The adapter can be hard to get — it costs $400 and Tesla often is out of stock. On eBay they are known to sell for much more. It’s also fairly bulky. A few agencies offer them for rent, but the best plan may be to get together with 3-5 Tesla owning neighbors or friends to share one. The cost is then quite low and pays for itself in one trip. You just need a system to let people book it for their road trips — you probably don’t need it driving around your own town. And it’s definitely a lot cheaper than the $10,000 extra for a long range battery!
More, smaller stations vs. fewer big, fast stations
While CHAdeMo stations have far fewer chargers and are slower, more expensive, less reliable and harder to use than Tesla stations, the DC Fast networks have taken the strategy of installing more stations with fewer chargers. Stations with just 1-2 chargers are common, while Tesla superchargers tend to have 8 to 32 chargers at each one, making waits rare and short if they happen, and also making charger outages unimportant. This means you while you might find Tesla chargers 150 miles apart on rural highways, you might find 2 to 4 DC Fast stations in between those two Tesla chargers. You don’t need them — your Tesla will get you between the two stations — but they offer you options. In particular they offer you the very desirable option to change your mind and take side trips.
On my trip I drove from Eugene to Grant’s Pass in Oregon. That’s about 140 miles (with hills) and if you charge up at one you’ll make it to the other. But if you don’t charge up fully, or decide to take side trips, you might not make it. This limits your options and also creates anxiety. I charged up less than full at the north end of Eugene, but then visited various friends in town and stayed in a hotel. I could have backtracked to north Eugene but instead I just headed south. I would barely make Grant’s Pass but I did not have to worry, because there are 5 different CHAdeMO stations along the way, though only one has reasonable pricing. (More on that later.) I used it for 5 minutes to let me do what I wanted to do when I got to Grant’s Pass before charging.
This is just one example of the value of having access to these chargers. By removing the “can I make it?” anxiety when you do anything but point to point driving, they ease the trip even if you never have to use them. This mirrors a result found in the earliest days of EVs in Japan. Early EVs had only 100 miles (or less) of range and range anxiety was a real thing in daily driving. (Range anxiety today doesn’t exist for most driving and is only found on rural road trips.) They found that if they installed early charging stations around town, the drivers all felt better and used their cars much more — even though they weren’t actually charging at the stations. Drivers got better use of their cars knowing they would not have the risk of getting stranded.
In addition to side trips, you can make more long stops without much concern. Ideally, if you make an overnight stop anywhere, it’s nice to find a hotel with Level 2 charging and wake up fully charged. If you don’t find that, however, there are many places in between superchargers you might stop with a fairly low charge, giving you anxiety and limitations. This can be fixed if there is local CHAdeMO.
Once on this trip, the adapter did save us. Driving from Vancouver to Victoria, taking the ferry, we were running late for our reservation. The Tesla had a bug in that it thought taking the ferry used up energy in the battery, but even so we were right on the line. There is a supercharger at the ferry terminal, but we could not afford to stop or we would miss our precious reservation. So we boarded as the car complained we were doomed, but we stopped at a (our first) CHAdeMO station, ironically at a gas station, to pick up a few minutes charge and be certain of making the supercharger. (Because many people report that Teslas can go 20 miles below “zero,” we probably would have made it, but it’s not a bet you want to take.) It was nice not to worry.
Outside the Supercharger Network
This particular trip included British Columbia. Unlike much of the USA, the CHAdeMO adapter is a must in that province. Tesla has only built superchargers along the Trans-Canada Highway, but BC Hydro and other entities have put many CHAdeMO stations in all sorts of places in the southern half of the province. There are other regions of Canada where this is also true. This includes stations at many “rest stops,” many of which are available at no cost. It also includes some 25kw stations, which are obviously very slow, even compared to 50kw regular CHAdeMO, but which may be the only charging on that highway, and are always free.
With these stations we were able to drive all over the province, which would simply not be practical without the adapter. There are places in the USA where DC Fast stations can be found far from Tesla Superchargers, such as the “Loneliest road in America” — US 50 across Nevada, parts of CA99 in the California Central Valley, John Day in Central Oregon and a few others. In my prior road trips I ran into situations 3 times when the adapter would have made things easy that were hard, or possible that were impossible. But the Tesla network is good enough that this should be rare. However, if you want to go to those places, you need the adapter for reasons over and above those described.
Tesla should place the adapters instead of selling them
It surprises me that Tesla sells these adapters to customers. Instead, it should donate them to be installed at CHAdeMO stations it identifies are useful to Tesla drivers because they are far from Superchargers. Tesla maintains their charging network not to make money, but to sell cars by convincing customers they can get charging anywhere. Donating these adapters would be a super cheap way to expand the capabilities of the cars. This is particularly true for the stations I just named in places Teslas can’t go. If, for some strange reason, Tesla does not wish to donate them, the owners of the charging stations should want to buy them to get more business, but failing that, Tesla could easily charge drivers a fee to use the adapters that would quickly pay for them.
One CHAdeMO network, EVgo, has bought a small number of the Tesla adapters and put them at their stations. They are mounted on a retractable cable at the side of the station. Right now they have put these adapters in foolish places — locations near superchargers — where they won’t get much use. But this can change.
They won’t get much use where they are because CHAdeMO sucks.
Having extolled the virtues of having the adapter, I must now point out the various problems about using it. The first is that it only supports 50kw — even at the rare 100kw CHAdeMO stations. Worse, you don’t even get 50kw — normal is about 42kw, which can sometimes rise to 49kw by the end of a charge. Sometimes you get even less, I have seen as low as 26kw even on a discharged battery.
This is not quite as bad as it seems, because while Tesla’s chargers will start you out at 140kw to 190kw depending on the station, they only do that for a very short time, and as the battery fills, they drop down to be close to 50kw and even below. So while you might think a 250kw Tesla station could fill you up 5 times faster than a 50kw station, it’s closer to twice as fast. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but Tesla stations are already too fast — it’s almost impossible to finish a meal at a 250kw station without having to leave your plate to go move your car. As such, while you don’t want to do it every day, filling up at 50kw is tolerable.
The DC Fast (by which I mean CHAdeMO and CCS, even though technically Superchargers are also DC Fast) networks are often quite a bit less reliable than one would like. This is complicated by the fact that many stations have just 1-2 chargers. That means a breakdown can often shut down of halve the capacity of a station, which can be a serious problem. Repairs are often slow to come because DC Fast charging is not really a business. Most stations are there for some other reason than to profitably sell electricity, so nobody is motivated to give top notch service at them.
The biggest problems, though, are not breakdowns but authentication problems. Telsa did it right — the car communicates with the charger. You literally plug and play. Most DC Fast stations require you to have a card, or download an app and have internet connectivity, or get them on the phone. Reviews of stations are rife with stories of people who could not get a station to turn on, or who had to spend a fair bit of time doing it. It’s terrible and hopefully will be improved. Some are better than others but you don’t get to choose who runs the charger you are at.
The strategy of more, smaller stations that provides the value described above comes with a curse. If you need a station, and it’s broken, you may be in a bad situation. You don’t just move to the next charger over. This hit us as Mt. Robson Provincial Park on the way into Jasper National Park. The free dual-unit station had one unit off and the other not working for CHAdeMO. We could not go into Jasper that day. Checking Plugshare, it was still not fixed weeks later. This doesn’t happen most of the time, but even some of the time is a problem.
DC Fast stations are often quite expensive, too, and in many cases they charge by the minute which is very frustrating when they refuse to give you the power they are rated for. Particularly odd are the stations that charge a flat fee (like $7.50 in Oregon) or a base fee plus a per minute or per kwh fee. These stations are grossly overpriced if you just want a 10 minute stop to give you extra range, though they can be reasonably priced if you are doing the 75 minute long “fill up.” Expect to pay 3 to 5 times what you pay at home for electricity. Tesla stations have also recently changed prices, and some are now quite expensive if you use them during “peak times” which can mean daytimes or afternoon and early evenings based on location. Electricity costs 3x as much then on the grid. Owners of older Teslas get free use of Superchargers, and people who did referrals get free credits — I have yet to pay cash for Supercharging.
As noted, in some places there are also free chargers. Level 2 slow charging is often free. DC Fast charging is rarely free, but is free at BC Rest Stops.
The smaller size of stations would make it more likely they fill up, and that there could be very, very long waits. At present that doesn’t seem to happen much at all, because almost all EV road trippers are Tesla drivers. When that changes it will be interesting. Electrify America is now putting in larger stations to help. If you got to a 2-charger station and 4 cars were waiting, you could be sitting around for hours, which is not acceptable. (Fortunately you might have enough juice to make the next station, but there is no reservation system to assure you there is no wait there.) In BC the only time I saw a crowd was when 3 Teslas were present at a free two-charger CHAdeMO station on the remote road to Prince Rupert. Free is great but comes with downsides — everybody stops for a free top-up. Tesla is going to turn on Superchargers on this route in the future.
Tesla sells the adapter, but they don’t give it any support. They don’t put the charging stations on their charging map, won’t plan routes using them and even will pop up alerts about how you are too far from charging when you aren’t with the adapter. Use A Better Route Planner instead. Tesla offers no way to engage the “battery precondition” which speeds up fast charging, and oddly, they request a lower charging current when the battery is low, and a bit more when it is about 80% full — the opposite of how the Superchargers work.
CHAdeMO lost the DC Fast War
Another issue is that of the two competing “standards,” the Asian CHAdeMO and the USA/Euro CCS, CHAdeMO lost that fight. Even Nissan, its champion, is switching to CCS. Electrify America, the largest DC Fast network in the USA, now builds stations with 4 or 8 CCS plugs and only one CHAdeMO. They have announced that next year, they will stop putting on the CHAdeMO, stranging owners of Leafs, some Kias, and no longer helping Tesla adapter owners. CCS handles up to 350kw and is starting to compete with Tesla by including a payment protocol (found in only one Mercedes at present.) In time, other than having a bulky plug, it will come to match Tesla.
Even so, there are enough CHAdeMO stations out there to make the adapter very useful, even if it won’t grow in use much beyond 2022. Tesla has a CCS adapter in Korea, and there is a buggy Chinese 3rd party one, so some day you will get that adapter instead of the CHAdeMO. Tesla should just buy back all the adapters it sold if it follows the strategy of providing them to all those stations. If the stations all have them, there is no reason for drivers to carry one.
It’s not that surprising CHAdeMO lost outside of Asia. The connector is immense, and uses a different socket than the Level 2 connector, so each car needs two sockets. The CCS connector is almost as huge but adds on to the main connector. Tesla managed to do all types of charging in one sleek connector smaller than the J1772 slow charging connector all other cars have. It’s surprising that when Tesla did it right and did it earlier, that nobody learned.
Because the only CHAdeMO cars out there capable of road trips are recent Nissan Leafs, it turns out that the largest user of these stations are Teslas with the adapter, even though only a few people have them.
Forming an adapter club
I recommend the forming of a club to share an adapter. Most people only road trip a few weeks a year, and you only need it on road trips, so it should not be hard to share, though “prime” season in the summer may have contention. A club with 8 people and 2 adapters might be more robust, and if 3 people needed to road trip the club could subsidize use of a rental, or buy another one and expand the club. Of course, it would be better if Tesla let you stop at a Tesla dealer to borrow or rent one on your way out on a road trip, and better still if Tesla just mounted them at the CHAdeMO stations. If they want, they can just bill you a fee every time you use it and even make a profit, but they should not.
The right fast charging strategy
If you can charge at your house or office, you never need fast charging in your own town. It’s only for road trips. It turns out that as a driver, the result of this adapter is close to what you want. You want large, fast stations every 150 miles or less, and smaller, slower stations in between those stations and out in the rural areas away from the main highways. The slow stations are only rarely used to fully fill up a car. Rather they give you extra range. You take a side trip when you feel like it, and top up with only enough for that side trip at the remote stations, getting enough to make it to the big fast station where you will charge fast with no wait. Indeed, at the small stations, they should be set that anybody who wants to do an hour long fill-up has to unplug for somebody needing the 5 minute boost so nobody has to wait.
These slower 50kw stations are much cheaper to make and need much less power. Great places to put them could include RV parks (which already have large electrical hookups, and could use a special station that measures how much current is going to the RVs and only offers the extra.) Other places you stop for 10 to 30 minutes like stores and restaurants could be good choices to. The result would be worry free road trips not just on the main highways, but out in the country, which is where the best road trips happen. Today, there are some very important roads which lack any fast charging, and for EVs to become superior to gasoline in every way, this needs to be fixed.
So, where can you go?
While the adapter is useful in giving you more options and less anxiety almost everywhere, here is a list of some areas in the west where the adapter makes trips possible that are difficult or impossible without it in a SR+ Tesla. Routes as subject to change as new charging is installed. It is also worth noting that there are many routes that only Teslas can do that DC Fast cars will have much trouble with as well. Many of these are much easier if you pay the extra $10,000 for the long range Tesla — but the adapter is only $400.
- Large sections of British Columbia, the Canadian Rockies and several other provinces. In the east, Newfoundland and PEI have no superchargers and Nova Scotia has only one, but they have many CHAdeMo.
- A fast drive to Lompoc to watch a Vandenberg rocket launch
- Crossing from Redding, CA to the coast on 299
- Some of the roads into and out of Crater Lake National Park
- Routes through John Day, Oregon.
- Most of the US/Canada land border crossings between Vancouver and Ontario
- The loop from 395 over to 99 north via Lake Isabella
- Around the Yukon or Juneau, Denali, Alaska — if you can get your car there, that is. The Alaska Highway and most of Alaska have no fast charging of any kind.
- US 50 across Nevada
- From Winnemucca north to Idaho
- Southern Nevada around Area 51
- Areas of Southern Colorado
- S.E. Washington to Nez Perce areas of Idaho
- From Eugene OR to Grant’s Pass with side trips
Stay tuned for more in a 3-part series on electric vehicle road trips. Next — having a 12v compressor fridge would be a perfect match for an EV, if Telsa hadn’t mucked it up!