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Family ditches electric truck on drive from Winnipeg to Chicago after charging troubles

The owner of a 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning Lariat with an extended range battery regrets his purchase after attempting a road trip with the electric truck, only to abandon it and finish the drive with a gas-powered rental vehicle.

Dalbir Bala of La Salle, Man., left the truck in Minnesota last month after he said he was unable to charge the battery at two different charging stations.

“It was really a nightmare frustration for us,” Bala said.

Bala bought the truck — which is advertised as having a range of 515 kilometres — for $115,000 in January. He spent an additional $16,000 installing chargers at his home and business, a trucking company, and upgrading his residential electrical panel.

Bala, his wife and three kids left on a trip to visit Wisconsin Dells, Wis., and Chicago, for business, on July 27. The truck was fully charged when they left their home just south of Winnipeg, and Bala had plans to stop at level 3 EV stations, which provide fast charges, located along the planned route.

A white box which reads Ford is mounted on a wooden wall in a garage.
Dalbir Bala installed a level 2 EV charger at his house. (Josh Crabb/CBC )

Bala’s first stop was about 350 kilometres south of Winnipeg in Fargo, N.D. He paid $56 to charge his vehicle’s battery from 10 per cent up to 90 per cent.

Charging trouble

The trouble started at his next stop in Albertville, Minn., where Bala said the only fast charger brought up a faulty connection message in his truck when he plugged in. He called the number on the charger for help but never got a response.

He headed to another charging station in nearby Elk River, Minn., but he said a charger there wouldn’t work either.

With only 15 kilometres remaining on his battery and no fast charger within that range, he decided to ditch his Lightning. Bala got it towed to a Ford dealership and the family rented a Toyota 4Runner to finish their trip to Chicago.

“That’s when we decided we don’t want any more distraction or any frustration,” Bala said.

It’s unclear why Bala’s truck couldn’t get a charge in Albertville. Robbin Nesbit, sales manager for the Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association, said the fast charger was working on July 27, the day Bala visited, with usage records showing other people were able to successfully charge their EVs.

AJ Gosselin with ChargePoint said the company has two level 2 chargers, which don’t charge as fast as level 3, in Elk River. He said one station was offline due to maintenance, but there was another one which was working within Bala’s remaining range.

Clean energy, fuel costs prompted purchase

Bala wanted a vehicle that used clean energy and hoped to save some of the $1,000-$1,500 per month he’d been spending on fuel for his gas-powered truck. He uses pickup trucks for recreational purposes such as hunting, fishing, quadding and visiting his cottage.

“Electric vehicle, new technology … I was impressed with it,” he said. “That made me buy this thing.”

A black truck is pictured parked in a driveway with an electric vehicle charging cord plugged into it.
A Ford F-150 Lightning is pictured in the owner’s driveway south of Winnipeg. (Josh Crabb/CBC)

Megan Joakim with Ford of Canada said in an email the truck’s range of 515 km is estimated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Whether gas or electric, actual driving range varies with conditions such as external environment, vehicle use, and vehicle maintenance,” Joakim said.

Joakim said public charging in the U.S. and Canada continues to develop as EV sales grow.

“Ford is working to improve access to charging for our customers by adding to the already available 10,000 fast chargers on the BlueOval Charge Network with 12,000 Tesla Superchargers and around 4,000 fast chargers across the Ford dealer network in 2024,” Joakim said.

James Hart, president of the Manitoba Electric Vehicle Association, said there needs to be more of a focus on charging station maintenance and technical support.

“I know I’ve heard of situations like that where they’ve had to go to the point of calling whatever company it is that’s running the charger and getting them almost to do a reset of the charger,” Hart said.

He’d also like to see more fast chargers located in the same location in case one isn’t working.

WATCH | What to know about the push for electric vehicles: 

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Cross-country EV success

Another EV owner is more enthusiastic, although he has a different make and model.

Winnipegger Ross Redman, a member of MEVA, owns two EVs including a 2014 Tesla Model S which he bought used. He said his car has an estimated range of 434 km. 

A man in a white shirt sits in the driver's seat of a car with the driver's door cracked halfway open.
Ross Redman is pictured sitting in the driver’s seat of his 2014 Tesla Model S. (Josh Crabb/CBC)

He drove it over two days from Vancouver to Winnipeg this past December, stopping to power up at Tesla supercharger stations during bathroom breaks, lunches and suppers.

Redman also uses it to get to and from his cottage in Kenora.

“In the last 10 years, things have come a long way,” Redman said. “You can travel the full length of the Trans Canada Highway and charge up many places along the way.”

Bala, who picked up the truck on his way home, is now using his Lightning as a daily commuter between his home and work which is about a 100 kilometre round trip each day. 

“To have a more than $100,000 car to just drive in the city … that was not expected,” Bala said.

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