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.
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.
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……
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.