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Tesla Model S 60-kWh Is More Efficient Than 85-kWh Car: Why?

2013 Tesla Model S

2013 Tesla Model S

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Sharp-eyed Tesla Model S buffs may be wondering why the mid-range 60-kWh car, which costs $10,000 less, is rated more efficient than the top-of-the-line 85-kWh model.

The EPA said last week that the 60-kWh Model S has a range of 208 miles, and its efficiency rating is 95 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent).

That’s about 7 percent better than the 89 MPGe rating for the 85-kWh version–which has a rated range of 265 miles.

Measured from a different angle, the EPA says the 60-kWh car uses 35 kWh of electricity to go 100 miles.

The equivalent number for the longer range version is 38 kWh, meaning the cheaper car has about an 8-percent edge.

Why the difference?

Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TLSA], with its penchant for secrecy about technical matters, is mum on the subject (although a Tesla rep recently told me the company was working on an official statement to explain the difference).

Whatever the reason, the numbers make Tesla buyers who’ve opted for the mid-size battery  (like me) feel a little better. 

The $10,000 jump to the big battery gains only 57 miles of range, from 208 to 265 miles. That’s about $175 per mile.

Looked at another way, the 85-kWh Model S uses a battery pack that’s 42 percent larger to achieve 27 percent more range. Not a great tradeoff.

There are a number of possible reasons for the better efficiency numbers of the car with the mid-size battery.

*Lighter weight?

Although Tesla has always been cagey about battery specs, it’s likely that the smaller battery weighs less. Lower weight means quicker acceleration with the same power, and less rolling resistance at higher speeds.

But it seems unlikely that a weight difference of 100 to 200 pounds–we’re guessing here–could account for a 7-percent efficiency jump.  There’s something else going on.

Tesla Motors - Model S lithium-ion battery pack

Tesla Motors – Model S lithium-ion battery pack

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*Improved battery chemistry?

An unofficial source at Tesla hinted to me that the chemistry of the 60-kWh battery is different–and better–than that of the 85-kWh battery.

The 85-kWh packs went into production more than six months ago, while 60-kWh packs are only now starting to roll off the production lines.

It’s quite possible that, in the meantime, Tesla has improved its battery chemistry.

Tesla uses Panasonic commodity lithium-ion lap-top batteries in its battery packs, making them easy to update. Perhaps Panasonic has tweaked its cells recently?

*Test procedures?

The new 5-cycle EPA tests include a more vigorous acceleration profile.

The 85-kWh battery can supply more output power to the Model S drive motor (362 hp vs. 302 hp).  If the EPA test includes maximum acceleration, the 85-kWh car would accelerate slightly faster than the 60-kWh car–and thus use more energy.

If that’s the case, the EPA numbers are not a precise apples-to-apples comparison, and the efficiency advantage of the cheaper car is illusory.

2012 Tesla Model S

2012 Tesla Model S

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It’s also unclear whether the EPA tested a standard 85-kWh car, or the more powerful Performance version (416 hp).

If the test car was the latter model, this test-related discrepancy would be even greater.

*Software changes?

A recent software upgrade tweaked the acceleration profile of the Model S to provide more oomph at highway speed.

If included in the 60-kWh EPA test car, this may have had an effect on the  test numbers–although we would have expected any performance increase to reduce the MPGe number.

As you may have noticed, fevered speculation about technical and production minutia is a daily sport among Model S owners and hard-core Tesla buffs.

With luck, Tesla will soon put us out of our misery on this question.

Until it does, does anybody else have theories why the 60-kWh Model S is more efficient than the 85-kWh version?

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


By David Noland

Tesla Model S Depositors: You Can’t Sell Your Reservation, Legally

2013 Tesla Model S

2013 Tesla Model S

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There’s lots of interest in the award-winning Tesla Model S electric luxury sport sedan about now.

With production slowly ramping up, even the wealthiest electric-car fans have to wait as Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] works through its 14,000 reservations.

So, perhaps the impatient among them may turn to that source of all secondary sales, eBay.

Indeed, as of today, there are four Model S reservations offered for sale on eBay; last week, there were as many as eight.

There’s just one problem.

Those reservations aren’t transferable.

After a note from our reliable tipster Brian Henderson, we contacted Tesla to ask whether reservations could be transferred.

The answer: No.

“Reservations are not transferable,” replied Tesla communications director Shanna Hendriks, succinctly.

She pointed all reservation holders to Paragraph 6, “Deferral and Non-Transferability,” of the Tesla Model S Reservation Agreement they had to sign to take their place in the Model S queue.

It says:

If you do not wish to enter into a Purchase Agreement at the time that you are contacted by Tesla, you have the option to relinquish your reservation sequence position and defer to a later position to be determined by us (only one deferral is permitted). If you do not communicate your decision to us within ten (10) days of notification under paragraph 4, you will automatically be granted such a deferral. This Agreement is not transferable or assignable to another party without the prior written approval of a Tesla authorized representative.

So does Tesla give that written approval? “I am unaware of any transfers happening,” said Hendriks.

Reading some of the eBay ads, it appears that what’s being offered is an almost simultaneous secondary sale.

That is, the reservation will order the car to the specifications of the secondary buyer, take delivery, and then resell it immediately.

2013 Tesla Model S reservations offered for sale on eBay, Dec 11, 2012

2013 Tesla Model S reservations offered for sale on eBay, Dec 11, 2012

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That’s almost surely legal.

One caveat may be that some states won’t consider a car to be sold as a “used car” until it has racked up some noticeable mileage, perhaps 7,500 miles.

So what these sellers are offering on eBay isn’t actually the sale of a reservation.

They’re selling a used car they don’t actually own yet.

This isn’t unheard of for desirable, limited-production cars on eBay.

We’d encourage the sellers to list what’s being offered more accurately, though–because it’s not their reservation that they’re selling.

For the sake of both parties, we trust that anyone who enters into such an agreement has an iron-clad legal agreement ensuring that both sides clearly understand the terms of the deal.

We suggest it might be a good idea to specify all imaginable contingencies, in the event that something goes south.

Meanwhile, the 2012 Tesla Model S was named the Green Car Reports 2013 Best Car To Buy yesterday.

[hat tip: Brian Henderson]


By John Voelcker

Consumer Reports On Tesla Model S: Best Test Car Since 2007

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Chalk up another huge accolade for the Tesla Model S electric car: Consumer Reports has awarded it 99 out of 100 points, and said it’s the best car the magazine has tested since 2007.

In fact, the magazine’s descriptions of the luxury sport sedan brim with adjectives.

The Tesla Model S “is brimming with innovation, delivers world-class performance, and is interwoven throughout with impressive attention to detail,” writes the normally sober consumer publication.

Driving the Model S electric car is “like crossing into a promising zero-emissions future,” and the version tested, with its 85-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, is “easily the most practical electric car we’ve tested.”

CR reports that it gets a real-world 200 miles from that capacity, which is rated by the EPA at 265 miles of range. (The 60-kWh version is rated at 208 miles.)

The Model S was lauded for its quiet operation, its acceleration and roadholding, and its efficiency.

It wasn’t perfect, CR noted, suffering a broken windshield that had to be replaced and a problem with the radio (fixed by a software update that was downloaded through the car’s mobile-network connection).

The missing point was docked because the Model S takes roughly six hours to recharge its battery pack.

Jake Fisher, CR’s head of auto testing, put even that drawback in context when he enthused:  “If it could recharge in any gas station in three minutes, this car would score about 110.”

Clearly the CR staff pretty much fell in love with the electric sport sedan.

That stands in harsh contrast to its experience with the Fisker Karma range-extended electric car, which died during a track test and was raked over the coals in a scathing test report.

The Tesla Model S doesn’t yet receive a “Recommended” rating from Consumer Reports, because the magazine doesn’t yet have reliability data on the car, which has only been delivered since last summer.

To read the magazine’s full test report, you’ll have to have a Consumer Reports login.

But you can watch the magazine’s video summary above.


By John Voelcker

How To Drive On Ice, Tesla Model S-Style

Mention snow and ice in relation to electric vehicles, and many people will first think of the impact of cold weather on driving range.

It’s true that driving range will decrease in cold weather in most electric vehicles, but the way the car drives is important too.

For the Tesla Model S driver in the video above, the best way to discover how his vehicle handled was taking it to the ILR Winter Driving School in Minden, Ontario.

Icy surfaces and coned courses let owner Colin Bowern explore his Tesla’s limit in total safety–not something that can always be guaranteed out on the roads.

Electric cars in winter: Ultimate guide

The Model S certainly looks graceful out on the ice, even during the occasional spin–but as the interview in the video from wheels.ca shows, there’s plenty to learn about driving this particular electric vehicle in snow.

It isn’t covered in great detail, but rear-wheel drive is a factor. Traditionally, front-engined, rear-drive cars aren’t as well suited to snow due to a lack of traction over the rear axle. This shouldn’t be too much issue for the S, which is a relatively heavy vehicle anyway with plenty of weight to push down on the trear tires–but a little too much gas and the car can quickly spin, as seen in the video.

The car’s regenerative braking is discussed though. Typically, any braking movement on snow and ice should be as gentle as possible, to avoid upsetting a car’s balance.

Some electric vehicles have significant regenerative braking power. If used without care, the sudden braking effect can be akin to stomping on the brake pedal. On the rear-drive Tesla, it made the car go “squirrelly” when backing off, encouraging the rear of the car to rotate.

Electric cars in winter: Six steps to maximize driving range

The good news is, it’s an issue that can be solved fairly easy–owner Bowern simply turns down the regenerative effect via the car’s touchscreen controls.

He also mentions that a dedicated winter traction control mode will be available soon from Tesla, tailoring the electric motor’s torque for better traction on snow and ice.

And, as with any vehicle, fitment of winter tires during the colder seasons will give owners of any electric vehicle a better chance of staying on the road.

But perhaps the best quote is that Bowern said driving his Model S makes him a better driver–since he naturally leaves more space between vehicles, drives more smoothly and avoids braking too hard–all techniques that help conserve energy, as well as improving winter driving.

Best way to drive an electric car on ice? Fix the nut behind the wheel…

[Hat tip: Brian Henderson]


By Antony Ingram

Ignore The NY Times; Does Tesla Model S Own Silicon Valley Already?

2013 Tesla Model S

2013 Tesla Model S

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Yes, there’s a big imbroglio going on right now over an article in The New York Times, followed by some tweets (1, 2, and 3) from Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk contradicting it.

We’re ignoring that, for the moment.

Instead, we’re bringing you an idea that made us chuckle.

That idea is that the Tesla Model S has already beaten the BMW 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz S Class among buyers of $100,000 luxury sport sedan in one very important market.

That market is Silicon Valley.

It’s where Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] is headquartered, where Stanford University opened its doors in 1891, where much of this country’s technological innovation since 1960 has arisen.

The source for this rather broad claim is a very, very unrepresentative survey done by electric-car advocate and analyst Anton Wahlman, who writes regularly for The Street.

His article essentially says that he sees at least a dozen Tesla Model S cars a day in the heart of Silicon Valley, but in “a month or two” of careful observation, he’s seen exactly zero new S Classes or 7-Series.

Because our parent company, High Gear Media, is located there as well, we can confirm from first-hand experience that there are increasing numbers of Model Ses on the streets.

We have a few caveats, though.

There are also older S Class and 7-Series cars around, if not brand-new ones. But those full-size models have never been the big sedan sellers for Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

Tesla opening second store in Silicon Valley as production ramps up

Tesla opening second store in Silicon Valley as production ramps up

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The higher-volume cars are the mid-size E Class and 5-Series cars, which start at about half the $100,000 price Wahlman uses for his “analysis”.

We doubt he’ll be able to make the same claim about the $60,000 and $70,000 versions of the Model S against the smaller German sedans.

Wahlman is careful to note that Silicon Valley has the right climate for plug-in electric cars, and an eager desire for the latest and newest in technology–including in its cars.

But there’s a case to be made that as Silicon Valley goes, so goes (some of) the rest of the nation later on.

The Toyota Prius was popular in California long before it succeeded nationally and became Toyota’s third-best selling car line.

What do you think: Is the Tesla Model S a viable competitor to German luxury sport sedans?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

Oh, and about that New York Times article? We’ll have more on that too. Stay tuned.


By John Voelcker

Big Mystery Unveiled: You Can Now ‘Lease’ 2013 Tesla Model S

2013 Tesla Model S

2013 Tesla Model S

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And now we know: Tesla’s Big Mystery Story, teased via more than one tweet from CEO Elon Musk, is this: You will soon be able to “lease” a brand-new 2013 Tesla Model S.

That’s a good thing (though not nearly as much fun as some of the ideas proposed under the Twitter hashtag #TeslaPredictions). But we digress.

Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] has partnered with two banks, Wells Fargo and US Bank, to create a “new kind of financing product” that combines, the company claims, “the surety and comfort” of actually owning a car with the traditional advantages of a lease.

On a conference call held today shortly after the announcement, CEO Elon Musk said the new product would both make the Tesla Model S available to a much broader audience and address nervousness about the residual value of a battery-electric car with a battery pack whose capacity declines over time.

Here’s how it will work, according to the company’s press release:

  • Buyers can put 10 percent of the purchase price down, and get financing from one of the two banks after their credit is approved.
  • That 10-percent down payment is covered (or more) by U.S. Federal income-tax credits, state purchase rebates or credits of $2,500 to $7,500, and zero sales tax in two states and the District of Columbia.
  • After a 3-year lease term, lessees may sell their Model S back to Tesla–at the residual value percentage of a Mercedes-Benz S Class, the company says, which is 43 percent of purchase price–but do not have to.
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk is personally standing behind that guaranteed resale value, thereby giving customers “absolute peace of mind” about the value of their car, “with all of the assets at my disposal”.

According to Musk, this is effectively a five-year loan (he later clarified this to “a 66-month term”) with the right to return the car after three years.

If Tesla buys the car back from the customer, Musk said, the company will pay at least the guaranteed value. If the market value is higher, Tesla will pay that amount.

The company suggests that with the guaranteed return value, the various Federal, state, and local incentives, and the lower cost-per-mile of driving on grid electricity, it will cost less than $500 per month to drive a new Tesla Model S.

Musk suggested that net cost of ownership would be “$500 or $600″ a month, combining the lease payment and cost of electricity–and pointed interested customers toward a cost calculator on the company’s website for the true net out-of-pocket cost for a Model S.

That calculator starts with a lease cost of $1,199 per month before the various incentives are applied. It includes cost savings both for the Business Tax Benefit (assuming that buyers drive their Tesla on business) and a value for time saved by not having to stop for gasoline.

Musk noted that current depositors will not be able to take advantage of the new lease product, essentially because it would mess up the company’s accounting.

If drivers who finance the car decide not to return it after three years, they continue to make payments for two more years to pay it off.

The press release contained one line that raised eyebrows among several journalists: “Like the Model S, this product was created from the ground up to provide maximum benefit to consumers, rather than simply duplicating other financing programs that tend to favor companies at the expense of the individual.”

2013 Tesla Model S

2013 Tesla Model S

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Tesla Motors has been on something of a roll lately, with an announcement that it had beaten its own mid-February projection and delivered “more than 4,750″ electric cars from January through March.

That total actually meant that Tesla had the highest quarterly sales of all three previously top-selling plug-in electric cars in the U.S.: the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid.

Musk also said on the call the company would be releasing news “every week or so” from here on out.

But whether this new method of financing your ability to drive a new Tesla will be the earth-shaking advance that Musk suggests is another question.

We’ll leave that discussion to the financial analysts, industry professionals, and our readers.

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


By John Voelcker

Worst Thing About The Tesla Model S? Driving Anything Else Afterwards

2012 Tesla Model S

2012 Tesla Model S

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If early ownership experiences are to believed, there’s not a lot wrong with driving a Tesla Model S.

The performance is great, it’s luxurious, quiet, has a great electric range… but there’s still one thing that bugs owners. One thing they wish wasn’t part of the Model S ownership experience.

Yep, that’s right–driving other cars. Model S owners hate it, according to a semi-serious, semi tongue-in-cheek thread on the Tesla Motors Club forum.

Owners regale each other with tales of lacking the performance and the strong regenerative braking effect from their Model S, when forced to drive another car for any reason.

Some don’t like the low-quality feel of other vehicles they’ve driven either, particularly when it’s the occasional rental car.

Amusingly, a few owners even say they’ve nearly run out of gas when driving internal combustion vehicles after the S–since most owners are used to waking up to a fully-charged vehicle, rather than having to fill up the tank every so often.

It seems range anxiety is as much an internal combustion thing as it is a battery thing–and goes to prove that it’s only a problem if you’re not used to it.

Even funnier (though perhaps not so safe) are the tales of owners accidentally leaving hybrids and gasoline vehicles running when they park up–being so used to the Model S turning itself off when you’re not using the car.

These Model S owners aren’t alone, of course–disappointment with internal combustion vehicles is quite a common affliction once one is used to an electric car.

You never quite realise how noisy and unrefined even the smoothest of gasoline vehicles is until you’ve spent some time behind the wheel of an electric equivalent.

In the meantime, electric owners will just have to make the best of the occasional gasoline vehicle they drive–and remind themselves what cars used to be like…


By Antony Ingram

Tesla Model S “Delivery Roulette” Annoys Some Owners, Thrills Others

2012 Tesla Model S

When you walk into a crowded deli in New York City, you take a number.

Rather than jostle in line and try to elbow (or charm) your way to the front, you take the number from the dispenser on the counter and wait till that number is called. First come, first served.  Even among rude, pushy New Yorkers, it works.

When Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] first started taking reservations (with $5,000 deposits) for its all-electric Model S sports sedan nearly four years ago, it put in place a similar system.

Each depositor was assigned a reservation sequence number, which represented the owner’s  place in line, and, to a certain extent, his/her status in the pecking order for the award-winning Tesla Model S.

When I put my money down in April 2009, I received number P 717.  With the waiting list now approaching 18,000, I’m feeling pretty good about my place in the line to own what by all accounts is a remarkable car.

In addition to the 716 even-earlier-adopters before me, about 1,200 “Signature” customers  put down $40,000 deposits for the right to buy special-edition top-of-the-line cars before the standard P cars went into production.

I never begrudged the Signature owners in front of me–they certainly paid dearly for their right to jump the queue.

But now that all Signature cars have been delivered and P cars have been in production for more than a month, it turns out that the Tesla delivery system isn’t working nearly as smoothly as your average New York deli.

The Agony and the Ecstasy

In many cases, production P cars are being delivered  way out of order–sometimes astonishingly so.

This naturally results in equal numbers of customers who are giddy at their unexpected early delivery and frustrated at a maddeningly delayed one.

2012 Tesla Model S display screen [Photo: Flickr user jurvetson]

2012 Tesla Model S display screen [Photo: Flickr user jurvetson]

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Count me among the latter.

Just yesterday I saw a post on the Tesla owners’ forum from an ecstatic Model S owner who’d just been notified his delivery would be in the first two weeks of February. That’s essentially the same delivery window I’ve been given.

You know when this guy placed his order?  Last August 31! That’s more than three years after I put down my money. He’s number 11,601 in the queue.

“Essentially FIVE MONTHS from order to delivery!” the guy crowed.

He’s not alone. A number of  cars with numbers above 5,000 have already been delivered. According to a Tesla Motors Club forum thread, an unofficial online forum, the highest number delivered as of December 31 was P 9935.

Meanwhile, owners with reservation numbers as low as P 631 have not yet received their cars, according to TMC.

“Reservation holders more than 3500 spots below me have gotten their VIN (a final step just before delivery),” moans one owner on the TMC forum. “Extremely frustrated.”

I understand his frustration.

Why should a Johnny-Come-Lately who puts his money down for a few months on a sure thing get his car before a True Believer who gambled $5,000 back when the Model S was a pipe dream and Tesla was a company struggling to even stay alive?

The 85-kWh Advantage

Although there seems to be no rhyme nor reason for many of the out-of-order deliveries, the cause of my delay is clear: I’ve ordered my car with the mid-size 60-kWh battery.

Because all  the initial Signature cars had top-of-the-line 85-kWh batteries, Tesla started production of that battery first. When Signature production finished in late November, Tesla wasn’t yet geared up for production of the smaller 60-kWh and 40-kWh battery options. 

So it continued to churn out 85-kWh production models, skipping over even low-number 60- and 40-kWh buyers like me.

Tesla Model S owner David Metcalf after covering more than 400 miles [photo: Gene Kruckemyer]

Tesla Model S owner David Metcalf after covering more than 400 miles [photo: Gene Kruckemyer]

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Tesla has announced that 60-kWh production will begin this month, and 40-kWh production in March. The company seems to be in no particular hurry to do so, and who can blame them?

They’d prefer to sell as many of the more expensive 85-kWh cars as possible, as they try to overcome the cash crunch of production start-up.

Tesla Motors remains mum about the proportion of the various battery options in the order book, so it’s unknown how many 40- and 60-kWh depositors have been passed over as 85-kWh production continues.

Other Factors?

But there have been numerous non-sequential deliveries of 85-kWh  P cars as well. The reasons behind this seeming “delivery roulette” are a frustrating mystery for many owners.

Through it all, Tesla has been characteristically obtuse about the reasons for its out-of-order deliveries of production models. 

There were similar problems with out-of-order Signature deliveries that spurred much grumbling among impatient owners. At the time, Tesla VP George Blankenship responded with an e-mail explaining that the problem was due to vendor delays and  changes or shortages of  certain interior decors and options.

“In some weeks,” Blankenship wrote, “it meant we had to reach forward in the sequence order to find cars that were not impacted by a particular decor or option, and in some case the absence of a decor or option pushed cars back.”

In his note to Signature owners, Blankenship acknowledged the importance of the sequence numbers.

“Many Model S reservation holders I have met during the last two years introduce themselves by name and then follow their introduction by giving me their….reservation sequence number,” he wrote. “Their sequence number is…very important to them, and is very important to us.”

Blankenship characterized Tesla’s customer communication on the subject as “weak at best,” and promised to do better.

But so far, Tesla has sent no such explanation to us production owners. (Or at least P 717 has not received one.)

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


By David Noland

Life With 2013 Tesla Model S: Getting Supercharged In Winter

Tesla Supercharger fast-charging system for electric cars

Tesla Supercharger fast-charging system for electric cars

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As the brand-new owner of a 60-kWh Tesla Model S, I was eager to try out a Supercharger, the ultrafast 90-kilowatt DC fast-charging stations that Tesla is establishing along Interstate highways across the country.

Model S owners–and nobody else–will be able to plug in and grab up to 150 miles of extra range in 30 minutes, about the time it takes to empty their bladders and then eat a fast-food meal and/or check their mobile devices. Astonishingly, the Superchargers are free for Model S owners.

So far, Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] has installed five Superchargers in California and two along I-95 between Boston and Washington D.C.

Tesla claims it will have more than 100 Supercharger stations by 2015, enabling the Model S to make long cross-country trips just like a gasoline car.

For me, the nearest Supercharger is at the service area on I-95 in Milford, Connecticut, about 85 miles from my home in New York’s Hudson Valley. Though my car’s EPA range of 208 miles should manage the round trip without a recharge, I figured it would be fun to try out the Supercharger experience. 

And it would be my first long trip in the car, a chance to check the accuracy of the “rated range” readout–also called the Guess-O-Meter–that so commands the attention of any electric-car driver.

Hopefully, my fate would be better than that of reporter John Broder of The New York Times, whose Model S famously ended up on a flatbed truck, out of juice, when he attempted a trip to the Milford Supercharger after leaving his Model S unplugged on a very cold night.

Unlike Broder, I started with a full charge. He had unwittingly charged the car in “Standard” mode, which–in the name of long-term battery health–stops charging at  90 percent of battery capaacity.

For my trip, just to be sure, I set the charger on “Max Range”, which takes the charge to the full 100 percent. As I pulled out of my driveway on a cool 40-degree morning, the “rated range” read 198  miles.

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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Still new to the car, I drove conservatively, cruising at 60-65 mph on open stretches and accelerating gently on more congested two-lane roads.  Under those conditions, the  Tesla’s “Guess-O-Meter” was spot on. After about two hours, I pulled into the northbound side of the Milford service area showing 116 miles of range remaining–82 miles less than what I started with.

So far, so good. But where the heck was the Supercharger?

The picture on the Tesla website shows what looks like a four-bay carport, conspicuously Tesla-logoed,  and flanked by a 15-foot-high sculpted phallic column of no obvious purpose. (A nod to the SpaceX Falcon 9, perhaps?) 

But I could see nothing like that anywhere around.

Eyes swiveling, I drove slowly past the parking area, past the gas pumps, past the restaurant pavilion, finally to the truck ghetto at the far end of the service area.

Tesla Supercharger obelisk

Tesla Supercharger obelisk

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No carport-cum-phallus.

And now, I realized, I was stuck.  Traffic flow through the service area is one-way only. There was no going back.

I parked the car and backtracked  on foot. After a few minutes of searching, I found the Supercharger station. No carport. No phallus. Just two adjacent spaces in the regular parking lot, each with a gas-pump-like charging station and a miniscule Tesla logo.

I can now understand why John Broder drove around in circles in the parking lot at Milford. Tesla CEO Elon Musk implied that he was trying to run down the battery on purpose; Broder said he just couldn’t find the Supercharger. I can relate to that.

Luckily, both spaces were empty. But of course my car was now at the other end of the service area, marooned by “Do Not Enter” and “Wrong Way” signs.

If I wanted to charge up, my only legal recourse was to continue north on I-95, get off at the next exit, get back on I-95 southbound, drive to the next exit south, get off, get back on northbound, and return to the service area.


I looked around for cops, saw none, and drove the wrong way back past the gas pumps to the Supercharger, encountering no other cars during my nefarious 20-second dash.

Tesla Road Trip from MD to CT, Feb 2013 - Tesla Model S cars at Delaware SuperCharger location

Tesla Road Trip from MD to CT, Feb 2013 – Tesla Model S cars at Delaware SuperCharger location

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There were no instructions on the charger, just a phone number to call in case of problems. The charging plug was the same as the one I use at home.

Click the button on the plug, the charge door pops open. Plug in, and the glowing ring around the charge port turns blue, then green, and begins to pulse rapidly. Just like at home. Nothing to it.

Tesla brags that Superchargers are located at places “you’ll actually want to stop.” Not the Milford service area, a monument to low-rent fast food: McDonald’s, Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts. I used the bathroom (clean), grabbed a smoothie and a Danish, and was out of there in 26 minutes.

During that time, the car picked up 62 miles of range, bringing the Guess-O-Meter up to 178 miles, more than double the mileage home.

This fell far short of Tesla’s claimed 150 miles in 30 minutes.

There are, however, two reasons.

First, I was more than half full when I plugged in. The charging rate is very fast for an empty battery, but it slows down as the battery fills up.

Second, I have the mid-size 60-kWh battery, not the big 85-kWh model. With less capacity, my charge rate presumably falls off more quickly. (A Tesla rep on the owners’ hotline could shed no light on 60-kWh vs. 85-kWh charging rates for me.)

With my brain perhaps dulled by a fast-food sugar-and-fat buzz, I had some trouble getting the plug out. With no instructions, I did what I do at home to unplug: squeeze the button on the plug and pull.

But it wouldn’t come out. With  rising panic, I fiddled for 5 or 10 seconds, randomly pushing the button and tugging the cord. Nothing.

And then, thank God, it finally popped out, for no apparent reason.

(A Tesla hotline rep later confirmed that it takes longer for the Supercharger to shut down and release the charge cord. Might I suggest it would be nice to let Model S owners know that ahead of time?)

Fat with energy, I drove home at my normal 70 to 75 mph, and didn’t stint on the acceleration. (Nothing crazy, though.) I arrived home with 76 miles remaining, for a net “usage” of 102 miles on the meter to cover the 88 miles home.

After trying out a Supercharger, I can see its potential.  But Tesla needs to put the charging stations closer together.

The two Superchargers connecting Washington D.C., and Boston are about 200 miles apart. John Broder notwithstanding, that’s probably okay for an 85-kWh car under most conditions. But it provides little margin for cold weather, fast driving, or Murphy’s Law.

2012 Tesla Model S

2012 Tesla Model S

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And for 60-kWh cars like mine, it just doesn’t work at all.

Okay, if I drive 55 mph and don’t use the heat or air conditioning, I might make it by the skin of my teeth. Maybe. If nothing unexpected happens.

But I’m guessing  this kind of razor’s-edge driving is not what Tesla has in mind. It’s certainly not what I have in mind; this weekend I’ll be driving to Baltimore in my trusty Chevy Volt because I’m not willing to risk the 198-mile drive in the Model S from my house to the Supercharger in Newark, Delaware.

According to  Broder, Elon Musk conceded that the Superchargers need to be 140 miles apart, not 200.

Speaking for all Supercharger-equipped 60-kWh Model S owners, I concur most heartily.

David Noland is a Tesla Model S owner and freelance writer who lives 60 miles north of New York City.


By David Noland

Tesla Model S Performance: Fastest Electric Car (Video)

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The Tesla Model S Performance looks great on paper.

Not only does the 85 kWh Model S have an impressive 265-mile EPA-rated range, but it’ll do the benchmark 0-60 mph sprint in only 4.4 seconds.

That means the all-electric luxury sport sedan from Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] is at least as fast as V-8 German super sedans like the BMW M5.

But how do you quantify that sort of speed in the real world? If you’re Drag Times, you put it on the strip, preferably head to head against an American legend like the Dodge Viper SRT10. And then you beat it.

Yup, the near-silent Tesla made a mockery of the shiny red sports car–posting a quarter-mile time of little over 12 seconds in the process.

A second video shows the Tesla’s fastest pass, at 12.371 seconds and 110.84 mph. There aren’t a great many production cars which would do better–mostly vehicles well into the “supercar” or “hypercar” brackets, and at even higher cost than the Model S.

Some of the other statistics are outstanding too.

Drag Times recorded a 3.9-second 0-60 mph time on their VBOX timing gear. Given the Tesla’s hefty weight at the curb of 4,690 lbs, it’s even more impressive–weight is typically the enemy of speed.

Huge low-down torque helps, of course–the 416-hp Model S Performance develops 443 lbs-ft from zero to 5,100rpm, and power delivery is much smoother too.

While that driver in the Viper had to manage wheelspin and shift gears, the Tesla driver just has to sink the right pedal and keep it on the floor until he passes the 1/4-mile mark.

We’d love to see what other car giants the Model S is capable of killing.

With zero emissions and supercar-slaying acceleration, it seems you can really have your cake and eat it too.


By Antony Ingram

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