Back to Internal Combustion

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo E 4WD

My entire career has been about technology. There’s little that I enjoy more. So this past summer, I took the plunge and leased a Tesla Model Y Long Range electric vehicle. I considered it something of an experiment, one that’s run the last eight months. More recently though, with the car market all askew amid supply-chain constraints, I realized that I had the option to return the car to Tesla without paying any lease termination penalties. The residual value became high enough that they’d gladly take it off my hands. And with several things weighing on my mind, I began to look at alternatives, which led me to saying goodbye to the Tesla this weekend. First let’s talk about why.

Awhile back I wrote about my first six months driving a Tesla. And then I cross-posted that writing to a Facebook forum, Tesla Owners — Connecticut. Most people gave me positive, neutral or genuinely constructive feedback on how I could have made my writing better. Ninety-nine percent of Tesla owners are a very welcoming and inclusive bunch. But two commenters shared the following criticism and more, though one later apologized and took his comment down. In hindsight, there was at least a hint of truth to their critique. EVs and I just aren’t a perfect fit, yet. Before I go into why, be advised that this writer has been publicly accused of all the following and more. Continue reading at your own risk.

• “You misrepresented EV ownership.”
• “You continue driving the illusion that most EV owners will be using charging stations and need to kill time.”
• “You took the liberty of sharing a lot of negatives without off-setting any of those comments with the positives.”
• “It seem you are unhappy with your purchase and are now just spiteful.”
• “Poorly written bunch of garbage.”

So I don’t exactly fit the mold of a Tesla driver in Connecticut. I don’t live in a single-family home with an attached garage and on-site charging. And I often drive a lot farther than the airport when going on a long trip. Day-to-day, I’ve mostly been charging at the Tesla Superchargers in front of the Connecticut Post Mall in Milford, just down the street from where I call home. There are also a handful of Level 2 chargers at work, but one must move their car within 4 hours or risk being charged hefty fees after that. There are a lot of days lately when I don’t know that I’ll be available to move my car when I need to. I’ve been treating public DC fast chargers and Level 2 AC chargers like slow and slower gas pumps that I visit frequently. As much as every other day frequently in winter with Sentry Mode surveillance enabled. As is probably obvious, electric cars are more convenient to own when they charge in the garage while you sleep, and less convenient than gas if they charge in public while you wait.

The Midwest and Travel

Let me take you back to the day that I began second-guessing my EV experience. It was the last Sunday before Christmas, 2021. I’d spent the three days prior in East Central Indiana, an area once represented in the US House of Representatives by Mike Pence. Much of the landscape and quite a few of the structures could still serve as backdrops were a sequel to the movie Hoosiers ever filmed. It’s also the place I called home for more years than any other.

On that trip and an earlier visit at Thanksgiving, I had to contain my daily activities to what would fit within range of the closest Tesla Superchargers in Richmond, Indiana, and the north side of Indianapolis, some 75 miles apart. Range was something that I thought about every morning and kept an eye on throughout the day. So I observed that range anxiety is a real thing. Although I was driving a bright, shiny, high-tech Tesla with loads of acceleration, I was having to worry about things that I hadn’t previously thought about out there, and I didn’t love that.

I began that Sunday with church, followed by lunch, in Muncie, Indiana. The family group that I was with occupied a whole row of seats at church, which I considered a blessing of the type not available for money. We then had a good lunch at Chili’s before I hit the road around 1:00 PM to drive the 775 miles back to Connecticut.

As mentioned, this Sunday was the last one prior to Christmas, so the highways were busier than a normal travel day for sure. I’d never seen a Tesla Supercharger destination completely full before, but this time I got the very last charging stall at two stops in a row in the towns of Mt. Gilead and Macedonia, Ohio. For the first time I saw Tesla drivers who arrived and had to wait for a charging stall to become available, something that’s more common out west than in the east. Of course Tesla is adding new chargers all the time.

Tesla Supercharger, Macedonia, Ohio

As day turned into night, the temperature fell to the low 20s Fahrenheit for about half the drive back. I was interested to see how the car would perform under these circumstances. I trusted Tesla’s navigation and route planning, and found myself to be just fine. I did have to stop a total of seven times for charging in the 775 miles driven, with an average duration of half an hour for each stop. Some of these stops were in well-lit convenience stores or travel plazas with public restrooms that were open 24/7. One stop was in an otherwise-empty parking lot in New Jersey at 1:30 AM. I finally got home just before 4:30 AM Monday, tired but thankful for one more vacation day before I had to return to work.

It’s about then that I realized that one has to reset their expectations for road tripping in an EV. If you’re willing to take your time and enjoy the journey, you’ll probably be fine. Particularly if your route doesn’t take you far from east-west Interstates. On the other hand, if you expect to drive solo 750 to 1000 miles straight through in a day — something that I’ve been known to do despite the fact that it’s not particularly healthy — EVs and the charging networks aren’t quite ready yet. The re-charging time adds up.

When Will I Return to EVs?

I’ll gladly jump back on the EV bandwagon the day that charging is convenient in the places that I want to go. For me, that means that DC fast charging would have to be made available in New Castle, Indiana (population: 18,114), Muncie (population: 65,194) and ideally the highly-traveled intersection of US 36 and Walnut Street in Mt. Summit, Indiana, (population: 352). You can absolutely buy gasoline in all of these places that are my old stomping grounds.

And before other EV drivers flame me, I’m aware that in my somewhat tongue-in-cheek example of Mt. Summit, the town’s population of 352 probably live in 100+ single-family homes, all of which have electricity. But that doesn’t do much good for the infrequent visitor who travels there three or four times a year.

Prior to getting a Tesla, I thought that I was well-positioned to be the exception to the rule that EVs are harder to own if you live in an apartment. I live a mile — give or take — from both Tesla superchargers and a Tesla gallery and service center, probably putting me in the closest 1% in terms of ease-of-access to both. But I now believe that industry and perhaps government have further to go before the 20% of the population that currently live in apartments can live with an electric vehicle as conveniently as they can a gas-powered car. The same goes for travelers to the more rural portions of our country.

What Did I Replace the Tesla With?

I didn’t know whether finding an affordable replacement car would even be possible in January, 2021. I was committed to not paying over MSRP for what amounted to an optional and early car transaction. I hope that the current supply-chain issues won’t last forever and that eventually the value of used cars will come back down to the same extent that they’re currently inflated. I didn’t want to be left holding a larger-than-normal bag of negative equity down the road.

I began by looking for a fuel-efficient economy car, specifically a Honda Civic or a Toyota Corolla. The first Honda dealer that I spoke with said they were getting $5,000 over MSRP on new Civics. I then tailored my subsequent dealer outreach to let sellers know that I was looking to pay no more than MSRP with the only dealer add ons being gap insurance and dealer financing. This way they could calculate their likely profit from the transaction and avoid wasting both our time if they wanted more. Almost nobody got back to me where I’d been up-front with these expectations.

With the help of CarGurus, I identified the lowest-priced new Jeep Grand Cherokee within 50 miles. Officially it’s a 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo E 4WD, the no-frills base model of the outgoing fourth-generation WK2. Shaker’s Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Watertown, Connecticut, had 144 new vehicles in stock. This one was priced at MSRP with 0% interest for 72 months or at $2895 below MSRP for cash buyers. It was also more than five thousand dollars cheaper than the cheapest Tesla currently available. My sales guy, Jordan Ginsberg, made it a quick transaction.

This basic Grand Cherokee does NOT have 4G LTE connectivity, remote start, leather seats, sunroof, LED headlights, power liftgate, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, navigation and traffic info nor over-the-air feature updates. I’ll be fine without those things.

It does have 4 wheels, 4 doors (plus a liftgate), 5 seats (cloth), a 3.6L Pentastar V6 engine, the Quadra-Trac I 4WD system, a 24.6 gallon fuel tank and a compact spare. It has a steel roof painted white to reflect sunlight rather than create the maximum greenhouse effect inside. And it was assembled by United Auto Workers Local 7 at the Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit, which means that it’s Joe Biden-approved. It can be fueled in any town in America, serviced in any city in America and repaired at any body shop in America.

In Conclusion

With any luck the Jeep may be my last internal-combustion vehicle. I’ve already driven it a full week and I have over half a tank of gas left. I hope that the EV industry catches up with people like me sooner rather than later. Had the Build Back Better bill sailed through Congress, I’d assume that the proliferation of electrified transportation and the supporting infrastructure to go along with it was right around the corner. At the moment I’m not quite as sure on the timeline. All I know is that having experienced an EV first-hand for eight months, I’ve chosen not to be an early adopter after all, and will stick with the conventional for a bit longer.

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