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Bill Roth headshot

We Test the Chevy Bolt's Mountain Driving

By Bill Roth

“I would have never tried that in my electric car!”

That was the surprised reaction I received from an all-electric Nissan Leaf owner after I described my drive in the Chevy Bolt over California's Santa Rosa Mountain Range from Oceanside into Palm Desert. That climb is beyond the range of all electric cars except the $100,000 Tesla Model S.

I had just done it with a car costing $30,000 (after tax credits) while carrying two passengers, some day bags and a dog.

Driving a Bolt over the Santa Rosa Mountain Range

Mountain driving is the ultimate electric car challenge. So I decided to test-drive the Bolt by driving the Santa Rosa Mountain Range. These mountains have a 7,000-feet maximum elevation. The road I would take reaches over 3,000 feet.

My test-drive began on a four-lane road driving east toward the mountains from Oceanside, California. This road has a 55-mile-per-hour speed limit that was only briefly achieved due to a steady lineup of traffic lights.

This type of driving is where the Bolt feels most comfortable. Its electric motor easily glided through the stop-and-go traffic. Its regenerative braking system added electricity back into the battery with each slow-down and stop. From my reading of the digital gauge, it appeared that for every 10 miles traveled, the battery only lost two miles of driving range in these conditions.

I then merged onto an interstate highway and set the cruise control for 72 miles per hour to keep up with traffic. The Bolt's range was dropping, but nothing more disconcerting than driving a gasoline car at over 70 miles per hour.

At Temecula, I turned off the interstate. This desert town has exploded into a suburb that enables commutes north toward Los Angeles or south toward San Diego. Driving through town is a stop-and-go process past blocks of fast-food restaurants, big-box stores and strip malls. The Bolt was back in its driving sweet spot of recharging the battery with every slow-down or stop.

After a few miles, Temecula’s four-lane road narrowed to two. Suburbia was left behind. Ahead was desert wilderness with stark rock fields and short, thin trees shaped by the wind. But on this drive, spring was in its full beauty with wildflowers vibrantly splashing yellows and purples against the grey and brown landscape.

The Bolt handled this two-lane foothills climb like a sports car. The electric motor provided plenty of acceleration. The regenerative drive system enabled quick handling of curves.

Then came the mountain climb portion of the trip. The Bolt easily conquered the steep climb. But we paid for this performance with significant electricity consumption. I entered the mountain climb with about a 150-mile driving range. At the summit, I had a 100 miles left on the battery.

The descent into Palm Desert was a technological marvel. The Bolt gained driving range as the regenerative braking system captured the energy from strong braking to recharge the battery. During the entire drive down the mountain, I couldn’t stop watching the digital dashboard’s real-time display of increasing driving range. More than once, my wife had to ask me to stop being a geek and watch the road. By the time the Bolt reached the desert floor, it had regained 30 miles of driving range.

After a wonderful day of driving to art fairs, and then lunch in Old Town La Quinta, I took the Bolt to a recharging station in anticipation of driving back up the mountain. Recharging took less than 30 minutes using a 50 DC station located inside a city park. It was at the recharging station where I talked to other electric car drivers and heard their amazement over my drive from Oceanside to Palm Desert.

Driving the Bolt is like driving a gasoline car, but better

The future has now arrived with the Chevy Bolt.

The Bolt looks like a sedan but drives like an urban sports cars. Stop-and-go traffic actually recharges the battery! The seats are very comfortable for four passengers. The trunk is surprisingly large. The air conditioning is cold. The sound system is enjoyable. And all of this is delivered with zero tail pipe emissions.

California’s extensive recharging station network allows the Bolt to travel as broadly as a gasoline car. Yes, DC recharging time is about 30 minutes compared to a typical 15-minute gasoline refueling stop. Plus, 30 minutes of recharging only adds about 90 miles of range. So a day trip of over 200 miles is slower.

But the bottom line is that the Bolt is now an affordable, fun and zero-emissions alternative to a gasoline car.

It is by far and away the superior urban vehicle.

And once our country finally commits to a national grid of super fast recharging stations, it will be the superior technology wherever you drive it.

Image courtesy of the author 

Bill Roth headshot

Bill Roth is a cleantech business pioneer having led teams that developed the first hydrogen fueled Prius and a utility scale, non-thermal solar power plant. Using his CEO and senior officer experiences, Roth has coached hundreds of CEOs and business owners on how to develop and implement projects that win customers and cut costs while reducing environmental impacts. As a professional economist, Roth has written numerous books including his best selling The Secret Green Sauce (available on Amazon) that profiles proven sustainable best practices in pricing, marketing and operations. His most recent book, The Boomer Generation Diet (available on Amazon) profiles his humorous personal story on how he used sustainable best practices to lose 40 pounds and still enjoy Happy Hour!

Read more stories by Bill Roth