Of the 11 most popular road trips as determined by AAA, four have stretches of at least 200 miles between public fast-charging stations.
Of the 11 most popular road trips as determined by AAA, four have stretches of at least 200 miles between public fast-charging stations.
Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

Great American Road Trips Are Impossible for Most Electric Cars

There are more electric vehicles in Arizona than all but six other states, but their pilots would be wise not to venture too far north of Flagstaff. There, among the cacti and coyotes, they’ll find an electron desert. The closest fast-charging station that caters to cars not made by Tesla is 207 miles away in Kanab, Utah.

Alas, a quick jaunt to the Grand Canyon is still a bridge too far for the electric vehicle revolution.

Read More: How far can your EV go on the open highway? Find out with Bloomberg Green’s Electric Car Ratings.

In fact, many of America’s favorite driving journeys are still off the map for non-Tesla EVs. Of the 11 most popular road trips as determined by AAA, four have stretches of at least 200 miles between public fast-charging stations, a dicey proposition for those driving a battery-powered vehicle that can’t top up on Tesla’s proprietary network. Of the 80 or so electric vehicle model variants for sale in the US at the moment, 31 travel less than 250 miles on a charge. That range shrinks further with any of three conditions common on a summer road trip: interstate speeds, heavy cargo and hot weather.

Road Trip to the Grand Canyon

Distance from charging stations on a roundtrip drive from Sedona, Ariz., to the Grand Canyon

Landmark

Charging station

Up to 12.5 miles from charging station

Up to 25 miles

160

Grand Canyon

National Park

Grand Canyon

Village

180

Wupatki

National Monument

Petrified Forest

National Park

Kingman

Williams

40

Flagstaff

Winslow

Sedona

Arizona

17

Showlow

100 mi

100 km

Landmark

Charging station

Up to 12.5 miles from charging station

Up to 25 miles

Grand Canyon

National Park

Grand Canyon

Village

Wupatki

National Monument

Petrified Forest

National Park

40

Williams

Flagstaff

Winslow

Sedona

Arizona

17

Showlow

100 mi

100 km

Charging station

Up to 12.5 miles from charging station

Up to 25 miles

Grand Canyon

Village

Wupatki

National Monument

Williams

40

Winslow

Flagstaff

Sedona

17

Arizona

100 mi

100 km

Charging station

Up to 12.5 miles from charging station

Up to 25 miles

Grand Canyon

Village

Arizona

Wupatki

National Monument

Williams

Flagstaff

Winslow

Sedona

17

100 mi

100 km

Up to 12.5 miles from charging station

Charging station

Up to 25 miles

Grand Canyon

Village

Arizona

Wupatki

National Monument

Williams

Flagstaff

Winslow

Sedona

17

100 mi

100 km

Sources: AAA and US Department of Energy

The Grand Canyon is also an electron challenge for those coming from Las Vegas. On AAA’s recommended loop, EV drivers have to navigate a 265-mile chasm from Williams, Arizona, to Kanab, Utah, plus another 202-mile charging gap between Bryce Canyon and Utah’s Zion National Park.

Likewise, those traveling the Natchez Trace Parkway—an ancient Native American trail between Nashville, Tennessee, and the heart of Mississippi—would do best to burn gasoline. Tesla drivers can top up in Tupelo, Mississippi (the birthplace of Elvis), but those in another brand of EV won’t find a single public fast-charging station on the entire 495-mile route. The only respite is at a McDonald’s 39 miles out of the way, in Winona, Mississippi.

Road Trip Along the Natchez Trace Parkway

Distance from charging stations on a roundtrip drive from Nashville, Tenn., to Natchez, Miss

Landmark

Charging station

Up to 12.5 miles from charging station

Up to 25 miles

Nashville

Tennessee

40

Memphis

Tupelo

22

Little Rock

Huntsville

30

Mississippi

Alabama

Arkansas

Birmingham

55

Jackson

Montgomery

Louisiana

Natchez

59

100 mi

100 km

Charging station

Landmark

Up to 12.5 miles from charging station

Up to 25 miles

Nashville

Tennessee

40

Memphis

Tupelo

22

Little Rock

Huntsville

30

Mississippi

Alabama

Arkansas

Birmingham

55

Montgomery

Jackson

Natchez

59

100 mi

100 km

Charging station

Up to 12.5 miles from charging station

Up to 25 miles

100 mi

100 km

Nashville

Tennessee

40

Memphis

Tupelo

Arkansas

Mississippi

Alabama

Birmingham

Jackson

Natchez

Charging station

Up to 12.5 miles from charging station

Up to 25 miles

Nashville

Tennessee

40

Memphis

Tupelo

Arkansas

Mississippi

Alabama

Birmingham

Jackson

100 mi

Natchez

100 km

Up to 12.5 miles from charging station

Charging station

Up to 25 miles

100 mi

100 km

Nashville

Arkansas

Memphis

Tupelo

Mississippi

Alabama

Jackson

Natchez

Sources: AAA and US Department of Energy

A little further east, the famed Blue Ridge Parkway presents a similar challenge. AAA’s recommended route scratches through the lazy mountain spines north of Asheville, North Carolina, for 208 miles without passing a public fast-charger. At the end of the line on the Virginia border, the nearest electrons are at a Circle K, 30 miles east. American, yes. Scenic, not so much.

Bringing chargers to the entire US

For the 48 million Americans who took a driving vacation this Fourth of July, the choice was often stark: Avoid side roads and slower routes—or pay at the pump to enjoy them, as the US experienced its highest gas prices on record.

Steve Birkett, who documents road trips in his Hyundai Ioniq 5, tries to strategically overnight at hotels or campsites with a Level 2 charger. “Our rule of thumb is often that the east-west routes seem to be covered pretty well, but the north-south routes tend to be a little trickier,” he explained. Birkett also often chooses slower, scenic roads where regenerative braking—when the act of slowing the vehicle simultaneously charges the battery—can stretch his car’s range. “There’s a lot of potential work-arounds,” he said.

The Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, North Carolina. Photographer: George Rose/Getty Images
The Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, North Carolina. Photographer: George Rose/Getty Images

The dearth of available EV charging is unique to the US, where vast spaces pair with a lack of public policy and limited incentives for electric vehicle stations. At the end of last year, China had 18 times as many public fast-charging cords as North America and Europe; South Korea had roughly twice as many, according to a tally from BloombergNEF.

Still, the map could fill in quickly. This fall, the Biden administration will begin deploying $5 billion to build electric vehicle infrastructure, prioritizing plans for fast-charging cords in rural areas. As part of its proposal, the government is calling for a public charger every 50 miles on major transit corridors. That might not help much on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but could fill in nearby.

“Very soon, you’ll see a lot of those existing gaps start to close,” said Joe Britton, executive director of the Zero Emissions Transportation Association. “[The federal money] kind of forces charger deployment to outpace that pure market-based mechanism.” In other words, networks will build chargers even in places where there still aren’t many EVs.

Outcharged

North America trails much of the world in EV charging infrastructure

China

South Korea

Europe

Japan

North America

The rest of the world

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

0

100

200

300

400

500

600K

Fast-charging connectors

China

South Korea

Europe

Japan

North America

The rest of the world

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

0

100

200

300

400

500

600K

Fast-charging connectors

China

South Korea

Europe

Japan

North America

The rest of the world

2021

2020

2019

2018

2017

0

100

200

300

400

500

600K

Fast-charging connectors

Source: Bloomberg NEF

Likewise, the energy crisis could spark development. Electric vehicle adoption has surged in step with gas prices, none of which is lost on the companies that build charging stations. A parade of bigger, burlier electric trucks and SUVs is also redrawing the map for those executives.

Rivian, for example, says orders for its electric pickups are spread widely throughout the US, rather than clustered in coastal states that mandate auto companies sell a certain percentage of “zero-emission” vehicles. As such, the EV startup has decided to fill in some of the charging gaps on its own. By the end of next year, Rivian hopes to have built 600 public fast-charging stations and 10,000 slower-charging waypoints, at first for only its own vehicles. The company’s network map is still a work in progress, but is already geared toward rural routes, including national parks and trailheads.

“For us, we really focus on whether we can get the customers where they want to go,” said Trent Warnke, Rivian’s senior director of energy and charging solutions. “We as a country just need a lot more fast charging to enable these summer road trips.”

A few days before July 4, Rivian flipped the switch on its first station, in Salida, Colorado, home to 6,000 residents. The company probably won’t sell many trucks there, but Salida sits in the heart of the Rocky Mountain wilderness, on the banks of the Arkansas River and just down the road from the Collegiate Peaks, a hiking mecca.

And on Rivian’s map of coming sites, it has a pin right at the edge of the Grand Canyon.