Big Road Trip Number One

After taking several trips around the island of Kyushu, where I live, I had a chance to take my first real road trip last spring. The closer trips didn't require charging or I used my credit card (described below in another post) or I got some free power along the way (these freebies are just about dried up now). So my first trip to the Kansai area (home to Kobe, Kyoto and Osaka) would take some planning, at least for a noob like I was at the time.

Since there were no Superchargers along the way, I would need to depend on a range charge (a charge of 100%) at home and the use of the CHAdeMO along the Japanese highway system. At the time, the closest Supercharger was in Kobe, some 700 km. away. A range charge at the Typical setting (as opposed to Ideal), according to the Red Rocket's gauge, would get me 400 km or so, depending on road conditions and my driving. Since the Tesla navigation system was not yet available in Japan, I was, and still am, using an iPhone app called EVsmart. If you are in Japan and driving an EV, this is a must-have app; it will provide you with all of the chargers you can use in the country. Go into the Settings menu and set the make and model of your car; it will display the chargers your car can use.

So, according to the EVsmart data, I could probably make it as far as the Miyajima service area (SA) near Hiroshima, a distance of 365 km.

These screenshots are a bit wide. If you look closely, you may see another green box underneath some of the charging spots. Each of these SAs has a charger on both sides of the highway.

These screenshots are a bit wide. If you look closely, you may see another green box underneath some of the charging spots. Each of these SAs has a charger on both sides of the highway.

I didn't make it that far, not because of power needs, but because I needed a lunch break. I did my first charge at the Sabagawa SA, 264 km away.

I had signed up for a Nihon Charging System (NCS) card ahead of time. As I wrote earlier, going through the motions of pulling out my CC each time (I've since learned that once you get a code number, you can use it all day; I never tried it) is way too much trouble, plus the rate is much, much cheaper if you have the card. Now I just hit okay, hold my NCS card up, hit okay, and make sure it all took. It takes less than a minute.

There was a rose display going, so the SA was looking good.


The NCS CHAdeMO system allows only 30 minute charges. If you need more, you have to make sure no one is waiting and restart the charge. I grabbed another 30 minutes here before heading out. I made another stop at a SA which name I cannot remember right now. I do remember that it had a laundromat and a shower, good for long-distance travelers like truckers. I set my sights for the Miki SA, near the Kobe area where I was headed for the night. I left myself a 70 km. buffer just in case.

Well, guess what happened? I got to the CHAdeMO at Miki and saw this:

Even if your Japanese is as bad as mine, you can tell that this charger is out of service. Major bummer. I asked the gents at the gas station next door (who have nothing to do with this system) who told me there was no other way to charge here. That buffer I left? It was right where I had predicted it at 69 km., but I had not planned on finding a broken charger. I had two options: stay on the highway and go to the next SA (which would take me farther than I needed to go) or go to the Kobe Supercharger which was 48 km. away and do my first super charge. It was a no-brainer, even though I have a tendency to take a wrong turn here or there. It was mostly downhill; the Supercharger in Kobe is on man-made Port Island. Regardless, I took it slowly and arrived with 37 km. to spare.

I miss this gauge set up, but I see the need for the newer version.

I miss this gauge set up, but I see the need for the newer version.

The parking at the Kobe Supercharger is very tight. I'm not sure how they could get four cars in there at the same time. When I arrived, mine was the only car; another one came later.

All I can say is what a joy it was to be on a trip and have the charging power of a Supercharger! Check out the numbers.

I get nothing close to that using the CHAdeMO chargers. I do what I have to do, but I can't wait for the Supercharger network to get filled in here in Japan. After spending the night at my destination, I headed to Osaka to check out the then new Tesla mini-store. When I ordered my car, the company had basically a kiosk in the Panasonic building near Osaka and Umeda stations. Now there were three spots for parking and actual displays of Tesla's technologies. [Note: the Osaka store is now open and can be found using this link.]

How cool is that red car?

How cool is that red car?

After my visit at the shop, I headed to the Osaka Supercharger to get juiced up for the trip back. Again, the spaces are tight, but I've seen as many as three cars fit in at a time.

I didn't take any more photos or notes on this trip. I ended up doing the drive home during the night and got home around 3 am. Both trips, there and back took a total of ten hours—seven and a half hours of driving and two and a half hours of charging.

I do have several takeaways. Always leave a buffer in case you cannot charge at your planned stop. While I still use EVsmart to look ahead for places to charge, I will often start to look for the next charging spot when my battery shows less than 100 km. The CHAdeMO on Japan's highways tend to be spaced 30-50 km. apart. That leaves enough chance of error to have one or two more available down the road. I learned that I am in control of the remaining energy in the battery; I can slow down and use the egg-under-the-pedal technique I learned in the 1970's during the oil crisis. I can add 10-20% to the battery just by controlling how I drive. Superchargers rock! I am using every opportunity I get to let Tesla know that we are still severely lacking a useful network. And finally, even though CHAdeMO offer about 1/2 the power of Superchargers, they are an essential part of any trip more than 350 km. or so. If you plan on doing any travel in your Tesla, it will pay for you to get an NCS card to save money and time charging on the road.