EV Diaries: Driving electric car's full range

iMiev electric car being towed
iMiev electric car being towed
Shirley Jahad/KPCC

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KPCC's Shirley Jahad has been driving around in a prototype Mitsubishi electric car - the iMiev. In her ongoing series "EV Diaries," she charges her way across Southern California.

Chinese electric-vehicle-maker BYD announced last week it will put its North American headquarters in Los Angeles. It expects to start selling its electric car here next year. It is one of at least a half-dozen EV models that could be on the road by then.

No matter which electric car you drive in the next few years, there will come a day when you remember this tip: Look for vending machines.

Here's how it all goes down when I'm behind the wheel the other night checking how much battery power my Mitsubishi iMiev has left.

OK, I have three bars. I'm trying to get home. The battery light went on. I have three bars left. I think that takes me about 12 miles, but I have 14 miles to get home, so I'm in a bit of a dilemma, trying to figure out what to do, looking for an outlet in Los Feliz.

Its 10 o'clock at night. I pull into a gas station.

And I was given a clue and it has come in very handy: Look for vending machines. That's where you'll find outlets. And I'm here at a vending machine in the parking lot of a gas station, and I've just plugged in.

I get back in the car to stay warm. The all electric iMiev has a range of about 70 miles. You can charge it anywhere you find a common outlet. But it takes a while – 12 hours for a full charge.

I may be here for a while and I'd like to use the radio and stuff, but I think that may use the battery, so I'll just wait. Actually, I think I'll call a friend to pass the time.

"Well, hello!" said my friend.
"Hi there! Guess where I am."
"Where are you?"
"I'm at a gas station parking lot, tethered to the outlet next to the vending machine here. I'm plugged in and charging."

"Is it an official recharging station? "
"It's very unofficial. It is officially an outlet."
"You're just using an outlet?"
"The gas station attendant was really nice and he had no problem with me over in the corner plugged in."
"Very good. Well done!"
"I'm glad you're amused! This is the third time I've charged the car today. I drove from Pasadena to Santa Monica and charged the car for a couple hours at a friend's house. Drove to Los Feliz, charged a couple hours in a Vons parking lot. Now I'm plugged in again by this vending machine.

"The thing is, it's 10 o clock at night, and it's going to take at least an hour to get one more bar of juice on this bad boy."

"Oh, no!" my friend said. "Oh! And then one more bar would give you 15 miles?"
"One more bar? I don't know, I think it's – that's more math. I think there are 16 bars and you can go from 60 to 70 miles on 16 bars, so I'm trying to figure out how many miles per bar that might be."

"It doesn't sound very practical."

We talk for about an hour.

"You ready to roll?"

"Let's see how many bars we have," I said. "Still four bars. I'm gonna bank on it, I'm ready to roll. Yeah, 15 even, all right. I think I have a half a mile to spare, a half a mile cushion. Yeah. OK. Well, I'm taking me and my four bars home! Good. Thank you."

Soooo close! But at the Lake Street off-ramp – d'ohhhh.

Well, it looks like I'm gonna have to call Triple A. What a drag.

I got the turtle – the dreaded indicator that the battery is about to run out. The car slows automatically to give you time to pull over.

I'm calling Triple A. It looks like someone behind has put up some flares trying to help me out here.

Oh, maybe it's an officer who's behind me here.

"Hi, I'm in an electric car prototype," I told the officer. "I'm stuck on the side of the road just a few feet away from the Lake Street exit off of the 210."

"You're stuck there?" said the officer

"Yeah, I'm stuck."

The off-duty officer comes up to the window.

"So you came up to help me? That was very nice. And so what did you do back there, you put flares out? Yep. That was nice."

"Your lights aren't all that bright. I want the drivers to see you."

When people start buying electric cars later this year, the L.A. Department of Water and Power says it'll install for free home charging systems twice as fast as a regular outlet. And if you don't live in L.A., super-fast chargers are expected to dot the roadways up and down the west coast in the next couple years. But there aren't any yet.

"OK. Here's the tow truck man coming. Hi there! I have this electric car and I ran out of juice."

"Oh, my goodness," said the tow truck driver.

"Be gentle. It's a quarter of a million dollar prototype. Just so you know."

"I have six years experience. And I have yet to mess a vehicle up – especially a brand new vehicle like this, as fancy as it is."

iMiev electric car being towed from 89.3 KPCC on Vimeo.

Next time: Fast chargers! How fast can they get here?

Come ride with me in the all electric Mitsubishi iMiev from 89.3 KPCC on Vimeo.

Shirley Jahad - iMiev Part 2 from 89.3 KPCC on Vimeo.