Though electric car travel in the vast stretches of rural Montana may be risky, drivers who stick to major arteries should have little trouble getting from one charging station to the next.
Popular Mechanics notes the world’s top-selling electric vehicle, the Nissan Leaf, has an estimated range of up to 107 miles on one charge. Drivers can push that figure to 125 miles through use of the vehicle’s regenerative braking power, said Missoula Nissan Hyundai sales representative Troy Zastrow.
“The more you brake and the more you go downhill and use your brakes, it actually regenerates your battery power as well,” he said.
Nissan, General Motors and Tesla are all planning to release vehicles that would go 150 to 200 miles on a single charge, and Audi has announced a more expensive model with a range of 300.
That means that even with some higher-end electric vehicles, drivers would have to stop and recharge a few times to make it across Montana’s 600-mile width without running out of juice.
But plugshare.com, one of the most popular online charging station finders, shows electric car drivers who plan their Montana trip wisely have a number of options from which to choose.
From as far west as Saltese to as far east as Miles City, the website shows dozens of places in Montana where drivers can charge their vehicles. Though some of the highest concentrations of charging stations are shown along Montana’s interstate highways, plenty of them can be found in rural areas like Saint Marie and Broadus too.
The website also offers information about the amenities available at the charging stations, the cost to use them and what types of ports are available. Different ports are required for different types of cars, and some connecters will charge vehicles faster than others.
A standard charge for the Leaf takes about eight hours, said Zastrow, of Missoula Nissan Hyundai. The dealership sells the Nissan Leaf and has one of several charging stations in Missoula.
Many of Montana’s charging stations are located at campgrounds, which allow people to use RV plugs to charge compatible vehicles.
At Riverfront RV Park in Garrison, owner Sharon Schillo said overnight campers can use the plugs however they want at no extra cost. She said those who are just passing through can usually charge up for $5 or $10, depending on how long it takes.
“We have a few every year that do that,” she said, adding that some electric vehicle owners come back again and again.
Charging stations can also be found outside many Montana restaurants and coffee shops, such as Suds Hut bar and grill and one of the Starbucks locations in Helena. Several Montana hotels and motels provide them for customers as well.
Tesla Motors now has “Supercharger” stations for Tesla vehicles in eight Montana communities: Billings, Big Timber, Bozeman, West Yellowstone, Lima, Butte, Missoula and Superior.
Part of what drove the expansion in Montana is national park access, Tesla told The Montana Standard in 2014, which is when the company installed many of its charging stations in the state. Tesla tries to place the stations in convenient locations about 150 miles apart.
While long-distance travel is possible in electric vehicles, Zastrow posited that his dealership’s customers use them primarily as in-town commuter cars. However, he believes that could all change as technology continues to advance.