February 17, 2013 – Vol.17 No. 49

TESLA EV FROM WASHINGTON TO BOSTON.

CNN vs The New York Times

by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News.

There's a spat between Elon Musk, of Tesla Motors, and New York Times reporter John M. Broder. It seems Tesla's all-electric Model S didn't perform as advertised in a long distance road test by Broder . That test was as much about the all-electric car as it was about Tesla's 480-Volt East Coast Supercharger, fast-charge network mostly along Interstate 95 North of Washington, DC. Broder's test was to go from the Nation's Capitol to Boston, but was cut short by the reporter.

The route from DC to Boston, which I've traveled all or portions of dozens of times, includes some of most obsolete, dangerous, and heavily congested roadways I've experienced in the United States. Extreme stop-and-go traffic during rush hours, accidents, and road construction can cause hours-long back-ups. Bottlenecks at numerous toll booths can add significant delays when traversing the well-worn roadways. Let's not talk about what happens in bad weather.

Even in a conventional car, fuel consumption can vary trip to trip depending on how lucky and navigationally skilled one is at avoiding the mayhem. Some trips can breeze right through. Others take hours longer than planned. A smooth trip can take 8 hours. Add a few long back-ups and the time creeps up to 11 hours, maybe more. Tricks to make the passage easier are using the automated toll collection systems (E-Z Pass), listening to traffic radio, knowing alternative routes, or driving late at night along with truckers.

As you can imagine high speeds can vary, as they do along any road. When the roads are relatively clear, keeping up with traffic means 75 mph. Anything less than say 60 mph seems dangerous. With the exception of a few stretches of road where traffic might be sailing, using cruise control to save fuel is mostly impossible.

Driving in the gray of winter adds to the misery, but could be made much worse in a car whose batteries get finicky in the cold, requiring the car's cabin temperature to be cut back to conserve electrons. The bad roads, the traffic, range anxiety and a cold car could set the stage for a grim review by Mr. Broder. And it did.

The worst of the worst came when the Model S ended up on a roll-back totally out of juice, to the best of Broder's knowledge, but only a few miles from a charging station.

Initially Musk was apologetic saying, in a phone call, that there should have been more charging stations, 140 miles apart rather than 200. Then the story came out, complete with embarrassing pictures of the dead, red Model S on the roll-back in Connecticut. Musk then fired back claiming, among other things that the test had been faked. Musk later published the data log from the car, showing that Broder diverted from both the planned trip, as well as instructions from Tesla experts en route as to how to deal with the Model S in cold weather and its quickly discharging battery.

Then the digital dialogue between Muck and Broder seemed to end when, accepting an open challenge by Tesla to the media, CNN's Peter Valdes-Dapena made the trip of 450 miles with two charging stops and nearly 100 miles to spare. His closing comment on video, "So it worked."

So what went so wrong with Broder's trip and so right with Valdes-Dapena? It was 10 degrees warmer for Valdes-Dapena. He made the trip in one day, whereas Broder stopped overnight and was unable to charge the car from his hotel (or didn't seem to attempt to). And Valdes-Dapena sticked closer to the script as planned with Tesla before hand, as well as taking advice on route.

Neither reporter mentioned traffic delays, which, as above, can vary widely trip-to-trip certainly effecting vehicle range.

Valdes-Dapena also had a different car, but was a similar model with the largest, 300 mile battery pack installed.

Combined, the possibility of heavy traffic, colder weather, different driving techniques, adherence to plans (or not), and the overnight stop untethered to a charger could easily have accounted for a failed trip verses a successful one. As to whether Broder's trip was faked, well put it this way: In the real world road trips rarely go as planned. Valdes-Dapena's trip seems more "unrealistic."

It should be noted that only the most expensive, Model S, with the large 85 kWh, 300-mile battery pack has the capability, as standard equipment, to use the free electricity, Supercharger fast charge network. The next model down, with the 60 kWh, 230-mile battery, Supercharger is a $2000 option. That option is not available for the lowly 40 kWh, 160-mile $52,000 car. So,Tesla is building the network only for its $65,000 and up, cars.

Supercharger also can't be used on other brands of cars of course.

Unless Tesla plans to launch new, mass market, low-cost (say in the price range of a Nissan Leaf) Supercharger-capable, electric cars in the next year or two, one wonders about the logic of building an extensive network of charging stations that will only feed a relatively small number of cars.

If Tesla and other manufacturers get together and agree to a common 480 Volt fast charging standard AND Tesla opens its stations to other brands, then there would be real movement ahead in a transition to electric drive and Musk, along with Tesla Motors would be seen as true visionaries.

 

NYT:Stalled Out on Tesla’s Electric Highway

NYT:That Tesla Data: What It Says and What It Doesn’t

CNN:Test drive: DC to Boston in a Tesla Model S

CNN:What we learned from our Tesla Model S drive

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