On Friday 22 May we embarked on our Electric Vehicle (EV) adventure to Los Angeles via the “Grapevine” to take in a concert of the LA Philharmonic with our friends Sarah Forth and Joe Maizlish.
Many have driven the route before us; their accounts can be found online at mynissanleaf.com
and similar EV forums for other brands, such as myrave4ev.com
. But it was our first venture into the “big city” from the relative hinterlands of Bakersfield with our EV.
Driving a 2015 Nissan Leaf, a consumer-oriented EV, to Los Angeles requires planning several charging stops. Most critically it requires crossing the Tejon Pass in either direction, a real challenge for today’s EVs with their limited battery capacity.
We’d driven to the Flying J truck stop in Lebec just below the summit twice before. We’d also driven the route over the summit from Valencia to Lebec once before. So we had a good idea of what to expect and how much electricity we would consume on both legs.
As in our other trips, we used both EVTripPlanner
and a tabular estimator based on Tony William’s Nissan Leaf Range Chart
. We tempered the estimates from both with our actual experience on previous runs.
Reserve Requirement & Speed
To allay range anxiety, our intent is never to allow the state of charge (SOC) to fall below 20% to 25%. This is equivalent to about 5 kWh of the 21 kWh usable in the Leaf’s traction battery. Depending upon the speed driven, this is enough to travel roughly another 20 miles and account for contingencies, such as an inoperative charging station—a far too frequent problem.
In the Leaf, we drive very conservatively. We’re nearly always in the right lanes and we constantly monitor the SOC, speed, and the power demand. We try to keep power demand less than 2 or 3 “bubbles” on the power meter as recommended by other Leaf owners when they are trying to extend their range. That’s not always possible climbing to the Tejon Pass when it’s necessary to stay with traffic.
Bakersfield to Lebec
For those of us who live in the San Joaquin Valley, getting to and from Los Angeles in an EV is a challenge. Southbound, the last charging stations are in Bakersfield. Then it’s a long 30-mile run across the valley floor before Highway 99 and I-5 make a steep climb over the summit of the Tejon pass.
For locals in the southern San Joaquin and the tens of thousands of motorists and trucks that use the route daily, that climb to the pass is known as the Grapevine. The grade is steep, climbing 3,800 feet over the last 15 miles.
Once the summit is cleared, the next charging stations are in Valencia on the other side of the Tehachapi Mountains.
Fortunately, a number of EV pioneers have blazed a route over the Grapevine by charging at the Flying J truck stop in Lebec, just below the summit, using Shorepower’s
It was raining hard when we left Bakersfield and it rained all the way to Lebec. This is nearly unheard of this time of year. Nevertheless, we arrived in Lebec with 22% SOC and were able to charge at the Shorepower terminals. We gained 7 kWh in two hours with our EVSE Upgrade, our portable EVSE, to reach 57% SOC. This was more than enough to get us to Valencia.
Lebec to Valencia
While it is possible to reach LA on a charge at Lebec, this was a new route for us and it was beyond my comfort zone. Further, our EVSE Upgrade delivers little more than 3 kW into the traction battery per hour at the Shorepower terminals. That’s a slow Level 2 charge, and it would stake several hours to store enough charge for a direct run to LA.
As before, we planned to charge at Nissan of Valencia, a long 3,000-foot descent from Tejon Pass. We estimated that it would require only 4.5 to 6 kWh to reach Valencia from Lebec. We arrived with 35% SOC, having consumed only 4.6 kWh.
This was the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend and I feared that the two stations at the Nissan dealer might be occupied. One Leaf was charging when we arrive. The other EVSE was available. So far so good.
With more than one-third of capacity remaining, we charged for one hour and left with 63% SOC for Glendale.
Valencia to Glendale
Our destination was Silverlake, just northwest of downtown Los Angeles. There is a DC Fast Charge (DCFC) station at the Nissan dealer on Brand Ave. in Glendale.
We planned to stop at the DCFC station and get to 80% SOC so we’d have ample charge for visiting our friends and driving to and from our hotel.
The route from Valencia to Glendale on I-5 descends another 1,500 feet over 37 miles. We estimated it would require 6 to 7 kWh for this stretch.
Things began to go wrong when we reached Glendale. It was now Friday afternoon. Glendale was hopping. Mercedes were weaving in and out of traffic on Brand Ave and everyone seemed to be in a hurry but us.
Then we arrived at the Nissan dealer. Salesmen were all over the lot looking for their marks. Cars were parked everywhere, allowing little space to maneuver.
We reached the DCFC and it was—Leafed. Two leafs were charging on the L2s either side of the DCFC. No hang tags. No window tags. No drivers. No one in the waiting room that owned a Leaf. No way to get to the DCFC station. No one knew anything. . .
Leafed: Two unoccupied LEAFs charging at Nissan of Glendale L2 stations blocking the DCFC. No hang tags. No identification. No drivers. No one present. No one knew anything. Very poorly designed charging station, allowing those on L2 to block access to the DCFC station.
Fortunately, we’d scouted out a Plan B charge station nearer Silverlake for such an eventuality. With a GPS we were able to find Marsh Park in another ten minutes and when we arrived both EVSE’s were open.
We plugged in with a 31% SOC. We’d used 6 kWh coming down from Valencia.
Charging Site of the Future--Marsh Park
We found Marsh Park through Plugshare.com
. It’s one of the stations closest to our friends in Silverlake. It has three Chargepoint L2 stations, but one station is limited to handicapped, thus, isn’t usable by everyone else.
What we didn’t know until we arrived was that Marsh Park is an oasis, truly a hidden gem. We feel like country mice when we venture into Los Angeles and Marsh Park was a retreat from the roar of the freeways and the hustle and bustle of the big city. It was peaceful. That’s not a word used often when describing Los Angeles.
The pocket park is beautifully landscaped with native plants, has abundant and rugged training equipment for working out after a long ride, ample picnic tables—many handicapped accessible—and easy access to the bicycle path that parallels the Los Angeles River (yes, there is one and it had water in it when we were there).
The wrought-iron fencing around the park is artfully done with silhouettes of birds and the landscape. There’s a Spanish-style plaza with tile work and a shelter suitable for concerts and other gatherings.
The park is in a section of the city—Frogtown to locals—cut off by I-5 and the Glendale Freeway. One has to weave their way under one freeway then another to get to the isolated park.
If you have to spend hours charging, this is the kind of place to do it. We took several laps on the walkway around the park while our car was charging. We worked out on the equipment. We tried to identify the plants: Muhlenbergia, penstemon, salvias, coral bells, sedges and more.
L2 charging takes hours and as traction batteries become bigger, even quick charging will require extended stops. If EV drivers have to spend hours charging, then we need infrastructure that makes the experience pleasant—even peaceful. Designers of Marsh Park probably didn’t intend it, but Marsh Park could be a model for how we want our charging stops to be.
On Sunday, we began to retrace our steps. But our first stop was a picnic breakfast at Marsh Park while our EV was charging nearby. Our friends Sarah and Joe brought home-baked muffins and home-made jam. By the time we were topped up, so was our EV. We left with a full charge.
We estimated we’d need 9 to 11 kWh for the ascent to Valencia from Silverlake. We arrived with 61% SOC. We’d used 8 kWh on the 35 mile drive. Again, one of the two EVSE’s was open and we began charging.
The 37-mile climb over Tejon Pass would require 13 to 14 kWh, or 90% SOC with a 20% reserve. With 61% SOC already, we charged for one hour and left with a SOC of 89%.
We arrived in Lebec with 30% SOC, having consumed 12.4 kWh.
We charged for two hours at the Shorepower terminal and left Lebec with 55% SOC.
However, we didn’t drive directly to Bakersfield. We took the Laval Road exit and drove past the outlet malls, and past the motel where there were plans for a DCFC station. A recent email from the California Energy Commission indicated that the station may be moved out to the oil fields beyond the present development. So we drove out there, but didn’t see anything.
The detour added seven miles to our trip home. With today’s EVs, even such a minor route change has a significant effect on the charge in the traction battery. Those seven additional miles are nearly 10% of the Nissan Leaf’s official EPA range of 84 miles.
On the route back, we took I-5 to Hwy 99 all the way to Bakersfield instead of following Union Ave. The greater distance and the greater speeds bumped up our consumption to 7.6 kWh from the estimated 6.5 for this leg. That one kWh cost us 5% SOC and we arrived home with 19% SOC, 6% less than our targeted reserve of 25%.
With the exception of the leg from Lebec to Valencia, EV TripPlanner fairly accurately estimated the kWh required. EV TripPlanner overestimated the leg from Lebec to Valencia.
As previously, estimates derived from Tony Williams’ Nissan Range calculations are conservative. This is useful for tempering estimates from EV TripPlanner and in practice we use both.
We consumed a total of 55 kWh on the 244 mile round trip for a consumption rate of 4.4 kWh/mile.
Now that we’ve done parts of this route more than once, we’re getting a feel for what we need and how long to charge at each stop.
The median consumption on the Bakersfield to Lebec leg is 16 kWh; for the Lebec to Valencia leg, 4.5 kWh; for the Valencia to Lebec leg, nearly 13 kWh; and for the Lebec to Bakersfield leg, 7 kWh.
It’s important to note that we used surface streets, mostly Union Ave., for the first ten miles of the trip to Lebec. Travel on Union Ave. never exceeded 45 mph and was often less. Those traveling the entire Bakersfield to Lebec segment on Hwy. 99 and I-5 will be traveling at a minimum of 10 mph faster than we did for the first ten miles, consuming relatively more energy as a result.
With proper preparation and plenty of patience, intercity travel in California is possible with today's EVs. We'll be making more trips like this in the future--now that we know we can do it.
This article is cross posted on my web site at EV Trip Reports