What’s it like to drive and charge an EV in Michigan? Owners tell all

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 5, 2022

Detroit — Tyler Van Houten loved the acceleration, Yasmin Ponce wanted to save gas, and Jordan Khala’s 10-year-old said electric vehicles are da bomb.

EVs are the new, new thing in the automotive landscape, and Michigan residents are plugging into the growing market. Tesla made EVs cool a decade ago with neck-snapping acceleration and state-of-the-art electronics. Now, as other manufacturers try to recreate the Silicon Valley automaker’s success with their own battery-powered models, Michigan first adopters are branching out to their favorite brands and integrating EVs into their lifestyle.

“Driving a gas car feels clunky now," says Tyler Van Housen. "They’re slow to accelerate by comparison, and the EV is just a better driving experience."

EV adoption comes against the backdrop of historic government regulation of the auto industry as the EPA for the first time dictates the drivetrain technology automakers must use. But to these Michiganians, EVs offer a fresh take on personal transportation that’s been dominated for more than a century by the internal combustion engine.

The Detroit News drove across southeast Michigan talking with owners of Teslas, Mach-Es, ID.4s, Polestars, Bolts. From moms to motorheads and from Gen Y to Boomers, they shared why they went EV, how much it costs to charge, and whether they’ll ever go back to ICE.

“I love it. It’s everything I was looking for in an EV,” said Ford Mustang Mach-E owner Tyler Van Houten, 28, of Grand Rapids. “Driving a gas car feels clunky now. They’re slow to accelerate by comparison, and the EV is just a better driving experience. The best part of an EV is not having to visit a gas station.”

He does have to visit charging stations, though, like the Electrify America fast-charger in Novi when he is on the road. A mortgage loan officer, he was in town for a class and the EA charger in Walmart’s parking lot was the most convenient way to slake his steed’s thirst. His standard-range, 211-mile battery can charge from 10% to 80% in about 40 minutes after which the charging rate slows to a trickle.

“Filling up an EV is like filling a beer glass,” EV wags will tell you. It gets real slow at the end. Van Houten was the only EV at EA’s four stalls at 4:50 p.m. on a Friday but was soon joined by others leaving work for a quick charge. Typical of the Novi station, one of the stalls was out of order, frustrating drivers.

Van Houten has put a lot of miles on his ‘Stang over the last year, including road trips to St. Louis and Nashville. He initially looked at buying a Tesla, which has dominated EV sales with about 70% of the market in 2021, according to Cox Automotive. At 3% of market share, EVs are a small percentage of U.S. sales — 42% of those in California, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

With the $7,500 federal tax credit capped at 200,000 in sales, Tesla buyers long ago lost access to the full credit. But with Ford EV sales in their infancy, Van Houten got the full $7,500 off his $51K sticker price. A past owner of an Explorer SUV, he also trusts the Ford brand.

“I thought the Mach-E had better build quality. Ford is a car company, not a tech company making a car,” he said. “I also felt Tesla’s dealer network was limited and I would get better service with the Mach-E.”

To feed the pony at his house, he installed a 240-volt (Level 2) charger for cheap fill-ups of about 17 cents per kWh. That number jumps to 43 cents a kWh at EA stations, America’s most robust, non-Tesla (Level 3) fast charger network. With a $4-a-month subscription, Van Houten’s rate drops to 31 cents.

Van Houten has found fast chargers difficult to come by on road trips. Without a proprietary network like Tesla, he struggled to charge at third-party chargers on his Grand Rapids-to-St. Louis trip. An EVGo charger was out of order, and he had to rely on a 240-volt charger to get enough juice to limp into the next EA station — resulting in long delays. All told, his trip from Grand Rapids to St. Louis — a 7-hour trip in a gas-fired chariot — took him 11 hours.

Most owners we talked with used their EVs for local commutes.

Yasmin Ponce went electric because she was tired of paying to gas up her thirsty pickup truck.

Yasmin Ponce, 32, of Royal Oak drives an electric Volkswagen ID.4 and puts a lot of miles on the odometer taking care of her family, including boys ages 3 and 6, across Metro Detroit. She’s already logged 8,000 miles since she bought the SUV last October.

Filling a V-8-powered Ram 1500 pickup with $3.30 a gallon gas at the time had put a dent in her purse. VW gives her two years of free charging at Electrify America stations — and she frequently charges at one of four stalls managed by Chargepoint next to Beacon Park in Detroit, the closest fast chargers to her Royal Oak apartment.

Yasmin Ponce gets ready to open an app on her phone to pay for charging her electric Volkswagen in Troy.

“High gas prices sold me on going electric,” she said at Beacon Park after paying $7.02 for 84 miles of range after 32 minutes of charging — about half the cost of fueling the Ram to go that distance. Chargepoint bills 20 cents a minute.

Like Van Houten, she liked the sleek lines of the Mustang Mach-E. But when she went shopping at Carvana, Ford shelves were empty. So she opted for a rear-wheel-drive, $46K ID.4 instead. The full $7,500 tax credit also was easy on her purse.

 “I like that I can close the ID.4’s panoramic roof — unlike some other EVs — so that my boys can sleep in the back,” she said as her kids dozed behind her. “And I love the massage chairs.”

Apartment living is particularly challenging for EV ownership compared with homes where buyers can install 240-volt chargers. But for Ponce, the time spent charging at Beacon Park is welcome. “It fits in my day, and I take advantage of it for self-care as well,” she said with a smile. “I also meet people when there are events at the park, so there’s a sense of community.”

On a cold, snowy Monday afternoon in mid-April, she is the only Beacon Park user. EV owners are more likely to be found at indoor, Detroit parking lot chargers while working at, say, a Bedrock property.

It’s different in southeast Michigan’s more affluent suburbs where most EV owners live and where fast chargers are more plentiful.

At Tesla’s Livonia supercharger at I-96 and Middlebelt in Meijer’s parking lot, Jordan Khala, 41, charged his all-wheel-drive 2022 Tesla Model 3 Long Range to the 360-mile maximum. Five of the nine chargers are occupied at 1:30 p.m., snow accumulating on Tesla hoods.

Jordan Khala of Canton charges his Tesla Model 3 in Livonia. The financial adviser stops there twice a week to obtain the range needed to visit clients.

It’s part of Khala’s routine. A financial adviser, he stops here twice a week for electrons before visiting clients around the Metro area. In addition to its cutting-edge technology — over-the-air-updates, Autopilot, Ludicrous acceleration — Tesla’s secret sauce is its vast charging network.  Cars not only sync to it for trips — but at cheaper electric rates, too. Superchargers bill by the kWh, with rates anywhere from 12-to-33 cents around Michigan. A 250-mile fast charge over 50 minutes will typically cost about a third of the cost to fuel a comparable gas car.

Khala likes cars, and his 10-year-old son really likes Teslas.

“My 10-year-old said I had to get a Tesla,” he said, laughing. “He researched the Model 3, all the features. He really convinced me. So I rented one from Hertz for a week, and then ordered one. I like Autopilot — my son, of course, likes the whoopie cushion feature.”

Jordan Khala uses his Tesla Model 3 around Metro Detroit but keeps a gas-powered car for longer journeys.

He sold his Mercedes S-Class sedan, but still keeps a Ford Expedition XL for road trips. “The range of EVs is still too low for long trips,” he said. “So for now, I still have feet in both the EV and ICE camps.”

He hopes to install his own 240-volt charger at home so he can charge overnight, but — like so many goods these days amid supply chain issues — Tesla chargers are out of stock.

Tesla owners Sam Crudo and Ian Presses are going back to ICE.

Not because they haven’t enjoyed their EVs, but because other cars make more sense to them. Crudo, 60, of Shelby Township, is trading in his 2018 Model X SUV for a gas-fueled Lincoln Aviator.

“For now, EVs are metro cars,” he said. “The Tesla advertises 300 miles, but I have a heavy right foot and it doesn’t get that. When I travel up north, I don’t want to stop for 45 minutes each way to recharge. I want to fill up for gas in three minutes.”

He and his wife use her Ford Edge for long trips and have left the Tesla in the garage. She’s intrigued by the Mustang Mach-E but can’t make sense of the long-range charging issue, either.

Presses, 68, of Bloomfield Hills likes to get a new performance car every few years, and it’s time to give up his Model 3 Performance. Model 3s haven’t changed much since he bought his four years ago, and most new EVs are SUVs or pickup trucks like the Model Y and Mach-E or the GMC Hummer and Rivian R1T.

“Like in the movie ‘Casablanca,’ I’ll round up the usual suspects,” he smiled about the petrol-powered toys on his shortlist. “The Audi RS5, BMW M4, Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio. Maybe a Porsche 718 Cayman.”

He hasn’t given up on EVs. The Tesla has cost him almost nothing to operate save the cost of a home charger, where he plugs in every night. But he was concerned about a battery-powered car whose general maintenance warranty expires after four years, and he’s been unimpressed by Tesla’s service. “They need to beef up the service with better human support,” he said.

Volvo’s electric brand, Polestar, produces a sleek sedan that is the closest competitor to the Model 3. The Polestar 2 caught the eye of Farmington Hills designer Alex Alexanian, 47.

While it doesn’t have the gob-smacking performance that Presses craves, the Polestar isn’t obsessed with interior minimalism like Tesla.

Alex Alexanian charges his Polestar 2 EV at an Electrify America station in Novi.

“I’m a big proponent of electrification. I’ve been waiting a long time for the right vehicles,” Alexanian said while his EV charged up at Electrify America’s Novi supercharger. “I test-drove the Polestar. The dealer had the specs I wanted. And it has the right kind of physical interface — it’s minimalist but with less reliance on the touchscreen than the Tesla.”

He’s been frustrated in getting a home charger — one electrician quoted him an outrageous $5,000 for installation. In the meantime, he’s dependent on Electrify America’s nearby Novi charger and other local stations to call on his metro clients. Like Ponce’s VW, Polestar gives Alexanian two years of free charging at Electrify America.

It’s a chance to spend time with his 11-year-old daughter, Maven, who thinks Dad’s new car is cool. “She likes it when I accelerate fast,” he said. “And she likes electric cars — she’s into the whole eco thing.”

Alex Alexanian uses charging visits to spend time with his 11-year-old daughter. But for road trips, he drives a Toyota Sienna minivan: "Range anxiety is real," he says.

When his family hits the road, however, they take a Toyota Sienna Hybrid minivan. “Range anxiety is real,” he said. “I just use the Polestar around town.”

Alex Janowski, 28, of Sterling Heights is restoring a 1998 Chevy S-10 pickup and keeps a 2011 Chevy Malibu for long trips to, say, the Upper Peninsula. But he’s found his ideal daily driver: a Chevy Bolt EV.

A metal trades worker for General Motors in Warren, he charges for free at work every day on a 240-volt charger. That adds up to a whopping $200 in fuel savings a month.

“I don’t have to pay for gas, I don’t have to pay for oil changes,” he said. “I like to work on cars, but it’s kind of nice not to have to work on my daily driver. My next car will definitely be another EV.”

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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