Sunday, October 6, 2013

Charge Depleted

It's inevitable. If you own an all-electric vehicle, you will be asked.

“Have you ever run out of charge?”

A perfectly reasonable and appropriate question from someone contemplating EV ownership, thanks to the current state of battery technology. It’s also an engaging topic for EV owners to discuss, sharing stories of how they ran an experiment to test the range limit of their vehicle, or how they have come so perilously close to the end of the line that their EV resorted to some kind “limp mode” to extract as many miles (or yards) out of that last fraction of a usable kWh remaining in the battery.

For me, answering that question is somewhat cleansing (i.e. forgive me Father, for I have sinned), because unfortunately my answer is yes. I have run out of charge. Once. So far. Never again. And out of the many BEV owners online and in person I’ve talked to, only one other person has confessed. Luckily for him, he was maybe a hundred feet or two from a receptacle, so he was able to push his beloved Focus Electric to salvation. As for me? Well, if you haven’t seen the story in one of the Focus Electric forums, please read on…

February 4, 2013… it happened on my FFE’s maiden voyage, a 78 mile round-trip commute to work, with a 1200ft elevation loss/gain, and stop-and-go freeway traffic for about 30% of the trip. Did not intend to go round-trip on a single charge, but I thought my chargepoint account was set up for the charging station at work, and it wasn’t. Fortunately I elected to freeze my extremities on the way down to work (kept the heater and bun warmers off), so I had well over 60% of charge left, which the FFE translated to 62 miles, to get me back home.

Well, that wasn’t enough for a 38 mile, 1200ft elevation gain. But, damn-the-torpedoes idiot that I am, I opted out of every opportunity to stop for a quick jolt at a free charger or Blink station along the way. Heck, I even thought I was going to make it when FFE was telling me I had a mile of charge left with 7 miles to go. Stupid, in hindsight.

Then it happened. “Charge depleted, pull over safely”. I felt a chill down my spine, and it wasn’t because all life support systems were shut down for the entire trip. I was still 4 miles from home, going uphill before a final descent into the valley.

I slowed down from 50-55 to 35-40mph, with semis blowing by me as I crawled up the truck bypass. Went about a mile more until the charge was really depleted. The crest of the hill was within sight, but my speed was gradually falling… 25.. 20… 10… 5… I thought we were on the downhill side by now, but it must have been an optical illusion… we were moving, at a leisurely walking pace, but the speedo needle was on zero.

I got religious for a moment.

Speed finally started picking up after we really crested the hill, got to about 15mph when I lightly braked, maintaining 15-20mph all the way down in hopes that we’d generate enough energy to drive home. No such luck – still had zero range at the bottom of the hill, so I pulled into a park and ride area and shut down, making sure the FFE was positioned for a quick tow hookup.

So now I know – charge depleted means, well, that the charge is depleted. Got maybe a mile or three to go. No “reserve” like in most ICE cars – which I’ve taken 20-30 miles on fumes a number of times.

Also – Ford Roadside assistance works well. Free of charge, very courteous, and perhaps even expecting the call…

“Ford or Lincoln?” she asked.
“Ford, a Focus Electric.”
“Aww, did you run out of charge?”
“Don’t worry honey, that’s why we’re here.”

That's right, she called me "honey". In a sweet southern drawl, no less. Suddenly I felt better about this sorry situation I’ve inflicted on myself. In fact, if I wasn’t happily married, I’d have asked her out for a cup of coffee or something.

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