The Rivian R1T Internet-Zero Tenting Journey (That Nearly Wasn’t)

0
13

rivian r1t Complete overview

People are buying EVs for all sorts of reasons – fuel costs have been a priority lately – but at least some are buying them to be more environmentally friendly. Without getting into whether mining or oil drilling is more destructive, the simple fact is that electric motors are more efficient than internal combustion engines and don’t emit exhaust everywhere. With that in mind, we decided to take our 2022 Rivian R1T on an all-electric, zero-fossil fuel camping trip up the mountains. It didn’t quite go to plan.

The idea

My camping trip in the R1T should have been the ideal use case for someone buying a lifestyle truck rather than a work truck. Our campground near Big Bear Lake, California is 109 miles from my home in Inglewood. With an EPA-estimated range of 314 miles and only a 218-mile round trip, we should have had plenty of buffer. That’s good because Big Bear is at 6,752 feet and Inglewood is slightly above sea level. Climbing the mountain would certainly use range, but we’d regain most of it with regenerative braking on the way back down.

Even better, I had recently installed solar panels on my roof and programmed the R1T to only charge during daylight hours the days leading up to the trip so the trip would be fully sun powered. We even left the propane camp stove at home and planned a menu that either required no cooking or could be prepared over an open fire. (Our Rivian doesn’t have an optional camp kitchen, which would have drastically expanded our cooking options.)

Just to be safe, we didn’t plan on driving much, if any, once we got there. The campsite was just outside of town so we could walk in if we needed something small. The only real concern was the nighttime temperatures. Even in late May, when LA is already steaming hot, Big Bear still falls in the low 30’s overnight and we would be there four nights.

See all 33 photos

Here we go

It started well enough. Based on my recent driving habits and with a 100 percent charge, the truck showed a range of 292 miles in its most efficient Conserve mode (which decouples the rear motors to save power and lowers the truck for better aerodynamics). A little over an hour and 76 miles of freeway driving later, we reached the base of the mountain with a remaining range of 227 miles, easily beating the truck’s estimate. So far, so good.

Climbing the last 33 miles has had a number of impacts on our range, as expected. By the time we got to the campsite, the range had dropped to 153 miles and the battery charge was at 53 percent. I wasn’t too worried about that because I knew we’d be regenerating energy most of the 33 miles on the way back.

The Catch: Phantom Drain

My bigger concern was losing range overnight. We’ve found the R1T to lose a couple of miles of range overnight, even in warm weather. With a battery this big and an EV home charger, that wasn’t a problem for me. But EVs lose more range in the cold, which bothered me. Daytime temperatures would be a comfortable 60-70 degrees during our trip, but 30-degree nights were a potential problem.

In fact, the first morning I woke up to see the truck’s range had dropped to 132 miles and the battery had dropped to 45 percent. After the second night, the range was down to 98 miles and the battery down to 33 percent. Still, that was almost enough to get me home, especially after regenerating some power and range on the way down the mountain.

filterSee all 33 photos

Night three put an end to that fantasy. Range was now 63 miles, and battery was at 21 percent, meaning our R1T had lost 90 miles of range and had 32 percent of its charge basically just sitting there. We asked Rivian about this excessive battery drain, and in addition to the cold temperatures, the company cited the need to have certain computers on the truck powered and ready for the driver to get in and drive off immediately, rather than waiting for that everything starts up. After that trip, an over-the-air software update we installed will include new code that Rivian says will reduce phantom power draw by 15 percent. This was accomplished by identifying exactly which computers need power at all times and which ones can go into a low-power mode without impacting the user experience, Rivian says. We’ll see how much it helps this winter.

That didn’t help much in Big Bear, however, where it was time to look for public charging stations, of which there were exactly zero in the area. There was a public Level 2 charger at a coffee shop 17 miles away in Running Springs, or I could pay the local towing company $150 an hour for the privilege of using their Level 2 charger. A real estate agency had a Tesla Wall Connector, but I didn’t have an adapter to use it with (an issue that Lectron fixed).

solutions-Oriented

Then I saw a glimmer of hope. Some of the myriad short-term rental cabins in the area have been fitted with AllyVolt’s Level 2 home charger of sorts, allowing it to be rented to the public via their app for a fee. Unfortunately none seemed to be online when I downloaded the app.

Running out of ideas, I posted the call to MotorTrend’s Slack channel. Road test analyst Alan Lau created EVmatch, an app that allows Tier 2 home charger owners to share or rent their chargers with other users. There were a few in the area.

However, I wasn’t ready to give up. The R1T charges at about 13mph on my home charger meaning it would take at least 3.5 hours for the truck to get back to a range of 109 miles and I knew on my last night in the city would lose more range. Spending half the afternoon at a nice stranger’s charger wasn’t how I wanted my last day of camping to be.

However, the Level 2 public charger in Running Springs was still within reach and on the way home, so even if my battery was very low when we left town, we could drive there and charge while we ate. We had no illusions about charging enough to get home at this point. The goal was to get enough juice to make it to a fast loader at the bottom of the mountain.

As expected, the range dropped again on the fourth night. When I checked the Rivian app upon waking, I was greeted with a range of 34 miles and just 12 percent battery power left. When we got in the truck, it was down to 32 miles and 11 percent.

filterSee all 33 photos

time to execute

We decided to head to Running Springs and if all went well we could skip the stop and head down the hill to the faster charging station at the bottom. We knew we could reach the café; it was only 17 miles away. In theory, we could even make it to the fast charger 50 km away.

However, there is a catch. Big Bear Lake is not the highest point on the journey between there and my house. That would be Lakeview Point, which is at 7,112 feet, 360 feet higher. The first 10 miles out of town, with the A/C and stereo off, windows slightly rolled down (but not too far), were nerve wracking. We got to Lakeview Point with 23 miles of range remaining and just 8 percent battery.

We made it. It literally went downhill from there. When we made the Stage 2 charger in Running Springs, the battery was 9 percent charged and the range had increased to 26 miles, despite driving 7 miles from that point. Even better, we had less than 15 downhill miles to go to the quick charger. We tried it.

filterSee all 33 photos

success

Fifteen miles of regenerative braking later, we rolled into a Walmart lot with a 46-mile range and the battery was 16 percent charged. It was only a 50kW charger, about as slow as DC fast chargers (except for some really slow 26kW stations), but it’s still at least five times faster than the best Level 2 charger.

If only I could get it to work. At first the charger refused to authorize my credit card. After I entered my card details into the EVGo app, it launched, only for the truck to shut it down due to a software glitch. Playing around with both for half an hour got us a range of 4 miles and a 1 percent increase in battery charge.

A full vehicle reset on the truck (by simultaneously holding the leftmost steering wheel button and emergency flasher button for several seconds) fixed the error. The truck estimated that a full charge would take two hours and 45 minutes, but we didn’t need a full charge. It was only 78 miles to my home charger.

Forty-two minutes later, slowed down by running the truck’s air conditioning at full blast while charging to combat the 95-degree outside temperature, we left the battery at 41 percent and 123 miles of range. I added 45 miles of buffer primarily so I can keep blasting the air con while driving all the way home at 80 mph, which isn’t great for efficiency.

With light traffic, it was an easy drive home, and we arrived with 46 miles of range and 30 percent battery remaining.

filterSee all 33 photos

Mission accomplished?

Not only did we make it through with just one unplanned charging stop, it also kept my goal of using zero fossil fuels. The fast charger had a sign announcing that it would run entirely on renewable energy, in this case from the huge wind farm in nearby San Gorgonio Pass, which uses near-constant winds to power this part of the county.

Also, my specific charging problem was solved less than a month later with the installation of Big Bear’s first public 50kW DC fast charging station. A mile and a half from our campsite, we could have stopped on the way out of town and let the truck charge while we ate lunch. Or we could have parked the truck at the charging station earlier in the trip and gone out to eat or even walked back to the campsite.

EV charging infrastructure is now growing so fast, especially with the passage of the Federal Infrastructure Act, that all sorts of places that used to be charging deserts are popping up, making problems like mine a thing of the past. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve started telling people not to be range scared; they’re afraid of charging, and the cure is coming soon.

Bottom line, while this particular trip got stressful, there were workable solutions and I managed to pull it off just fine with a little on-site planning. Also, that scenario no longer exists. Yes, EVs still have some limitations compared to gas-powered vehicles, but they’re not hard to work around, and they’re shrinking every day.

More information on our long-term 2022 Rivian R1T…

Looks good! More details?