Charging In The Wilderness: Build It and They Will Come

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If you are one of the many vehicle owners feeling the pinch of fluctuating (and rising) gas prices, then perhaps it is no coincidence that electric automakers are upping their game. And if you are an avid off-road enthusiast, they are keeping you in mind, also! Here is how electric vehicle makers are sweetening the pot: 

A handful of automakers will soon launch a batch of electrified vehicles with off-road credentials of varying degrees, finally unlocking the wilderness to avid hikers, mountain bikers, kayakers, fisher-folk and overlanders that drive zero-emissions 4x4s.

All-terrain EVs are an attractive proposition for adventure enthusiasts because they harness electricity to deliver impressive off-road performance. But despite their talents, what happens when there’s no place to “top off” before heading off grid or re-charge when heading home? It’s the electric equivalent of having no access to a gas station on a road trip.

Several EV makers and at least one major EV charging network provider hope they’ll solve the problem with a series of chargers adjacent to many of the nation’s most coveted off-roading trails, numerous state and national wilderness parks as well as popular hiking, biking and paddling venues. A robust wilderness-oriented charging network also will help bolster sales of forthcoming electric adventure vehicles.

The Players

General Motors is scheduled to launch its Hummer EV pickup this fall with an SUV version to follow in early 2023. Rivian, a well-funded EV startup with backing from Ford and Amazon, is launching its upscale but decidedly adventure-oriented R1T pickup this year, with the R1S sport utility to follow in 2022.

Ford Motor Co. will have an electric F-150 in its lineup in 2022 and has said numerous other electric vehicles will follow, a broad statement that could include an electric version of the well-received new Bronco.

Another startup, Bollinger motors, is readying two off-road oriented electric trucks — a pickup and an SUV, with a 2022 launch promised.

Finally, Tesla’s odd-looking Cybertruck electric pickup has the chops for off-road duty and may start appearing in customer driveways by the end of the year after several launch delays.

Already in the market is Jeep’s Wrangler 4Xe, a four-wheel drive, plug-in hybrid version of the go-anywhere Jeep Wrangler. A forthcoming all-electric Wrangler is a safe bet as well — the company already has shown a battery-powered concept. Fortunately, the Wrangler PHEV can toggle between gas and electric power, reducing range anxiety for buyers.

Rivian Leads the Way

The most ambitious wilderness charging effortso far is from Rivian. The Irvine-based company, whose factory is in Illinois, has announced plans to install more than 3,500 quick-charge stations across the U.S. and in Western Canada, many of them on scenic highways and near popular adventure destinations.

Additionally, Rivian has said it intends to install a series of slower 240-volt, or Level 2, chargers in state parks and in or near popular trailheads. The working theory is that EV and PHEV drivers can top off their vehicles’ batteries during a long hike, bike ride, or paddle around the lake.

“Investing in charging infrastructure in rural areas, which have often been passed by for EV charging…helps to chip away at persistent EV adoption barriers,” Matt Horton, Rivian’s executive vice president for energy and charging, told Forbes Wheels.

Its first agreements are with the state parks departments in Colorado and Tennessee. The deals call for Rivian to install chargers in each park — 56 parks in Tennessee and 42 in Colorado — and to maintain them for 10 years. The states would decide on use fees for the chargers and would pocket all the revenue.

Trailhead Charging with Jeep

Jeep is installing Level 2 charging in the town of Pollock Pines, near the jumping off spot for the Rubicon trailhead. Though its Wrangler PHEV is Rubicon-ready, there’s no charging near the downhill end of the rugged trail on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada range near Lake Tahoe. Wrangler 4xe drivers can rely on the gas engine, but many will want to tap into the all-electric range for the instant torque, which enhances its capability and improves its gas mileage.

The Rubicon chargers are one in a series Jeep has committed to building in partnership with Electrify America, the non-profit EV charging network operator established by Volkswagen as part of a settlement of a federal lawsuit over diesel emissions.

In addition to the Rubicon chargers, Jeep has announced two other sites for its first trailhead installations: Moab, Utah, center of a region famed for its rugged four-wheel drive trails, and Big Bear, California, a common jumping off point for many Southern California mountain trails.

Ultimately, Jeep said it intends to have charging stations — open to the public but free to Jeep owners — at or near all 56 of its popular “Badge of Honor” trails (Jeep owners get a special badge to display on their vehicle for each trail completed) in 21 states across the country.

Alternatives to Waiting

The Rivian and Jeep networks won’t be completed for several years, at least. In the meantime, representatives of both Ford and GM said they have nothing to announce about off-the-highway charging initiatives.

But both companies have declared the intent to go fossil fuel free in the future and have big stakes in boosting enthusiasm for EVs. It’s a good bet that that product development teams are working hard on ways to broaden the appeal of the electric trucks and SUVs they’ve got coming. For example, GM has a smartphone app for Hummer owners that will show the distance from a trailhead to the nearest charging station.

Waiting’s no fun, but for those who want to get outdoors in an EV, there are some alternatives to trailhead chargers.

Many national parks in the coastal states, where EVs are most prevalent today, have Level 2 chargers—albeit most have only a couple, usually attached to the main visitor center. There also are several chargers at the Old Faithful visitor center in Yellowstone National Park and at nearby hotels.

The latest count by the National Park Service has 140 chargers installed, most of them thanks to a 2010 funding donation from BWM, and more are coming. The park service is working with the California Energy Commission to place 20 new chargers in national parks in the Golden State.

There also are chargers in many towns near popular camping, hiking and watersports areas.

Finding Existing Chargers

The federal Energy Department’s online Alternative Fuels Data Center maintains an up-to-date listing and map that can be customized to show publicly available chargers in and around most popular outdoor adventure areas. The current map doesn’t list any in California’s Big Bear City — Jeep’s will be the first. There are two others in nearby locations on the same mountain.

Another universal public charging station locator is PlugShare, which tries, pretty successfully, to map every available Level 2 and DC fast-charge station in the country.

Finally, charging network operators such as Electrify America and ChargePoint provide on-line maps of their own charging locations, usually with information about the types, speeds and number and availability of the chargers at each location. And if all else fails in a quest for chargers in outdoor-themed areas, well, there’s always the station at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge in…umm…Orlando, Fla.

Are you looking to keep your favorite truck, jeep, or SUV in its best shape for as long as possible so you can enjoy the great outdoors? Power Trucks USA is here for you. Call our one-stop service garage in Warrenton, VA, and see how we can make that happen! (540) 349-0339, or find us on Facebook here.

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