Last weekend my husband and I drove 650 miles in our new electric vehicle. The trip took us from Memphis, where we bought a 2023 Kia EV6, through Atlanta and home to Savannah. It was a longer first trip than many EV buyers may take, but sharing our trip sheds a little light on new things you’ll want to learn and helps explain where infrastructure development is lagging for the future of EVs.
Along the way we charged up three times. We hit a couple glitches that added about 90 minutes to the trip but generally, it went smoothly. An electric road trip still requires more planning than a trip with a gas-powered vehicle, but the charging infrastructure is only getting better. I won’t be worried about our next EV road trip.
Not our first electric rodeo
I’m a veteran electric vehicle driver, having put over 60,000 miles on my 2014 Nissan Leaf since purchasing it new. But I added those miles little by little, as do most Americans, who average about 35 miles per day on the road. The furthest I typically ventured in my bright blue Leaf, nicknamed Evie, was to Tybee or Pooler, both about 20 miles from our home in Savannah.
The Leaf was the perfect second car, cheap to operate day-to-day and requiring nearly no maintenance. I didn’t miss oil changes one bit. Its range topped out at about 100 miles so I never took it on a road trip. For visits to Brunswick or for the occasional road trip, we stuck to our second car and its internal combustion engine.
But with four drivers and two vehicles in the family, we decided last summer we needed another electric car. And with eight years of development since we bought Evie, there were many from which to choose.
We settled on the popular Kia EV6 and discovered it was going to cost us $7,500 over the sticker price in Savannah. The dealer was charging a “market adjustment.” The vehicles were in high demand and Kia did nothing to discourage the practice, I learned in a call to Kia North America.
The closest dealer I could find that didn’t upcharge was Gossett Motors in Memphis, Tenn. We ordered the made-in-Korea vehicle in late July, just in time to qualify for the $7,500 federal tax credit. Under new rules in the Inflation Reduction Act, vehicles must be manufactured in the U.S. to qualify for the credit. We didn’t want to wait for the Bryan County Kia factory to get up and running.
After our vehicle arrived in Memphis last week, we flew out there to fetch it.
Driving from Memphis
We bought the car on Saturday and left the dealership at 2:30 p.m. with about 300 miles on the dashboard range estimator. Others call this the guess-o-meter, which is a good description, especially while the car is getting used to your driving habits. For instance, the guess-o-meter indicated a 321 mile range without the air conditioning. That’s because the AC uses battery juice, just like how blasting the AC reduces your mileage in an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle.
At the suggestion of helpful members of the EV Club of the South Facebook page, we used several phone apps to guide us to charging stations and doublecheck that they were working and available. They are: A Better Route Planner, PlugShare and Electrify America.
Our first stop was in Athens, Ala. after 185 miles of travel. The Walmart there hosts a bank of Electrify America chargers. We plugged in, swiped our Visa, et voila, we were charging. We ate dinner at a nearby Japanese restaurant and by the time we finished our meal, our new car, christened Blue Ivy, had a full battery. It cost $12 to charge.
We stayed in Bremen, Ala., overnight. I wanted to stay in a hotel with a charger, but by the time we’d traveled the 60 miles to Bremen I was too tired to insist we find one.
Road trip day 2
Next morning we got on the road at 7:30 a.m. central time starting our day with 199 miles of available range. The dashboard readout indicated we were getting 3.8 miles per kilowatt hour. (That’s the new miles per gallon; get used to it.) The 77.4 kWh battery in the car is rated at 310 miles, meaning it’s expected to go about 4 miles on each Kwh of charge. That’s based on a mix of highway and city driving. Electric vehicles perform best in lower speed, stop and start city traffic where regenerative braking helps recharge the battery. Because we were doing mainly higher speed, more energy-consuming highway driving on this trip, we weren’t that efficient.
Our next stop was another Electrify America charging station at the Walmart in Oxford, Ala., about 35 miles away. We pulled in, happy to see the green glow of the tall, shiny chargers. This station has eight chargers and we were the only customers there. But here we encountered our first glitch. The charger didn’t want to accept our Visa. “Card does not exist,” the display said. We switched to another station. Same problem. Now we were 30 minutes into this hiccup, standing in the rain because there was no canopy.
I called the 800 number on the charger to get help from Electrify America. The first operator, Houston-based Gabrielle, couldn’t figure out the problem and switched me to a supervisor. Shana had trouble, too. But she eventually got the charge started and comped me the cost.
The new Kia comes with 1,000 kWh free charging at Electrify America, but the dealer couldn’t figure out how to sign us up for it. Shana walked me through the sign-up on the app with a passcode and the car’s VIN.
While Blue Ivy charged, we headed into the Walmart for a bathroom break and some snacks. In all, the stop took about 90 minutes, but less than half an hour of that was actually charging.
We head about 140 miles east to Forsyth, Ga. Along the way my husband noticed on the window sticker that our car’s port of entry was Brunswick, Ga., about 70 miles south of Savannah. The price we paid included a $1,295 inland transportation fee to get it to Memphis. Irony lives.
“I thought about not telling you,” he said.
Happily, we were in EV country at this point, with many chargers to choose from. Most of the EVs in Georgia are clustered around the Atlanta metro area, registration data shows. Not surprisingly, most of the state’s public chargers are here, too.
We stick with Electrify America, certain we can now use the app for our free charge from Kia. But our first attempt at the Walmart in Forsyth doesn’t work. Again it’s drizzling. We’re down to a 37% charge and 92 miles of range showing on the guess-o-meter. I call the Electrify America 800 number again. This operator not only gets us charging but straightens out my Electrify America account, which hadn’t been activated properly.
As we charge, another EV driver pulls in next to us. He’s curious about our car. We’re curious about his. It’s an instant fraternity.
Our new friend is Charles Billue, who lives in Macon and has been driving his blue VW ID.4 since 2021. Its range is 250 miles and it’s the perfect vehicle for his twice a month drives to Augusta to visit his grandkids, he said. The 240-mile round trip costs about $8 in electricity. If he takes his Chevrolet pickup truck it’s $100 in diesel to make the same journey.
The EV did take some getting used to, he said. That’s a typical experience according to research AAA reported in 2020. AAA found that “the top two reasons why Americans shy away from electric vehicles are not enough places to charge (58%) and the fear that they will run out of charge while driving (57%). Almost all owners surveyed (95%) report never having run out of a charge while driving and on average, they do three fourths (75%) of their charging at home. Likely as a result, those who were originally concerned about insufficient range said they became less or no longer concerned post-purchase (77%).”
Billue is part of the 5% that actually has run out of charge.
“I got stuck one time,” Billue said. “I hadn’t had it long and it cut me off. “
He had to get a tow that time. It hasn’t happened again, though once he got so low on charge he stopped at a house along the way and asked to plug in. Electric vehicles give ample warning that the charge is getting low and rather than shutting off abruptly, they shift into “turtle mode” that slows the car to 20 mph to conserve energy when the battery is critically drained.
“You’ve got to check to see how far you can push it,” he said.
Then again, his daughter drove the ID.4 from Macon to Mankato, Minnesota, a more than 2,000-mile round trip.
“They had a wonderful time,” he said.
I’ve experienced turtle mode only once with my Leaf. The car slowed and a warning light displayed a cartoonish turtle. Luckily, I was just around the corner from home when this happened.
With stories swapped and the battery topped up in Forsyth, we piled back into Blue Ivy and headed on home. The final leg of the journey was 188 miles. The guess-o-meter, now adjusted to the way we drive, said we had 265 miles of range remaining.
No range anxiety on this stretch.
We didn’t need to, but we stopped at a Parker’s in Metter right off I-16 to check out the ChargePoint station there. It was much lower power output than the Electrify America stations we had used — 62.5 kW compared to 350 kW — so it doesn’t charge as quickly. We stayed for only a sip of electricity, adding 40 miles of range over about 15 minutes.
About an hour later we arrived home with over 100 miles of range to spare.
Total miles driven: 664. Total expenditure on electricity: $15.46.
I’m already looking forward to my next EV road trip.
Correction: Charles Billue’s name was misspelled in a previous version of this article.