KBB Tesla Shows EV Possibilities – and Flaws

Hot on the heels of John Broder’s controversial Tesla Model S drive comes this road test going from LA to Vegas and back. It’s all on video and shot by Kelley Blue Book.

If you want to watch it, here it is. It’s a well made video and will be 14 minutes well spent. If you’d rather read about it, skip down below.

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This drive goes better than Broder’s, needless to say. It doesn’t involve a flatbed truck, for starters.

It does involve a flat tyre, however, and that’s another everyday spanner-in-the-works that the Tesla has to overcome. The KBB guys call their Tesla contact, revert back to a Tesla facility for a tyre change and head off for Vegas once again. I was left wondering whether people are going to be able to address this problem the way the KBB guys did – shooting a video for a reputable motoring publication means you get some nice, personal attention. Of course, regular owners could just rock up to a tyre installation centre and perhaps avoid some extra miles by finding one close by, or perhaps rack up some extra miles finding one, depending on where they are. As with most things in life, that’ll be a crapshoot.

It’s a real-world situation, things like nails in tyres happen to someone every day. It’s good to see how the guys – and of course, the car – handle the situation.

All the chargers at Tesla’s repair facility are busy while the tyre’s being changed, so the KBB guys have to head off to Vegas with around 100 less miles range than what they would have otherwise. Their first scheduled stop was Tesla’s SuperCharger facility in Barstow. That’s 126 miles away and with a projected range of 156 miles left in the batteries – it should be easy, right?

The gap between their destination and distance-to-empty shrinks as the journey continues thanks to the topography of the road. Lots of hills means lots of power usage. They decide to divert to a slower charging system along the way in order to top up.

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As an aside…… One of the downsides of this story is that they don’t mention much about how long they spend parked either charging or waiting to charge. It’s something I’d like to know but they only mention it once along the way (see below).

A bunch of Tesla owners re-created Broder’s run on the east coast recently, all of them making it with very few hitches (there was one software update necessary, made – once again – thanks to special attention offered by Tesla who were monitoring the event). This ride was written up widely and passed off as an unqualified success, which is not quite true.

There were more cars than charge points so I’d love to know how long people waited just to get on a charger, something that wasn’t documented there. It’s quite relevant because one of the main compromises of driving an EV is refuelling time. The fact that you might have to wait for a pump before spending time waiting for it to re-charge is not a small matter. In fact, if EV’s become as popular as their proponents predict, it’s only going to become a bigger problem.

The best story I read about that Tesla Owners adventure was from another Tesla owner, one who didn’t participate in the event but came across the participants anyway – at a charging station. His account was linked to at Jalopnik and I think it’s a much more realistic take on EV ownership in 2013.

Here’s an excerpt:

My family and dog (yes, the one pictured in the original blog post – a border collie) took a trip from DC to north of Philly (181 miles) in the Tesla. I charged to 240 before I headed out, thinking I would recharge in Delaware and have enough for the return trip to the station the next day. When we arrived the @TeslaRoadTrip folks were charging (Thanks for staggering guys!) and I waited my turn.

While I waited for a Tesla spot to open, one car stopped charging (in Bay 3 – my arbitrary naming) short of its intended goal. They transferred over to another charging station (Bay 1), hoping it was a charging station that was in error, but the car refused to charge on the second one as well. Meanwhile a Tesla that was charging in Bay 1 and moved to Bay 3 could no longer charge and went back to Bay 1 to try and charge. Many phone calls to Tesla were placed. I decided to move on rather than take my chances.

And that, of course, leads us to problem #2 – what if the re-charging stations aren’t working properly? It’s an inconvenience if a petrol pump isn’t working properly, for sure, but at least there are usually other pumps on site and a few minutes per car eventually gets people through. With EV’s we’re talking (at best) a few half-hours per car to add some decent range – and that’s if it’s a Tesla on a SuperCharger. A broken re-charging station is a much bigger deal in that scenario.

End of aside……

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Despite doing a little hooning at that first unscheduled stop, they make it to Barstow and Tesla’s SuperCharger outlet. One quote at that point is telling:

(Pointing at the charge remaining on the Tesla screen) If you had a really important call to make and that was all the charge you had left, you’d be concerned. Now imagine that’s all you’ve got to stop you being stuck in the desert in the middle of the night.

They leave Barstow for Las Vegas (time standing around charging unspecified, again) with 200+ miles of range for the 151 mile trip. Despite what should be a decent buffer, the topography plays havoc with them once again, along with using reasonable amenities inside the car – heating, etc. They make it to Vegas with just 4 miles of range left.

Thankfully the hotel has a charger network, though they find out the next morning that they could have stayed at another hotel that has a faster charging system. They put their Model S on charge all night and only got a predicted 155 miles range loaded in (remember, they had a predicted 200+ miles for the same leg the night before and just made it). Soooooo they head to the other hotel for some fast charging.

I’ll take a moment to point out that this is 8.5 hours of filling up the Tesla with electricity only to find that you have to hold up your onward travel because you still have to wait for more. And it’s not just a 20 minute top-up. It took them another 3.5 hours to get up to 220 miles of range.

Lucky they were in Vegas, eh?

There’s a confusing moment after this that warrants some explanation. The video states that they’re some 40 miles or so short on projected range on their way to Barstow. The next moment, they’re in Barstow with 43 miles of range still left. It’s confusing and should be explained.

Their trip to Barstow (and on to LA) therefore seemed to go without a hitch, but it’s notable that they took Tesla’s advice and scaled their speed back to 58mph tops and were regularly passed by trucks and…. ouch….. a Prius. This is a $100,000 top of the range EV, remember.

The good points:

They absolutely loved the Tesla’s party trick, it’s instant unbridled power.

The loved the styling, too. Personally, I think the Model S is one of the best 4-door designs in the last 20 years. I think it looks outstanding.

They loved the touchscreen center console and the way it responds to common touch gestures. For the record, while I’m sure it performs wonderfully well, I think it looks like an unattractive slab. It’s too big.

Over all, the KBB guys seem to really enjoy the car, but that was only after they were free from the worry of making sure it was no chance of bricking on them.

And there’s the flaw once again.

The Tesla Model S is the best electric vehicle that money can buy. It has the highest output you can get in an EV but even with that huge capacity and Tesla’s fast-charging network (where available), you still don’t get peace of mind for doing trips that are anything longer than reasonably short drives.

EV disciples will tell you it’ll all be OK in the future and maybe, just maybe it will. But this is the absolute best that (a lot) of money can buy right now and it’s undeniably compromised.

How long before all the other EV makers out there can even approach what Tesla have done? And will they be able to use Tesla’s charging network or will they have to develop their own to make fast-charging a possibility for everyone? And how long will consumers accept waiting around in 1-3 hour stints, either to get to a charger or actually charge their car.

These aren’t trivial questions and people shouldn’t be criticised for asking them. A lot of established car companies are asking them and coming up with answers that keep them from going all-in on electric vehicles.

The Tesla Model S is an outstanding car, an incredible piece of engineering, but it’s clear that EV’s have got a long way to go to gain mainstream acceptance. Tesla have started where anyone coming into the field needs to start – at the quality, no-compromises end of the market. Here’s hoping they and their contemporaries can innovate at a speed that makes these vehicles viable for more than just rich people with a lot of time on their hands.

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11 Comments

  1. And it gets worse. What is the life expectancy of the battery that is drained close to zero on every road trip? Will you have 90, 80 or maybe just 70% of the predicted range in two years time while the daily commute won’t get any shorter unless you quit your job. Will they provide a replacement battery under warranty? No, too expensive.

    I would not advertise the Tesla S as anything else than a cool sporty EV for urban driving which on its own should sell them plenty (same thing for NEVS). To try and spin it as a real competitor to the traditional ICE car is their biggest mistake until they can do the same speeds for as many laps on ‘the Ring’ as the twin-turbo guy with 50-60 liters of E85.

    Apollo 13: failure is not an option (sorry 😉 ). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZuUwcl_wT8

  2. The future, if it is to be an electric one, will see one of these two things happen:
    – Something revolutionary will be discovered in batery technology, that will increase their energy density by a factor of 3 (or more) and make this machines practical at last. Not very likely – not in the near future at least.
    – Political and economic factors are going to cause that roadbuilders will start to build in under the tarmac steel beams and whatever else is needed to let the current in and recharge the cars as they go the very same way that an electric tooth brush is recharged. Now imagine just for a moment a Tesla with 200kg of baterries less, at less than half the current price, navigating highroads at no expense of its own charge at all and using the batteries just for driving on local roads. Practical?

    1. #2 sounds like a great solution if it can be done, but the public works costs of doing that on existing high-use transport routes would be significant. How many taxpayers – esp non-EV driving ones – would be happy to front up the cash?

      Here in Australia we’re currently installing a fibre-to-the-home internet network around the country to the tune of around $40billion over the next however-many years. I’m glad we’re doing it because our family spends a LOT of time online and the ability to load higher volumes will work out well for us. I’m not sure sure I’d be happy with it if I weren’t a web user.

      Same with a road project like that. I’d be glad if the private sector did it, but I wouldn’t be that happy about paying for it myself.

  3. I tend to think a compromise between the GM Volt tech and full EV is the best option.

    The Volt’s downfall is that it’s an electric hauling around an ICE as an occasional range extender.

    The full EV’s problem is that it’s range limited with few recharging options.

    A removable ICE charging unit could drop into, say, the front trunk on the Model S and remove range anxiety while not adding weight in everyday local driving. It might be too hard to implement, but it’s an idea.

    1. I think that is a very good idea in principle. Local driving does not need the ICE, so that is a whole heck of a lot of weight gone… but, how do you take it out (engine hoist? ha!)… that assumes one needs a conventional ICE… but highway driving does not require large amounts of power (worst is passing on hills), and if the ICE is only needed on long trips, then the car doesn’t need a very big ICE… maybe only a smallish diesel generator… maybe small enough to be removable? There of course is the “minor” issue of a fuel tank (the size of which limits the range, and if it is full, even a small tank would be heavy)…

      I agree with Swade that the Tesla S looks great, and it’s a big hatch, so quite a practical vehicle other than the range issue (actually my bigger concern would be the level of real life tested safety in the S, eg compared to a Saab). That said, for those who primarily live work and play in a semi-urban world (even going for an hour drive into the country to do something), the S would do all that and then recharge over night… for many of us, that is >90% of car ownership… the last 10% could be addressed by a rental car, and many already do this to keep miles off their ICE vehicles. Obviously if one has a different use pattern, that would not work, but I could see us functioning as a 1 car family with the S and a few car rentals a year… But I like owning multiple Saabs, and they aren’t going to die for quite a while still, so no need to change…

      1. I should probably add that pulling significant weight from the car (in addition to the difficulty of moving heavy things) will change the vehicle dynamics… and if the weight is minimized, then pulling it would have minor benefit… probably not worth the complexity…

        All this discussion though does point out the value in having at least a hybrid solution for long distance travel, at least for the near future… but minimizing the size of the ICE could be significantly valuable…

  4. The Telsa works if you have two cars. If you do, then you keep the Telsa for local trips of 50 miles or so, and the Volt/Hybrid for longer trips.

  5. Mallthus: This concept has been discussed often, and several proposal been made, including a trailer with an ICE. However, when people need most range, they also tend to need most trunk space for their luggage. Further, even a small engine, including its slave aggregates like alternator, cooling, gas tamnk etc., does not only require lots of volume, but may also weight more than 100 kg, so that some mechanism for mounting an de-mounting will be required.

  6. Very interesting, thank you very much for publishing this. I am a supporter of EVs, but still only in theory. The above shows that much more powerful batteries will be required. Maybe even batteries that give more range than the gas/diesel in an ICE can provide, to compensate for hazzles with the recharging.

    The size of the problem is huge. Think of a vanilla service station at the start of a holiday seasons. Hundreds of cars flowing in per hour. All of them want to recharge. They want to recharge fast, i.e. strong chargers devlivering e.g. 80 kW are needed. Asssuming 50 chargers at 80 kW means that a current of 4 MW has to be supplied to and handled at the service station. To bring this into perspective: Our family consumption per year is about 4 MWh, i.e. the average current flowing is 456 W, or 1/8772th. Our peak consumption (cooking) might be around 10000 W, or 1/400th. A lot of problems need to be solved still.

  7. A lot of valid points here as usual Swade. As Mallthus says, the GM Volt tech is the best compromise. My issue with full EVs however, is that the “pollution” is just being moved from the tailpipe to the power station – making them in reality another Betamax.
    As much as I dislike GM, GM Volt tech with an engine using second generation biofuel or this new bio butanol thats due soon seems to be the way to go

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