We drove an EV for this first time on a road trip across Texas. Here’s what I learned.

Two months ago I drove an electric vehicle for the first time. Well, other than a block or two long test drive. My colleague and friend, Erin Autin, Zpryme Director of Research Programs, set off on a journey to drive an EV across Texas. The EV we were taking on this journey was a Tesla Model 3. Why? We wanted to get a feel for what it is like to be an EV owner and how utilities are planning for wide-spread EV adoption. To do this, we took two separate week long road trips where we documented our journey driving, interviewing the public, and speaking with utilities executives on EV strategy.

Part one of the road trip took place the second week of July, 7/8-7/12. We covered quite a bit of ground on this trip starting in Austin then making our way all the way out to El Paso and back in five days. We made stops in Johnson City, Fort Stockton, Cisco, Marfa, Iraan, Van Horn, Midland, and Dallas along the way. You can find the key takeaways of part one in our article, “The Great EV Roadtrip: Top 5 Takeaways”.

We just commenced part two of the road trip which covered more east Texas cities. This road trip was also significantly shorter than part one, which was roughly 1,500 miles. Part two, which was also driven in the same Tesla Model 3, covered about 600 miles. Having taken a long-range road trip across Texas and a short range trip, I wanted to point out some of the differences between part one and part two.

To start off, we rented the car both times through a Turo platform from a gentleman named Tim here in the Austin area. This car is actually Tim and his wife’s personal vehicle, which they rent out on the platform when it’s not being used. Tim is also looking to start a Tesla taxi and short term rental service because he’s recognized a growing need in the short term EV rental market.

(EVErinsTX happy hour with Tim)

Anyway, we’re driving Tim’s car, which we refer to as Raven (the name of the operating software), two times in two months and quickly become attached. In part one of the road trip, we experience auto-pilot for the first time. Erin was the first one to engage autopilot on a small strip of I-35S between Austin and San Antonio. After flicking the lever on the right of the steering wheel twice, the car enters into autopilot mode. Erin, nervously excited and listening to my high-pitched excited commentary, slowly removes her hands from the wheel. We both yell, “The car is driving itself!” She quickly places her hands on the wheel as the car directs her because current autopilot requires to driver to keep his or her hands on the steering wheel. The exact message that will pop-up is “apply slight steering force to wheel” if hands are not touching it. This was the end of the first autopilot experience. It was truly exciting and I was immediately hooked. For the majority of part one, we drove with the car in autopilot. The mental ease of driving a car that is driving itself is unparalleled. It takes a significant amount of mental stress out of driving, especially when covering roughly 600 miles in one day on two lanes west Texas highways where rolling hills and open plains seem to run for miles.

Autopilot for part two was a different experience. We didn’t feel the need to use it as much because we weren’t covering as much ground. We primarily used the cruise control function but chose to steer the car ourselves. This leads me to my first take away: auto-pilot is not a necessity but makes driving less tiring.

In part one we stopped in Johnson City to talk with Julie Parsons at Pedernales Electric Co-op. PEC is one of the largest co-ops in the nation serving 8,100 square miles of diverse service territory making it difficult to use EVs to get around. However, their three ChargePoint charging stations located at their Johnson City office are frequently used by commuting employees driving in from areas such as Dripping Springs and Marble Falls.

In part two, we visited two central/east Texas co-ops: Mid-South Synergy and Guadalupe Valley Electric who are both taking different approaches to EV infrastructure deployment. These co-ops are about 200 miles east of Johnson City and PEC with Austin situated roughly in the middle. Mid-South Synergy relies on partnerships to lease charging equipment and works with local business owners to install the rented chargers in their parking lots. Guadalupe Valley Electric on the other hand, is interested in owning the charging infrastructure and even deploying GVEC electricians to do the installation, who they also use to install solar rooftop PV in an effort to have better awareness and control over the distribution grid. The difference in the approaches is not what surprised me, however. What surprised me about the co-ops in part two of the road trip is their commitment to educating their members on how EVs are a viable personal vehicle option today. Today being the key word. In west Texas, EV adoption is still spoken about largely in longer-term strategies with expectations of high penetration still five to 10 years out. But in east Texas, EV adoption is viewed as happening and more on the three to five year horizon. I found this both shocking and encouraging.

(#EVErinsTX part two: at Mallet Brother’s BBQ ChargePoint station with Kerry Kelton, CEO, Mid-South Synergy. Fun fact: Kerry committed to driving an EV for a year to dispel concerns about range anxiety.)

(EVErinsTX part two: with Graham Hauptman and Ty Slone at GVEC with their EV Sparky. The hood graphic: “batteries included”.)

The charging experience, or more so trip planning based on charging differed between parts one and two. In part one, we planned most of our hotel stays based on places that had charging available overnight. We had to charge both during the day, at superchargers and overnight at standard level 2 chargers. For this reason, the trip required more planning than part two. Part two, being roughly over a third of the distance covered in part one, required no overnight charging. That’s right. We stopped once a day at a supercharger for about twenty minutes and that was all of the charging we needed. This with the exception of Friday when we had to stop at a supercharger station in Northwest Austin as our second charging stop of the day to return the car with a full charge. Needless to say, range anxiety did not come up at all during part two. It didn’t even cross our minds versus part one when we had a run in with range anxiety. You can watch a video of that experience here. All in all, a 600-mile five day road trip in central/east Texas in an EV was a walk in the park… and we spent ~$25 on charging. From an economical-environmental standpoint, that’s a win-win.

Now, our time on the road has concluded and it’s time to piece together our footage into a short documentary. It will show our driving experience, interactions with the public, utility interviews, and thought leadership from universities and research institutions on transportation electrification.

I only have one regret: giving Raven back to Tim. I believe Erin A will agree with me.

(#EVErinsTX part one: at our last stop in Dallas before heading back to Austin)

We’ll be back on the road soon driving an EV across another large state. We’ll be live tweeting and posting about that experience and hope y’all will continue to follow along our journey. If I could ask one thing until then: tell your family, your friends, your colleagues, your neighbors, your doctor, your dentist, your barista, and anyone who will listen to just try out an EV. Just try it out once…because it will change their perspective. If it doesn’t, you’ll still get to be the cool nerd raving about electric vehicles.