Road tripping in any non-Tesla EV is like driving through a minefield. Dozens of potential failure points lurk in the shadows when you’re forced to rely on America’s pitiable public charging infrastructure. But Volvo and an unexpected partner have made it a breeze to drive great distances in an EV, at least across one picturesque region of the country.
The great American west
The Chinese-owned Swedish automaker has teamed up with bean-and-brew-slinger Starbucks to install a series of DC fast chargers in five Western states along a route stretching more than 1,300 miles. Drivers can now make the epic trek from Denver, Colorado to Seattle, Washington without burning a drop of gasoline or diesel thanks to this newly opened network. And that’s exactly what we did while experiencing the new rear-wheel-drive, long-range 2024 Volvo C40 Recharge and XC40 Recharge SUVs.
Together, these two companies have installed some 50 ChargePoint chargers at 15 coffee houses across Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Thoughtfully located, motorists are never more than about 100 miles from a charger, so there is ample opportunity to plug in and juice up, even if you start running low on range.
As for the hardware, “We’re using a couple different pieces of equipment,” explained Alex Tripi, head of electrification for Volvo Cars USA during a chat with EV Pulse. “We’re using ChargePoint’s CP 250 and then their Express Plus,” the latter of which “puts out a max of 200 (kW).” This performance covers the needs of many EVs in service and on sale today, and should continue to hold up well in the coming years.
The upscale automaker chose to install chargers along this route for several important reasons. These vast Western states are famed for their wide-open spaces and stunning natural beauty — the route passes by six national forests and other famed attractions including Arches National Park in Utah, Idaho’s Snake River and Snoqualmie Pass in Washington — this region is not, however, famed for its abundant public charging infrastructure. Additionally, the automaker has a strong customer base in both Denver and Seattle, making this corridor a good candidate for electrification, though just about any EV can juice up at these locations since the chargers have both CCS and CHAdeMO plugs. Volvo drivers, however, may get preferential rates or even free charging depending on location.
An unexpected — but smart — collaboration
Partnering with Starbucks was another well-researched strategic choice. The chain is beloved by millions around the world, and “We know our drivers do over-index on coffee drinking, we know they’re big Starbucks customers,” said Tripi. “It’s part of their daily life.” Also, whether you’re in Denver or Düsseldof, Seattle or Shanghai, Starbucks provides a friendly, familiar and upscale experience, which is exactly what Volvo was aiming to mirror with this new charging network. Electric vehicle owners can pull up to a Starbucks, plug in and then enjoy their favorite beverage or snack, use the restroom or answer emails for a few minutes as their vehicle absorbs energy. And it doesn’t take long to juice up, either. The updated 2024 C40 Recharge and XC40 Recharge can gain up to 110 miles of range in as little as 15 minutes.
Of course, safety and reliability were top concerns, too. All too often, EV chargers are complete afterthoughts, tucked away in sketchy areas, out-of-the-way locations or even places that aren’t illuminated at night, the exact opposite of what Volvo and Starbucks have delivered here. Hopefully ensuring a higher level of reliability, Tripi said, “Volvo owns and operates the charging stations.” The automaker will also work with ChargePoint for maintenance and updates.
Putting all this to the test, Volvo invited select media to experience the new charging network firsthand. A carefully choreographed trip, the 1,300-plus-mile journey was covered in four days of driving, with several circumspect charging stops each day. Remarkably, the trip proved to be completely free of trouble. The chargers worked every single time without delay, and aside from a few curious route calculations from Google Maps, there were no vehicle issues of note. For the most part, even the weather cooperated, though there was a bit of snow and ice in Colorado, and we faced a brief section of nearly impenetrable fog as well as a monsoon-level downpour while crossing Washington.
The test vehicles were fitted with Nokian Hakkapeliitta winter tires, a mandatory upgrade for any drive in this region during the colder months, though fortunately, we probably could have made the trip without them since the conditions were so mild. Still, the added traction — and peace of mind — were appreciated.
New for 2024
Helping make this long-haul journey a breeze, Volvo’s updated electric SUVs are exceedingly comfortable, pleasant to drive and feature some significant technical updates for the latest model year.
Unquestionably, the biggest news for 2024 is the availability of a rear-wheel-drive, long-range trim. A reworked lithium-ion battery pack with a larger gross capacity of 82-kilowatt-hours boosts the C40 Recharge and XC40 Recharge’s EPA-estimated range to an impressive 297 and 293 miles, respectively. Additionally, this redesigned pack DC fast charges at up to 200 kilowatts, an impressive — and significant — upgrade over the smaller battery that’s still offered in all-wheel-drive models; that pack maxes out at around 155 kW.
Thanks to a Volvo-developed electric motor, these SUVs deliver good, if not outstanding performance. Each one is graced with 248 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, enough for a 0-to-60 romp in around 7 seconds, perfectly fine for everyday driving, though you won’t want to challenge a Porsche 911 Turbo S that rolls up next to you at a stoplight.
Keeping us on track was Volvo’s Google-based infotainment system. Relatively easy to use and extremely responsive, this multimedia array is a pleasure to use. It also features the Google Play Store, Google Assistant and the ever-useful Google Maps app, which was accurate and effective for at least 90% of this trip. Providing added flexibility, you can also use Apple CarPlay if you wish.
A winner… for now
Simply put, Volvo and Starbucks’ new EV charging network is a winner. Having traversed the entire route, it proved to be shockingly reliable and easy to use. Long-haul EV road trips are an invitation for trouble, but we sidestepped practically every issue that could have befallen us. The chargers were easy to access, well placed along the route, provided quick charging and — most importantly — were 100% reliable. Icing on the cake, none of the chargers were ever occupied by other EVs when we needed to use them.
Of course, this charging network just opened, so everything should function as advertised. It will be interesting to see how well things work in the coming months and years once drivers start taking advantage of the new hardware, but for right now the experience is superb, so good, in fact, Volvo and Starbucks should consider doing more, though Tripi explained this project is just a pilot and he wouldn’t comment on whether more routes will be added in the future. He did mention, however, that both companies will be learning from this and striving to deliver a positive charging experience for drivers.