November 11, 2015, my wife Vera and I took our 100% electric car across the state of Maryland as fast as we possibly could without breaking the speed limit. The goal was to see if we could do the drive in a time reasonably close to doing it in a gasoline car. Six hours is the normal benchmark.
I got the inspiration from watching “The Electric Road Trip,” a PBS documentary made by Jonathan Slade and Novia Campbell. The husband and wife team filmed their 2012 trek across the state in a Nissan LEAF. Their goal was to demonstrate the viability of an EV for everyday use. If they could drive an all-electric car from Oakland in western Maryland all the way to Ocean City, then viewers may realize that an electric car could easily serve as their daily commuter.
In the film, the couple stop at a store near the beginning of their trip and ask the shopkeeper if she has ever driven from there to Ocean City. The woman said, “Yes I have, it’s normally a six-hour drive from one end of the state to the other.” Novia laughed and said, ”It’s probably going to take us six days.” Indeed, the couple took five days to reach the shore.
Three years ago, when they took their trip, Maryland was an EV charging infrastructure desert on the Eastern Shore and a wilderness west of Frederick. There were very few EV charging stations when venturing beyond the suburbs of Baltimore and DC. Often, the couple had to resort to “trickle charging” on a 120 volt outlet which slowed their pace and gave them time to explore and meet interesting people in the small towns where they stopped to charge.
Vera and I have taken similar slow charging trips in our THINK City EV and it really does allow plenty of time to smell the roses. That slow pace makes for a nice vacation road trip. But what if a family wants to spend their vacation lounging at the beach, not driving to it. Has the charging infrastructure and EV technology advanced enough to drive an EV from Deep Creek Lake to the OC Boardwalk in a reasonable amount of time?
There have been several advancements since the summer of 2012 to help bring forth a quicker electric journey across the state. The first is that Tesla started delivering their Model S with a range of over 250 miles on a charge. In January, 2014, Tesla opened a Supercharger station in Hagerstown, MD that can recharge the batteries on a Model S in under an hour. Another Supercharger opened in Salisbury last November. This summer, several Tesla “destination charging” stations popped up in western Maryland including at the Lake Pointe Inn in McHenry.
When the Holiday Inn Oceanfront in Ocean City switched on the power to their charging stations on November 3rd, the stage was finally set for a fast electric crossing. I figured the trip could be done with a Tesla 70D by charging up overnight at the Lake Pointe Inn, driving to Hagerstown for a quick boost and if the wind and temperature were right, go non-stop to Ocean City, bypassing the Salisbury Supercharger. I was ready and so was Vera.
The night of November 10th, Vera and I drove from our home in the DC-Baltimore area out to the Lake Pointe Inn. It rained most of the way out but the forecast was for partly sunny with a high in the upper 60’s for the following day. Importantly, a steady breeze was forecast to blow from the W and NW for the entire day – a perfect tailwind. It would also be a federal holiday, Veterans Day, and I expected lighter than normal traffic.
We awoke to a fully charged car and headed to the historic Oakland train station, 14 miles away. This is where Jonathan and Novia began their trip. On our way into town, we were astonished to see a white Nissan LEAF coming the other way. I flashed the lights and waved. Electric cars are showing up everywhere, even in the “EV wilderness” of Garrett County, MD.
In Oakland I snapped a few photos and Vera took the driver’s seat. At exactly 8:00 AM we rolled away from the train station heading directly to the Hagerstown Supercharger 115 miles away. I had plotted the route using EV Trip Planner and I carefully monitored the projected vs actual energy usage from my seat on the passenger side. Our car has the Tesla “Autopilot” feature which uses a combination of cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors and data to adjust speed in response to traffic and automatically steer and change lanes on the highway.
We used the Traffic Aware Cruise Control (TACC) practically the entire way to make sure that we stayed at or below the posted speed limit. The car’s forward facing camera is able to read and recognize the speed limit signs and by pulling and holding the cruise control stalk for a few seconds, the TACC will set its cruising speed to match the speed limit and automatically slow down when it senses a slower vehicle ahead and accelerate when movement resumes.
We used a publicly displayed Glympse map so that people who were interested could track our progress. Glympse also displayed the current speed so others could verify that we were sticking to the speed limit. One viewer commented that we were going 70 MPH on I-68 and must be speeding. I reminded them that on October 1st, Maryland increased the posted speed limit on the Interstate in western Maryland from 65 to 70 MPH. So all was good.
The first 85 miles was on two lane highways. Once we merged onto Interstate 68, Vera engaged the Autosteer function to keep the car in the current lane. The Autopilot features are still in beta and Tesla requires drivers to remain engaged and aware when Autosteer is enabled and to keep hands on the wheel at all times.
Traffic was light on I-68 so the Autopilot kept us moving along steadily at 70 MPH except when the posted speed was lower. We reached the Hagerstown exit at 9:59 AM. We arrived to find two of our EV friends had decided to come out to greet us. They had been tracking us on the Glympse map and figured out when we would arrive to charge.
Rick Rohn drove his LEAF from Martinsburg, WV and Dave Glotfelty, who also has a LEAF, drove from Pennsylvania bearing donuts and drinks. It was great to see them! Our visit was brief. After 42 minutes of charging, we had enough to make it to Ocean City, even if the tailwind quit. At 10:51, we were back on the highway with Autopilot engaged and Vera still holding the wheel.
After leaving Hagerstown with 215 miles of rated range and the wind literally at our back, I felt confident that we would make it to Salisbury with enough charge to keep going straight to Ocean City without stopping. Since we were trying to compare our total time from Oakland to OC vs a non-stop trip in a gas vehicle, we wanted to keep stops to a minimum. That included bathroom breaks. We were mindful of fluid consumption and it worked out well for the four-hour final leg.
Traffic was relatively light as we passed south of Baltimore, onto Route 50 and over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore. We maintained the legal speed even when the limit dropped to 45 or 35 MPH. We got passed a lot.
At 2:41 PM, we crossed the entrance to the Hugh T. Cropper Inlet Parking Lot in Ocean City, exactly 6 hours and 41 minutes after leaving the train station in Oakland. If we were driving a gas car and didn’t have to stop to refuel, to use the restroom or to eat, we would have theoretically arrived 52 minutes earlier. In reality, it’s unlikely that people would drive a distance of 329 miles without stopping. Just a fast food stop and restroom break could easily add up to the same amount of time as our 42 minute Supercharging stop. And of course we eat and use the restroom while the car is charging.
Despite the title of this article, I don’t really presume that there’s a “record” for crossing Maryland. However, I do hope to draw attention to the need for more CHAdeMO and SAE Combo fast charging stations, especially in the western part of the state. Jonathan and Novia hoped that their documentary “would spark conversations about how transportation infrastructure needs to evolve in the 21st century.” I hope that our demonstration contributes to that conversation.
The former Maryland Attorney General promised a statewide fast charger network when he announced the $1,000,000 EVIP grant program. Three chargers funded by the program are under construction on the Eastern Shore. Unfortunately, there are no plans for building fast chargers west of Hagerstown in the EVIP awards. That Nissan LEAF that we spotted out in western Maryland should be able to drive to Ocean City by using a well-spaced network of fast chargers. I hope the infrastructure to support that trip won’t take another three years to develop.
Start: 8:00 AM Oakland, MD Train Station
Finish: 2:41 PM Ocean City, MD Hugh T. Cropper Inlet Parking Lot entrance gate
Elapsed Time: 6 Hours, 41 minutes
Total Charging Time: 42 minutes
Rated Miles Added by Charging: 118
Time Taken to Recharge – From Exit to Reentering Hwy: 52 minutes
Total Miles: 329
Total Energy Used: 80 kWh
Avg. Energy: 243 Wh/mi