Michael Stanyer, Plug In BC staff.
I’ve had the pleasure of travelling through B.C. in a variety of electric vehicles for my work. Most of those trips have been with smaller, utilitarian EVs: primarily a Volkswagen E-Golf and Chevrolet Bolt. My EV travels have taken me to Vancouver Island, the Sea to Sky region, the Kootenays, the Cariboo and Central Interior. I recently rented a Ford Mustang Mach-E for a trip from Vancouver to Valemount and Prince George. This is not an in-depth review of the car, but an account of why and how I chose it, along with information about charging stations in the B.C. interior. TLDR notes are at the end of this article.
Choosing the Mustang Mach-E
In October 2021, I needed to travel from Vancouver to Prince George for work and included a detour to Valemount to visit a friend. For this trip I turned to Turo, a peer-to-peer car rental platform like AirBnB for vehicles. British Columbia has the highest representation of electric vehicles on Turo in Canada, about 13 percent of the total fleet. Most of the electric cars on Turo are Telsas. While I would have been happy to take one of the numerous Model 3s on Turo, I had a lot of cargo: pop-up canopies, banners and boxes of event equipment. So I was concerned that a Model 3 wouldn’t have the cargo space I needed. A Model S, X or Y would do, and they are available on Turo, but I would have needed to find one with a CHAdeMO fast-charging adapter. At the time of my trip, Tesla Superchargers were installed on HWY 97 between Cache Creek and Prince George, but they weren’t online yet (they were turned on shortly after my trip was over).
Using a rental Tesla was going to be complicated due to lack of Superchargers, but I knew that the route had a more-than-adequate network of non-Tesla fast-charging stations. I had used them on several previous trips with the Bolt and E-Golf. So, I broadened my search and discovered a new Mustang Mach-E for rental out of Surrey.
This particular Mach-E was the most basic version: the rear wheel drive model with a standard range battery pack. That gives it a range rating of 370 km, 266 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque. Though it was the basic model, it’s still an upscale electric crossover with plenty of power. It was also appealing for this trip because this crossover incarnation of the Mustang has a rear hatch instead of a trunk and could accommodate all my work supplies. Plus, this Mach-E had a peak charging rate of 115 kW (whereas the extended battery version goes up to 150 kW peak charging rate). That makes for a big upgrade over the 50 kW charging in other EVs I had road-tripped with.
Driving electric from Surrey to Valemount
On the first day of my trip, I picked up the Mach-E in Surrey and drove to Valemount. I took the Coquihalla route, HWY 5 from Hope through Kamloops. If there is anything to best demonstrate the capabilities of an electric vehicle, I think that climbing the Coquihalla is it. Having driven this route so many times in gas vehicles, it is still a novelty to do so in electric cars that climb the hills effortlessly. No high-RPM vibration or noise, no automatic transmission hunting for gears, no whiff of burnt oil.
I used Electrify Canada stations in Hope, Merritt and Kamloops. An advantage of travelling HWY 5 is the availability of ultra-fast-charging stations thanks to Electrify Canada and Petro-Canada sites from Hope to Kamloops. These stations accommodate the Mach-E’s 115 kW capabilities, whereas the regular fast-charging stations installed by BC Hydro, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI), and local governments are mostly 50 kW. It sounds like a no-brainer, but faster charging speeds make a difference. The vehicle does not charge at a steady 115 kW; instead it has a peak 115 kW ability and tapers off as the battery charges up. But this higher rate of charging made the trip functionally the same as driving a gas car as long as I could access higher powered stations. At each stop, I had 10-15 minutes of things I needed to do, like cross the street for a coffee, use the washroom or answer a few messages. Even though these stops took longer than filling with gas, I would still would have been spending that time doing small tasks anyway.
I knew that the Mustang would charge faster than vehicles I had previously driven. That’s why I chose to rent it, but I didn’t appreciate how much of a difference this would make. I was surprised when I left it at a charging station in Merritt, crossed the parking lot for a fast-food coffee, and came back to find it above 80% charged. This offered me a glimpse into what Tesla drivers have long enjoyed so long as they could access Tesla Superchargers, given that they charge at 150 or even 250 kW depending on the version. If you’re digging into charging station details, you’ll notice that Electrify Canada and Petro-Canada offer up to 350 kW charging stations. Currently, only the Porsche Taycan has 350 kW capability, but new vehicles in 2022 like the Kia EV6 and Hyundai IONIQ 5 are pushing into the 250 kW territory.
That’s not to say the battery completely charges in 10-15 minutes. When you travel in an EV you don’t drive until the battery is empty and then conveniently roll up to a charging station. Just like you don’t aim to burn your last litre of gas as you arrive at a gas station. Ideally, you’ll be running the battery down to 15-20% and then fast-charging up to 80%. The charging rate drops off dramatically at 80% in order to protect the battery, so it’s better to stop your session at 80% and move on until you need to charge again. In the Mustang Mach-E loaded with equipment, driving at highway speeds and using the heat in chilly October weather, I could comfortably drive 200-250 km before wanting to charge. So, I was making a few short stops to charge from 20-80% instead of long full-battery charges. Travelling north of Merritt there weren’t any ultra-fast-charging stations, and I had to use a 50 kW regular-fast-charging station in Blue River before completing the day in Valemount. I also plugged into a MOTI charging station at the Wire Cache rest area while using the washroom. It wasn’t necessary to charge here. I just stopped to take a break and grab photos.
Valemount to Prince George and local commuting
Every electric vehicle comes with a charging cord so that you can plug into a regular 110v outlet and “trickle charge” overnight. This method is typically good for 50-60 km as you sleep. The Mach-E comes with an adapter to use a 220v RV plug for a higher charging rate. Not as powerful as a dedicated home charging station, but still enough to completely charge up overnight; however, I discovered that my rental car didn’t have the charging cord packed with it. Since I therefore couldn’t charge at my friend’s house, I needed to visit the local BC Hydro fast-charging station in Valemount the next morning before heading off to Prince George. I stopped again to top off at 80% in McBride since I would be going to my family’s home in rural Prince George – 225 km away. I charged very briefly at the Slim Creek Rest Area, not because I needed to, but I had to use the washroom and the charging stations there are free. These are older 25 kW stations provided by MOTI; I put a bonus 3 kWh into the battery while I used the washroom and stretched.
When I got to Prince George I was able to borrow a colleague’s home charging cable and plug in to an outlet on the outside of my family’s garage. Though I would be driving 50-60 km a day while staying in PG, I knew from previous trips with other EVs that the basic charging cord would suffice, especially since I could “trickle charge” the car this way for 12 hours or more each day. Prince George has a few fast-charging sites, but I didn’t have to use them.
Prince George to Vancouver and Surrey
On the return trip, I took the HWY 97 route. There are no ultra-fast-charging stations before Hope, but there are plenty of the regular 50 kW fast-charging stations. You would honestly have to be trying to drain your battery to be stranded on this route with a modern EV. So there is no need for range-anxiety – but I look forward to higher powered stations so I can take advantage of vehicles with better charging capabilities. Now that Supercharger sites are open in Prince George, Quesnel, Williams Lake and Cache Creek, I will likely rent a Tesla for my next trip on that route. I would be remiss not to mention that I was able to charge almost entirely at free MOTI stations between Prince George and Hope (Australian Rest Area near Quesnel, 100 Mile House and Redhill Rest Area south of Cache Creek). Although it takes longer, this route has the benefit of a super low trip cost – and if you’re a remote worker like me, there is no lack of work to do during a 30 minute charging stop anyway.
Getting around B.C. in an EV
In media from other provinces, you will see complaints about unreliable charging stations and needing a wallet full of network cards to activate the ones that work. But I haven’t had that experience in British Columbia. B.C. has a rapidly expanding network of charging stations and in all of my travels I have never been remotely close to running out of power, nor have I ever been stranded by an out-of-order charging station. I recognise that some drivers have encountered those problems, but they seem to be increasingly unlikely. There are also some big stretches of highway that still need to be filled in with fast-charging stations, like 97, 37 and Nisga’a in Northern BC, 20 in the Chilcotin and 28 on Vancouver Island, to name some that I especially look forward to. New charging stations are not only moving into previously unserved areas, but are also opening up in high traffic locations to create redundancy.
The Electrify Canada and Petro-Canada stations take credit card payment. Other stations, aside from the free MOTI ones, require an account and can be activated with an RFID card or a phone app (or by calling a number on the station if those don’t work). There are a few different networks in B.C.: Flo, Chargepoint, BC Hydro and SWTCH. But I have only needed to use a BC Hydro EV RFID card, aside from the occasional Chargepoint station in Vancouver. For most of your BC travels, you can use either a credit card or a BC Hydro EV RFID card. It’s good to have a ChargePoint account with the app on your phone just in case.
When planning a trip, you can use PlugShare to find stations and see the details, like how they take payment and what their kW output is. You can also see real-time information, such as if the station is in use or under repair, and you can also see tips and feedback from other EV drivers, including check-ins to determine if anyone has used a particular station recently. I also use A Better Route Planner to simulate trips in specific vehicles. The tool will tell you where and how much to charge, taking elevation, temperature and driving conditions into account. This is very useful even when you are shopping for an EV since you can compare how different cars will perform on your favourite road trips.
Mustang Mach-E. Pretty good.
As for the Mustang Mach-E, it performed well throughout the trip. I was struck by how comfortable it is. I was never sore from long stretches of driving and would happily take one for another big tour. It had adequate space for all of my work equipment. I didn’t even need to use the frunk; although, I did find it handy to store my jacket in the frunk on rainy days. I can see how the frunk would be handy for wet and muddy equipment that you don’t want to bring into the car. I never switched it into the “unbridled” sport mode because, even with all my work supplies loading it down, the car seemed to have more than enough power on tap. There of plenty of opinions about this car bearing the Mustang name, but regardless, it is a compelling, comfortable, head-turning EV with chest crushing torque when you stab the accelerator.
Too Long Didn’t Read
- This sounds obvious, but faster charging rates make a big difference. The ability to charge at 115 kW with the Mustang Mach-E is a game changer compared to 50 kW in older vehicles – so long as you can access 150 kW charging stations like those at Electrify Canada and Petro-Canada. This is a glimpse into what Tesla drivers enjoy with the Supercharger network.
- A vehicle’s efficiency is also important. The Mustang can charge up to 115 kW, whereas a Hyundai Kona EV only charges up to 77 kW. But I would have spent slightly less time charging with the Kona because it is lighter and more efficient.
- Travelling from Surrey to Valemount and Prince George, then back, I didn’t need a complicated collection of network accounts. Electrify Canada takes credit card payment and a BC Hydro EV account covers everything else. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure operates free fast-charging stations at rest areas that don’t require an account. If Chargepoint stations are on the route, it’s best to have the app on your phone (or the card). They are technically compatible with BC Hydro and Flo but cannot read the RFID cards from BC Hydro or Flo.
- I spent about $85 on electricity including fast charging on the highway portions and home charging in Prince George. That’s for 2,140 km including local driving for six days in Prince George. I would have spent closer to $300 for fuel in a similar gas car.
- You can use A Better Route Planner to generate an optimized trip with charging station stops, durations and cost using your make/model of EV. You can adjust the battery % you are comfortable arriving with and add weather conditions to your route. This is also a helpful tool for comparing EVs before you buy one.
- PlugShare is another helpful too. Use it to find charging stations and look up important information such as which plugs they have, which account you need (if any), what their power level is and if they are currently in use.
- There is a good inventory of electric vehicles to rent on Turo, a peer-to-peer car rental platform. I live in Courtenay on Vancouver Island but I picked up my EV rental in Surrey due to other trip logistics. In retrospect, it would have been cheaper to get a Turo rental in Courtenay and do the entire trip in that vehicle than having to get a traditional rental in Vancouver on the return trip so that I could drive back home after returning the Mustang. The Mustang was less expensive per day and way nicer to drive than an economy car from a traditional rental company.