on the Side of a Highway Taught Me About the Road Trip of Tomorrow
NATE BERGAPR 29, 2014149 COMMENTS
What Running Out of Power in a Tesla on the Side of a Highway Taught Me About the Road Trip of Tomorrow Nate Berg
It's 209 miles from the parking lot of a Chili's in Barstow, California, where we are, to the parking lot of a Carl's Jr. in Kingman, Arizona, where we need to go. I'm in a rented Tesla Model S, a sleek, battery-powered electric vehicle, with a travel companion. We're just about fully charged, and the car estimates it can travel 247 miles before we need more juice. That's a buffer of 38 miles, which should be more than enough to reach Kingman. We'll soon realize it isn't.
The seemingly random parking lots I'm traveling between are sites of a new nationwide network of fast battery charging stations for drivers of Tesla's Model S. The company calls them "Superchargers" — direct-current battery charging stations of a proprietary design that can bring a nearly dead Model S battery to full charge in a little over an hour. That's much faster than the roughly 8 hours it would take by plugging into a wall outlet in your garage. Tesla's official reason for building this private network of battery charging infrastructure (currently up to 80 stations and counting) is to encourage Model S drivers to take road trips — a concept otherwise unthinkable in a car powered only by a battery. I'm testing it out on a weekend road trip from Los Angeles into Arizona and back.
Of all the cars Nate could have rented for the weekend he chose a terdsla model s. Nate likes living on the edge obviously. I'm thinking he was going to Kingman to visit his in-laws and therefor didn't really care if he made it all the way or not. That might explain his choice of vehicles, otherwise, why not rent a real car?
It was a hard crooked car, it was brutally crooked,
And it smelled terminally terdsly,
He held us up and he held us for ransom
In the hear.. art of the cold, solar city
He had a nasty reputation as a cruel dude
They said he was ruthless, said he was anti-crude
They had one thing in common their batteries went dead
Longs say, "Faster, faster, the stock is turnin' red"
Life in the long lane, surely makes them lose their mind
Life in the long lane
Are you with me so far?
Elon for action, hot for the game
The coming attraction, the drop of a name
He knew all the right headlines, He boasted all of the frills,
He made outrageous claims, He paid none of his bills
There was a streamlined side mirror, a lie on his face
He pretended it was high tech, it was caught up in the race
Out every evening to sue every one in sight
But it was too tired to make it, they were too tired to fight about it
Life in the long lane, surely make them lose your mind
Life in the long lane
Life in the long lane, every lie all the time,
Life in the long lane
For drivers of electric vehicles, calculations of distance and range are of near-constant concern. How far you want to go must always be less far than your battery can take you. The Nissan Leaf, for example, can get up to 84 miles of range on a full charge — enough for most people's daily commutes and errands, but hardly a long-distance option. The estimated 265-mile range of a fully equipped Tesla Model S has allayed some concerns about having enough juice to get where you want to go. Coupled with the Supercharger network, it's made the idea of taking a battery-powered road trip feasible — even cross-country. Feasible, I quickly find, is not the same thing as simple.
An hour outside of Barstow I notice on the digital dashboard display that the 38-mile buffer between range and distance has fallen hard to about 20. We panic. We've got more than a hundred miles to go, a lot of it uphill, and if the buffer keeps decaying at this rate, we'll never make it. I'd been driving as I normally would, not realizing that higher speeds and the rising elevation would drain the battery faster — that "estimated" range really is just an estimate. In any effort to save battery life, we turn off the stereo and dim the huge touch screen control panel. I figure out the cruise control and drop it down to 63. We coast and hope.
We're mostly in the slow lane now, venturing left periodically to pass a big rig. But we're not going much faster than they are, and passing takes longer than usual. One truck driver doesn't take kindly to this gradual pass and offers us his middle finger. Our passing speed is apparently too slow for his liking, and he edges his truck into our lane. Properly intimidated and terrified, I slam on the accelerator, temporarily abandoning the cruise control and draining that much more of the battery's life. Once he's far enough behind, I take it back to 63, but it takes a long time on these straight desert roads for his headlights to disappear from the rear view.
My favorite line in the whole story, "we coast and hope". Ha! Ha! Ha! Hope is not a strategy Dude! I'm sure your "companion" was thrilled with the prospect of being abandoned on the side of the road in the desert at night. Poor old Nate didn't factor in the extra weigh of his companion when going through his pre-trip flight calculations. If he'd dropped her off in Barstow he could have made it to the SC in AZ. Better luck next time. For 100K you'd think the model display would have a few hints to converse energy - like "somebody needs to get out and walk".
About 15 miles from Kingman the estimated range finally drops below the distance remaining to travel. The battery's display bar has shrunk and dimmed from bright green to grayish day-old avocado. The range keeps ticking down. We're about 7 miles away from the Kingman Supercharger when the battery range officially reads zero. Basically on empty, we keep going for a few more miles before the car begins slowing itself down. The car is shutting off, the display says, and I pull onto the shoulder, park and call AAA.
We're 3 miles from the next Supercharger station with a dead electric car on the side of a barren desert highway. It's 12:30 in the morning. That psychotic trucker can't be too far behind.