at up to:

    250kW – Model 3 LR and P
    200kW – Model S and X
    170kW – Model 3 SR+
    100kW – Model 3 SR

    NOTE: The current Tesla adaptor is limited to CHAdeMO protocol stations at 50kW maximum. I expect an SAE-J1772-DC-CCS-Combo1 adaptor in the future that will be capable of higher power, in addition to a more capable CHAdeMO adaptor.

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