Archives for August 30th, 2013

Life With 2013 Tesla Model S: ‘Vampire’ Thirst For Electricity At Night?

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

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A couple of weeks ago, shortly after I took delivery of my 2013 Tesla Model S, I noticed that my home electric meter seemed to be running a bit faster than normal.

I keep a close eye on my meter, but that seemed odd.

After all, the long-awaited new luxury sport sedan delivered to my house in February by Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] was simply replacing electric miles I had been driving in my Chevrolet Volt.

The two cars have about the same efficiency in winter. So it shouldn’t have taken notably more power to run the Model S than the Volt, right?

I decided to try an experiment. Unplugging my 60-kilowatt-hour Model S for the night at 9 p.m., I made a note of the Rated Range display, which read 169 miles.

Next morning, the range had dropped to 153 miles.

I left the car unplugged again the next night. (Temperature was in the 20s, a bit colder than the previous night.) Range dropped  from 89 miles to 66, a loss of 23 miles. 

What was going on here? Many days, I don’t drive even 23 miles.

Was the Model S actually a “vampire” that used more electrical power just sitting overnight in my driveway than it might use during a typical day’s driving for me?

Two more unplugged tests confirmed the pattern: 10 miles range lost in 9 hours, then 23 miles lost over 22 hours. On average, I’d been losing roughly a mile of range for every hour the car sat unplugged.

This was different: It wasn’t just a design quirk, like the good and the bad points of the Model S that I wrote about recently.

This was taking money out of my pocket and putting carbon into the atmosphere.

No State-of-Charge Readout

Unfortunately, the Tesla Model S has no direct readout of the battery state of charge (SoC). There’s just an undelineated bar graph that gives you a rough idea of remaining charge.

With no direct SoC readout (either as a percentage or in actual kWh), the only way to estimate vampire losses is to extrapolate from the lost range. 

In normal driving, the Model S uses about one-third of a kilowatt-hour per mile.  My apparent 24-mile-per-day loss thus translated into about 8 kWh of electricity.  That’s about a third of my total daily home electrical consumption, not counting the two electric cars.

If those mileage-loss numbers were correct, my Model S’s apparent vampire losses would amount to almost 9,000 miles of driving a year. 

Delusional Owner’s Manual?

My numbers were wildly contradicted by the Model S owner’s manual.

“When you’re not driving Model S,” it purrs reassuringly, “the Battery discharges very slowly to power the onboard electronics. On average the battery discharges at a rate of 1 percent per day.”

One percent? Based on my unplugged mileage-loss numbers, my battery appeared to be discharging at about 12 percent per day.

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

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Hotline to the rescue

Tesla has recently established a hotline phone number for Model S owners with problems or questions, so I decided to give it a call.

The guy on the phone quickly confirmed the vampire problem.  It seems that the “sleep mode” in the original Model S software–the basis for the owner’s manual statements–had caused so many glitches in other car functions that it had been disabled.

With sleep mode missing from the current v4.2 software, he said, I could expect to lose about 8-10 miles of range per day when unplugged.

Using the rough three-to-one conversion ratio, that worked out to about 3 kWh per day.

He assured me Tesla was working  to come up with new sleep-mode software as soon as possible, but he offered no estimate of how long it might take.

Last week, Elon Musk addressed the vampire/sleep-mode issue in a meeting with Norwegian Model S buyers in Oslo. Musk promised that the new sleep mode would reduce vampire losses to a mere 0.2 percent–a miniscule 170 watt-hours–per day.

And, he said, the new sleep-mode software would be installed by the time the Model S was introduced in Norway–currently set, he said, for July.

Faulty mileage readings

But my apparent vampire losses were more than double what the hotline rep said they should be. Did I have a special problem?



2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

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No, he told me, the problem was faulty range calculations. In the current software version 4.2, the  range readings are inaccurate when the battery is cold.

“When the range software makes its prediction, it takes into account the current battery temperature,” explained the hotline guy.

“It’s not smart enough to know that the battery will warm up as you drive, and so your range will increase.”

“The range numbers you see on a cold morning are too low,” he went on. “That means the range ‘loss’ you think you see is too high.”

Some Model S owners have indeed reported gaining back some of their “lost” miles as they drive. I haven’t noticed this, however.

I did notice that on one cold unplugged morning the range was 18 miles–less than 10 percent of the max range–but the battery-state-of-charge bar graph showed somewhere around 25 or 30 percent.

“If there’s a discrepancy between the range number and the bar graph,” he said, “trust the bar graph.”

New software to improve the accuracy of the range numbers reportedly started  downloading to a few Model S cars last week.

Due to bandwidth limitations, however, only a limited number of cars can be updated per day–so it will take a while to update the entire Model S fleet.

No Battery Warming

Surprisingly, my hotline guy said that temperature has no effect on  Model S vampire loads.  Contrary to what I believed–along with many other Model S owners, I suspect–he said that no power is used to keep the battery warm. It all goes to the electronics.

“There’s no additional loss due to battery thermal management,” he told me. “The Model S does not keep its battery at any particular temperature when the car’s off. In fact, lithium-ion batteries actually last longer if they’re cold when not in use.”

(Musk confirmed this in his Oslo talk.)

On the other hand, the Model S owner’s manual says that when you plug in the car to charge, “If the battery requires heating or cooling, you may notice a delay before charging begins.

“Heating or cooling starts automatically when you plug in, and charging begins when the Battery reaches the appropriate temperature.”

Now I’m totally confused.

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

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How many kWh really?

Despite the Tesla rep’s claim of 8 to 10 miles of range loss per day, I still didn’t know how many actual kilowatt-hours of  vampire power my Model S was using.

So I asked an electrical engineer friend to cobble together a kilowatt-hour meter that would be compatible with the 240-Volt NEMA 14-50 outlet I use to charge the Model S.

The device would measure precisely how much total electric energy passed through the outlet into the car: No guesswork.

With battery fully charged and the range readout at 189 miles, I plugged the Tesla mobile connector into the NEMA 14-50 outlet, with the 240V kilowatt-hour meter attached, and went to bed.

Next morning, fully 12 hours later … surprise!

The meter read zero, and I’d lost 12 miles of range. Even though it had been plugged in, the car had used its own battery energy rather than grid power. The actual electricity it had used was unknown.

Charging Kick-start

On a hunch, I unplugged the charge cable from the car, then plugged it back in.  The green ring around the charge port immediately began to pulse, indicating that charging had begun.

About 15 minutes later, the battery was full again.

The meter said  it had taken 1.6 kWh to top off the night’s losses. That worked out to a vampire power draw of 3.2 kWh per day.

Interestingly, the range now read 183 miles–at the same full charge level that had indicated 189 miles last night.  (Warmer battery then, presumably.)

The next night I replayed the same scenario, hoping to leave the car plugged in long enough to trigger the auto-transition to grid power to recharge.

But the next day, after 18 hours, the kWh-meter still hadn’t budged. I needed to drive the car.

So again I kick-started the recharging process. This time the meter read 3.5 kWh to refill the battery after 18 hours. That works out to 4.7 kWh per day. 



2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

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A third 11-hour test session showed 5.7 kWh per day, a fourth 24-hour session consumed 4.5 kWh. During the 24-hour test, the car did switch to grid power sometime between 18 and 24 hours.

Overall average of the four test sessions:  4.5 kWh per day.

That’s the equivalent of a steady drain of 188 Watts, or three incandescent light bulbs left burning 24 hours a day. That may not sound like much, but over the course of a year, it’s enough juice to drive about 5,000 miles.

Losing 4.5 kWh per day, my battery would be totally exhausted from full in about 13 days.

Suddenly, leaving the Tesla parked at the airport for a ten-day trip looks a bit sketchy, to say the least.

If my car is typical, the Model S fleet–now about 5,000 strong– wasted 22.5 megawatt-hours of vampire power yesterday. 

Conclusions

My little experiment taught me three things.

First, with sleep mode disabled, my car uses an average of 4.5 kWh per day, or enough to drive about 14 miles–significantly more than Tesla’s hotline reps currently tell owners.

Second, instead of trickle-charging when plugged in, the Model S consumes its own battery power for periods of 18 to 24 hours before briefly switching to grid power to top off its  battery. Thus it can lose 10 to 15 miles of range overnight even when it’s plugged in.

[UPDATE: According to a Tesla spokesman who responded to the author after this article was first published, the Model S starts the topping-off process when the battery charge level drops by more than 3 percent.]

Third, owners can kick-start the topping-off process by removing and re-inserting the charge cord. Doing so 10 or 15 minutes before driving has the further advantage of preheating the battery, which increases range and maintains the regenerative braking, which is otherwise limited when the battery is cold.

Solutions

In my opinion, Tesla needs to do three things:

(1) Get the new sleep-mode software out as fast as humanly possible.

And I’m sure they’re already working hard to do just that.

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

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(2) Along with estimated-range readout, give us an actual battery state-of-charge indication–either percentage of charge, or total kWh remaining. (Better yet: a choice of either.)

No matter how sophisticated, range-estimating software cannot predict the future or read the driver’s mind. 

Am I about to begin a long uphill or downhill stretch? Will I be be driving fast or slow? Lead-footing it or feather-footing it? Blasting the A/C or sweating it out? 

I know those things. The software doesn’t. So tell me precisely how much juice I have left in the battery, and let me figure it out. 

(3) Do a better job of communicating with us. 

The owner’s hotline is a good start, but it only tells us what we know we don’t know. What about those pesky “unknown unknowns”?

If the owner’s manual tells us the battery loses 1 percent a day, shouldn’t Tesla inform us that the actual number is closer to 5 percent? 

And if you know the range readouts are inaccurate, shouldn’t you let owners know that, too?

Send a freaking e-mail.

David Noland is a Tesla Model S owner and freelance writer who lives north of New York City.

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By David Noland

2013 Tesla Model S: Green Car Reports’ Best Car To Buy 2013

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2012 Tesla Model S

2012 Tesla Model S

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Two years ago, our first-ever Green Car Reports Best Car To Buy award went to the first modern battery-electric car sold in the U.S.

How far we’ve come.

This year, our third annual winner is the 2013 Tesla Model S, a car that takes the all-electric vehicle to a new and far more elevated level.

But that’s far from the only reason it won. The Tesla Model S is an impressive new entry in the luxury sport sedan field for its performance, its looks, its capabilities, and its digital infotainment and control system.

NOTE: In December 2012, we gave this award to the 2013 Tesla Model S based on the availability of a base model with a 40-kilowatt-hour battery pack at a price of $59,900. That complied with our requirement that the Best Car To Buy Award go to a car priced at $60,000 or less.

In early April 2013, Tesla announced that it had canceled that 40-kWh model, due to lack of demand. According to the company, just 4 percent of its Model S depositors had specified the smallest battery size. The company said that for those customers who had put down deposits on the 40-kWh car, it would sell them a 60-kWh Model S with software that limited the car’s range to the range that the 40-kWh car would have delivered.

Electric power secondary?

Silicon Valley startup carmaker Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] has pulled off an almost inconceivable feat: It’s designed and put into production a car that competes across the board with some of the most storied brands in the industry.

And that car is the first volume production vehicle from a company that didn’t even exist eight years ago.

From styling that many onlookers assumed was the newest, latest, sleekest Jaguar–a compliment indeed for a new carmaker–to smooth, silent acceleration from 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds (in the Performance version), the Tesla Model S is more than an impressive new green car.

It’s an impressive car. Period. The fact that it’s green is almost secondary.

2012 Tesla Model S

2012 Tesla Model S

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Its 17-inch touchscreen display, for instance, is so fast, so crisp, and so relatively intuitive that it makes all other such control systems seem pathetically outdated.

That even applies to the brand-new Cadillac CUE system, whose deficiencies cost the otherwise excellent 2013 Cadillac ATS the same title from Motor Authority, our sister site.

‘Buff books’ converted

The Tesla Model S has won awards all over the place. It’s attracted 14,000 or more buyers to put down deposits before the company’s built more than 2,000 or 3,000 vehicles.

And it’s completely seduced some of the most hard-core gasoline proponents of all: the “buff book” car magazines whose judgments that it was a car of the year sealed Tesla’s emergence into the ranks of carmakers to whom attention must be paid.

Two of the three versions of the 2013 Tesla Model S have now been certified by the EPA for electric range: 265 miles for the 85-kilowatt-hour version, and just last week, 208 miles for the 60-kWh model.

The third and final version, with a 40-kWh battery pack and a reduced set of features and options, will go into production in the next few months.

Useful real-world range

Electric range, of course, depends greatly on speed, acceleration, driving style, outside temperature, and other factors.

One owner made news last week, for example, when he managed to drive his Model S more than 400 miles on a single charge.



2012 Tesla Model S

2012 Tesla Model S

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The 85-kWh model has a practical real-world range of at least 200 or so miles, no matter how it’s driven.

We’ll see what the comparable figures are for the other two, but even the entry-level Model S is likely to deliver the 120-plus miles that many observers feel is the minimum acceptable for owners to avoid range anxiety.

For longer trips, Tesla is rapidly opening a network of Supercharger quick-charge stations–and the power they provide is absolutely free.

Not cheap

The Tesla sport sedan, mind you, is hardly a cheap car.

Prices for the 2013 Model S start at $59,900 for the lowest-range version and rise in $10,000 increments from there, with the Performance version adding $10,000 more on top of the cost for the 85-kWh version.

On the other hand, almost no advanced automotive technology enters the market at the low end–and electric propulsion is just one reason to buy a Model S.

2012 Tesla Model S

2012 Tesla Model S

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It holds four people comfortably, five people adequately, and Tesla promises a pair of optional child-sized rear-facing jump seats to fit into the load bay at some future point.

No guarantees

Our award is no guarantee that Tesla Motors will survive, that the Model S will provide durable electric transportation for decades to come, or even that battery-electric cars will take noticeable market share any time soon.

But the disbelief, criticism, and sneering that often confronts startup companies with radical new ideas has, in the case of Tesla, already given way to grudging acknowledgment even by skeptics that the 2013 Tesla Model S is a viable, well-built, functional, and competent car that’s also fun to drive.

For that reason, there was really little other competition for our Best Car To Buy Award for 2013.

Congratulations, Tesla.

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By John Voelcker

Can Supercharger Stations Restore Faith In Tesla? (VIDEO)

2012 Tesla Model S CAPTIONS ON | OFF

The 2012 Tesla Model S has long been heralded as ushering in the new era of an electric car society, but those predictions always seemed like pie-in-the-sky hyperbole. Until today.

Tesla has unveiled an innovative new charging infrastructure that is already up and running in six California locations, each charging at an impressive 100 kW – enough to fully charge a Tesla Model S with nearly 300 miles of range in less than thirty minutes. Tesla CEO Elon Musk introduced the new Supercharger stations at a press event on Monday, in this video:

The stations have been installed in Folsom, Gilroy, Harris Ranch, Tejon Ranch and Barstow. Tesla decided to position them around the large cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas to allow drivers to charge once they leave the metro areas. In fact, Motor Trend recently proved that the Tesla Model S can already complete the L.A. to Vegas trip without charging stops (video here), but we’re sure no one is going to complain about being able to use the air conditioning and not worry themselves to death about breaking down on the I-15.

The goal is reliable long-distance driving, and the single biggest thing that needed to improve to allow that to happen is improved infrastructure. Even the biggest of dreamers saw Tesla as a company in need of that, but not a company capable of providing that. The automaker, partnered with industry leader Solar City, plans to install six more by next year and spread nearly across the country by the end of 2013.

The technology in the Supercharger stations is quite remarkable. They are not powered by electricity plants that themselves produce pollution, but by nearby solar grids that collect power from the sun. The power is provided at no cost to the driver, bringing the dream of free and limitless vehicle power to reality. Pretty neat stuff.

Unfortunately for Tesla, the news doesn’t seem to have immediately eased their financial issues. A recent review of customer orders revealed more than 1,200 cancelations of Model S reservations (video here), which will need to be repaid. In addition, Tesla reported reduced revenue expectationsand Wall Street acted accordingly, sending the TSLA stock into a ten-percent fall.

Tesla faces an uphill climb to financial solvency, especially with growing political pressure in an election year and continued leniency from the Department of Energy that is likely to tighten in the future. Is the Supercharger infrastructure the answer to electric car concerns, or another big gamble that Tesla has committed to before it’s actually ready? Only time will tell.

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By Ryan ZumMallen

The New Racing Green? Tesla Heads to Monte Carlo Alternative Energy Rally

The New Racing Green? Tesla Heads to Monte Carlo Alternative Energy Rally

Tesla is hoping to outdo its record-setting EV 240-mile range once again at this year’s Monte Carlo Alternative Energy Rally. The three-day event challenges the range and performance of the world’s top electric vehicles.

At the end of last year’s rally, the competing Tesla Roadster still had 38 miles left on its range indicator. For 2010, the California-based brand will bring two cars, each piloted by accomplished racers and gearheads Rudi Tuisk (shown) and Erik Comas. When he’s not rallying, Tuisk is Tesla’s Australian general manager, while Comas is a former F1 ace and Formula 3000 champ.

So far, more than 100 entries have been recorded for the event. Competitors have the chance to traverse some of France and Monte Carlo’s most scenic driving routes.

The rally coincides with the automaker’s “Odyssey of Pioneers” EV globetrotting adventure.

Source: Tesla, Automobile Club de Monaco

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Green Cars, Tesla

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By Nate Martinez

Father and Son Take Tesla Model S for 423.5-Mile Ride on One Charge!



While some manufacturers are being investigated by the EPA for declaring false efficiency numbers, the Tesla Model S seems to be exceeding them. A Model S owner from Florida decided to try and see just how far he could travel with the juice stored in the car’s 85 kWh battery pack.

The owner, David Metcalf took his son Adam on a 423.5-mile or 681 km drive aboard the top-spec electric sedan, before it finally ran out of juice and had to be towed back home. This may seem far-fetched, but Elon Musk has said before that he thinks the car is capable of breaking the 400-mile barrier, and while this information may be unofficial, the Tesla CEO has already posted on his Twitter account, congratulating David on his achievement.

Now, the EPA has just rated the Model S, fitted with the lower capacity 60 kWh battery pack, at 208 miles autonomy, yet it is also a few MPGe more efficient, so breaking the 300-mile barrier should not be a problem, with the necessary preparation, and suitable roads – the tires also need to be pumped up more, to reduce rolling resistance, but that`s pretty much the only thing the owner can do before attempting a run like this.

By Andrei Nedelea

Ferrari-fighting Tesla Model R reportedly in the works for 2017

Tesla Model S

A rumor coming out of jolly old England’s Auto Express suggests electric car manufacturer Tesla is looking to bring a new model to the market in 2017.

The new car would replace Tesla’s first car, the Roadster, and be built from the ground up as pure all-electric vehicle (EV). Whereas the current Roadster is underpinned by Lotus’ Elise platform, Auto Express claims the successor to the Roadster, thought to be named the Model R, will utilize the same platform currently underpinning the Model S and the upcoming Model X crossover.

In addition to adhering to the company’s current naming convention, the Model R will reportedly expand on the Roadsters lightning-quick acceleration, which is capable of rocketing from 0-60 miles per hour in 3.9 seconds and traveling 254-miles on a single charge of its 53 kWh lithium-ion battery.

If true, the Model R would undoubtedly benefit from a platform switch. The Lotus Elise weights about 1800 pounds, while the Roadster weighs in at 2,723 pounds. A new platform built from the ground up to accommodate an EV powertrain has the potential to reduce the weight of the car, while at the same time improving range and acceleration.

Tesla sold the Roadster between 2008 and 2011, with about 2,500 rolling off the line. Base price for the zippy EV started around $109,000. While no longer selling the Roadster, the California-based automaker started a buyback program last month that allows Roadster owners the option to trade theirs in for credit towards a Model S.

According to Auto Express, Tesla has its sights set on Ferrari with the Model R, but we remain skeptical. Still, if the Model R can indeed go toe-to-toe with the iconic Italian automaker we’ll be very impressed. Of course that leaves us with another question: How much will it cost?

By Amir Iliaifar