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2012 Tesla Model S Drives From L.A. To Las Vegas On A Single Charge


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The MotorTrend editorial team must have spent more time behind the wheel of the 2012 Tesla Model S than any other automotive journalists to date.

Not only did MotorTrend get to borrow the personal 2012 Tesla Model S Signature Sport belonging to Tesla CEO Elon Musk for a few days to test the real-world range of the $100,000 luxury sedan, but it took it on a road-trip from Los Angeles, California to Las Vegas, Nevada. 

Setting out from the Los Angeles basin, Motor Trend’s Jessi Lang and Frank Markus set out on their 210-mile trip, aiming to get to Sin City on a single charge. 

Range anxiety

Even though Lang and Markus knew the flagship Tesla sedan had the theoretical range to easily drive 210 miles, the first part of their trip included two 4,000 foot mountain passes, giving Markus some serious range anxiety.

After some serious calculations using Tesla’s own energy-use curves for the Sedan, the duo deduced the best option would be to drive the first part of the trip at a sedate 55 mph, with the air conditioning switched off. 

The result? a blistering 104-degrees Fahrenheit inside the luxury sedan, and numerous frustrated drivers piling up behind as they paced themselves up the mountain passes at the slowest legal freeway speed. 

More than enough

L.A. to Las Vegas In Tesla Model S (MotorTrend)

L.A. to Las Vegas In Tesla Model S (MotorTrend)

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After several hours of what we assume was fairly tortuous driving, Lang and Markus hit the top of the second mountain pass, having used around one half of the Model S’s 85-kilowatt-hour battery pack. 

With only 75-miles to go to their destination, the pair started to relax, increasing their speed and making use of the car’s welcome air conditioning on the final part of the trip.

The result? Lang and Markus arrived in Las Vegas with an estimated 65 miles of range to spare, proving that it was at least possible to drive the Tesla Model S between the two cities on a single charge. 

Possible, but would you do it?

MotorTrend’s resulting video of the trip is entertaining enough, but as Lang and Markus admitted to camera several times during the experiment, the journey was hardly an everyday occurrence. 

For a start, we can’t think of that many car drivers, who would be content driving along in blistering 100+ degree heat without air conditioning on. 

Then the’s the matter of speed. As we’ve asked before, just who would drive a 2012 Tesla Model S at 55mph? 

Ultimately, Tesla expects to install its superchargers on regular inter-city routes, allowing Tesla Model S owners to drive at 80 mph instead of an embarrassingly-slow 55mph, stopping for a 30-minute, 90-kilowatt rapid top-up charge mid-way.

For now then, if you’ve got a 2012 Tesla Model S Signature Sport, we recommend that you don’t attempt the drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas on a single drive. 

Unless you’re really fond of saunas and truck lanes, that is. 

Would you have made this trip? Did it prove anything, or did it do more harm than good for electric cars? 

Let us know your thoughts in the Comments below.

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By Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield

Tesla Model S Loaners For Tesla Model S Owners, Elon Musk Says

2013 Tesla Model S

2013 Tesla Model S

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Loaners cars are now routinely provided by luxury carmakers when their customers have cars in for servicing.

Now Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] is joining the crowd, providing Model S luxury sports sedans to its Model S (and Roadster) owners while their cars are in the shop.

But according to CEO Elon  Musk, these aren’t just any Model S: All the loaners will be the top-end, most luxurious Model S Performance version with the 85-kilowatt-hour battery pack and punchier acceleration than lesser models.

Road testers have logged the Tesla Model S Performance accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds (the original factory quote was 4.6 seconds).

That’s a number that exceeds most luxury sedans on the market today, although to be fair, repeated use of that acceleration is likely to have a negative effect on the car’s EPA-rated range of 265 miles.

Musk discussed the loaner plan in an interview with USA Today, in which he also promised that Tesla employees would drop the temporary Model S cars wherever the customer requested–rather than requiring the owner to bring the car in to a Tesla service center.

Initially, the loaner fleet will number about 80 vehicles spread among Tesla’s 21 current service centers.

The fleet will expand as Tesla opens more stores and service centers across the country; the company lists another 13 service centers as “coming soon.”

Musk noted that the idea for luxury loaners hadn’t originated with Tesla. He attributed it, instead, to Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus.

But a top-of-the-line loaner–nicer, in many cases, than the Model S that’s in for service–is certainly a step up from hearing the service guy yell, “Hey, Manny, whadda we got in the back for this guy?”

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By John Voelcker

The Tesla Model S Electric Wagon We Wish They’d Build

Tesla Model ST wagon render by Theophilus Chin

Tesla Model ST wagon render by Theophilus Chin

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High-performance wagons are easy to appreciate. Plenty of utility, but none of the sacrifices that practicality usually implies.

If they look great and run on electricity, like Theophilus Chin‘s render of a Tesla Model ‘ST’, then all the better.

Chin’s render (via Autoblog Green) is so slick you’d think it came from Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] itself.

The long, elegant body of the regular Model S lends itself to the wagon shape, and the end result isn’t dissimilar from the recent Jaguar XF Sportbrake, one of the best-looking wagons on the road.

In fact, we’ve a nagging feeling it looks even better than the regular Model S. There’s little doubt it’d add  to that car’s practicality too, perhaps enough to swap the two small booster seats for a full rear bench.

The Model S’s wind-cheating aerodynamics might suffer, and we’d expect a weight increase too–but it’d be a small price to pay for such an elegant “sport tourer”.

Tesla Model ST wagon render by Theophilus Chin

Tesla Model ST wagon render by Theophilus Chin

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It’s unlikely to see the light of day, though–Tesla already has a larger seven-seat vehicle on the way, in the shape of the falcon-winged Model X crossover.

What other vehicles would you like to see from Tesla? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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By Antony Ingram

2012 Tesla Model S Signature Series: Is It Worth The Premium?

2012 Tesla Model S Signature

2012 Tesla Model S Signature

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The first 1,000 or so 2012 Tesla Model S electric sport sedans to be delivered to U.S. customers will be fully-loaded, limited-edition “Signature” cars.

But as delivery dates slip due to early production snags, some owners of Signature cars–called “Sigs” within the Tesla clan–grumble that they’re not getting much value for the extra money they had to shell out.

Is the “Sig tax”–the premium price and the hefty $40,000 deposit–worth its benefits? 

Let’s look at the numbers.

The Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] list price for a Signature Model S is $87,900.

A comparably-equipped standard Model S–with an 85-kWh battery and all available options except the moon roof–lists for $84,350. That’s a $3,550 difference.

For the Performance version of the car, the comparable numbers are $97,900  and $92,850–or a $5,050 difference.

Interest adds up, too

The effective “Sig tax” can be higher if an owner wouldn’t otherwise have ordered a particular option. Downgrades aren’t allowed; Signature owners pay for all the options and the premium paint job whether they want them or not.

Then there’s the interest on the $40,000 deposit. In effect, Tesla has received interest-free loans totaling more than $40 million from its Signature owners.

Early depositors put down their money more than three years ago. At current corporate bond rates  (about 6 percent), that amounts to about $8,000 in foregone interest.

So, roughly speaking, the typical Signature owner has paid a “Sig tax” of $3,500 to $13,000. 

What does he or she get for the money?

  • The option of a special red paint job unavailable on the standard car
  • The option of a special white interior, also unavailable on the standard car
  • Two small external “Signature” badges
  • Free 3-G connectivity for one year

In addition, Signature Performance models get some added minor interior and exterior accents that the standard Performance car lacks.

Ironically, the Signature Model S lacks some interior and paint options available on the standard car.

If you happen to prefer green paint to red, or a silver interior rather than white, the first two Signature “benefits” become penalties.

Is that all there is?

At first glance, these Signature benefits may not impress. 

2012 Tesla Model S, brief test drive, New York City, July 2012

2012 Tesla Model S, brief test drive, New York City, July 2012

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“I don’t think I’m getting anywhere near the value for the money,” griped one owner in a lengthy thread on the Tesla Motor Club forum.

“I too think the Sig is a disappointment in terms of value,” chimed in another. “But I can’t bring myself to switch (to a standard car).”

For most Sig owners, however, the “Big Bennie” is not the car itself. It’s the timing.

Sig owners automatically go to the front of the queue to own what is, by all accounts, an extraordinary, ground-breaking car. 

But recent production delays and the rapid anticipated ramp-up in production of standard cars as soon as the Signature cars are built has blunted this hoped-for time advantage. 

“I was willing to pay the premium (begrudgingly) to jump the line by three months,” says one Sig owner whose car has been delayed by four to six weeks. “But for one month, it’s an absurd premium to pay.”

“Delivery during the summer would actually have had some value,” echoed another.

Earliest cars delivered

The very earliest adopters at the head of the Sig line already have the pleasure of driving their cars three to six months ahead of the rabble, starting in June with venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, who’s on the Tesla board.

(At this writing, Tesla will only say that “more than 250″ Model S cars have been delivered.)

Last-minute Signature buyers also reaped a huge bonus in delivery time. If you signed up for one of the last few remaining Sigs in August, you’re probably looking at a December delivery.



2012 Tesla Model S Signature

2012 Tesla Model S Signature

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But if you’d chosen a standard car instead, your number in the queue would have been about 12,000–and you’d be getting delivery next summer at the earliest.  Is that a benefit worth $5,000? For a lot of people, it is.

The frustrated Signature owners seem to be mostly those in the middle of the pack, who are now watching their early delivery advantage fade. 

Middle of the pack

One of them, Arnold Panz, of Miami, Fla., had this to say on the Tesla Motor Club forum:

The fact that we, as Sig holders, have gotten absolutely no special treatment has been a huge miss. (We) were mostly Tesla’s truest of true believers, plunking down $40,000 for a car that we had no guarantee would ever be made, let alone be a great car. How was that blind faith rewarded? I’m still trying to figure that out.

A lot of this is basic psychology. Why are people who are paying almost six figures for a car complaining about $600/year in maintenance? The same reason high rollers who gamble  $1,000 a hand in Vegas demand free rooms, tickets to shows, and free meals….and choose their hotel on who provides the best “perks”.

BMW bakes the cost of maintenance into the cost of the car and everyone thinks they’re getting “free” service! Tesla…just didn’t understand the basic psychology that makes BMW’s program so popular.

The same is true for Sigs…Additional swag, ‘insider’ informational e-mails, free satellite radio, and free maintenance (still) wouldn’t make the Sig premium cost-effective…..But (it) would have psychologically given us all the warm and fuzzies…We would have felt like we were getting special treatment that made the excess cost worthwhile.

 

A role in history

In the end, the Signature program has proven to be a good deal for Tesla.

It got the company $40 million cash up front, and assured that the first 1,000 cars out the door would be maxed out with options, bringing in nearly $100,000 each.  (That’s $100 million in badly needed cash.)

2012 Tesla Model S, brief test drive, New York City, July 2012

2012 Tesla Model S, brief test drive, New York City, July 2012

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Tesla clearly could have done a better job making its Signature buyers feel special. But all 1,000-odd available Sig cars have sold out.

At some level, the market proves that the “Sig tax” is perceived as value for money–by at least 1,000 or so people.

“Definitely worth it,” explained one Sig depositor. “I feel I am playing a minor role in history….I am proud to be helping, in a small way, [to] usher in the age of vehicle electrification.”

On a less philosophical note, an envious non-Signature Model S depositor summed it up nicely: “The value is simple: They are getting cars right now. The rest of us are waiting.”

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

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By David Noland

Tesla Model S ‘Get Amped’ Tour: 5,000 Test Drives In Sight

Six 2012 Tesla Model S cars at “Get Amped” introductory drive event [photo: George Parrott]


Six 2012 Tesla Model S cars at "Get Amped" introductory drive event [photo: George Parrott]

Six 2012 Tesla Model S cars at “Get Amped” introductory drive event [photo: George Parrott]

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From Los Angeles to Toronto, from Miami to Seattle, Tesla has been taking a fleet of its new 2012 Model S sedans around the country to offer short test drives to 5,000 current depositors and potential owners.

Those individuals have to be patient as the company slowly ramps up production of the all-electric luxury sport sedan, following delivery of the very first production car in early June.

But the short drives should keep many potential Model S buyers interested in the promise of the electric car with a 265-mile range rating from the EPA.

Fourteen of the planned sixteen cities on the “Getting Amped Tour” have now been completed. The tour started in Fremont, California, at the assembly plant that Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] bought two years ago from Toyota.

Last weekend, the tour returned to Palo Alto, California–the heart of Silicon Valley–before finishing up in Austin (August 15-16) and, finally, Dallas (August 18-19).

Depositors are scheduled in groups of four to six at about half-hour intervals. Each driver may bring up to two guests for the test drive, but every drive has a Tesla chaperone in the front passenger seat. 

The drive itself is limited to about 7 or 8 miles, but is preceded by a brief and well-done group introductory lecture that introduces the emotional experience of electric driving.

Potential buyers can review their color and option choices with better color renditions than on the company internet site.

Tesla even offers refreshments, ice cream, and a play area for children at its venues.

At the recent Palo Alto venue, at least eight early production cars were available for inspection. Two cars were inside the display building for full viewing and inspection, and another six cars made up the ride-and-drive fleet.

Interested depositors were offered the choice of the standard or performance powertrains when they took their test drive. The Tesla chaperones encouraged getting drivers to take advantage of the “full feel” of the car’s torque and power after almost every stop sign. 

It was far too short a real driving experience for a proper assessment, of course, but there is no question that this vehicle has real power off the line, and corners well.

Is the current version of the 2012 Tesla Model S a $100,000 car? 

It still needs some refinement if it wants to be truly feature-competitive with the established players in the luxury performance category.

But there is no other car that offers combination of luxury, performance and environmental consciousness.

George Parrott is an emeritus professor of psychology at California State University in Sacramento. He owns a Nissan Leaf and a Chevrolet Volt that are recharged largely on solar power, and is considering the purchase of a Tesla Model S.

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By george parrott

Tesla Model S Driving On Sunlight: Amateur Video Not So Amateur


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The right car can inspire people.

Whether it’s the poetic beauty of an Italian sports car or the noise of the race track, that inspiration takes many forms.

For some, the all-electric Tesla Model S is their inspiration. The sleek electric sedan has certainly attracted attention far beyond that of most electric vehicles, but it’s the die-hard fans who are most inspired–and this fan-made commercial is proof.

Every second of footage looks professionally produced, as if Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] itself is promoting the car.

Filmed on January 3rd, the one-minute commercial follows the Knapp family, whose road trip using solar-powered Tesla Supercharger stations–hence “Gallons of light”–highlights how such a trip doesn’t need a drop of fossil fuels, in the right kind of car.

Created by Jordan Bloch, who Autoblog Green says has also made videos for Nike, British Airways and Nissan, the ad is perhaps a little saccharine for some.

That shouldn’t detract from what has been achieved on a tight budget though–nor that only 61 seconds of footage is enough to effectively highlight the joys of driving electric–something the carmakers themselves have occasionally struggled to do.

In fact, it leaves us wondering why some adverts have done so little to convey the real benefits of driving an electric car–the silence, the ease of use, and the spirit of the community of like-minded owners.

It’ll make you want to drive the car too–which is what a good advert should do.

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By Antony Ingram

Tesla Model S 60-kWh Version: EPA Range Rated At 208 Miles

2013 Tesla Model S

2013 Tesla Model S

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Without any fanfare, the EPA has released its range rating for the second version of the Tesla Model S to come to market.

The 2013 Tesla Model S fitted with a 60-kilowatt-hour battery pack has a rated range of 208 miles.

That compares to 265 miles for the Model S version with the largest 85-kWh battery pack.

The new 60-kWh Model S has a higher efficiency rating (95 MPGe versus 89 MPGe) and uses slightly less energy to cover 100 miles: 35 kWh versus 38 kWh.

The Miles-Per-Gallon-equivalent (MPGe) rating measures how far a vehicle can travel on the amount of electricity equivalent to the energy content of one gallon of gasoline.

The 85-kWh Tesla Model S received its 265-mile range rating in June.

The new model’s 95-MPGe efficiency rating is close to the 99-MPGe rating of the 2012 Nissan Leaf, an impressive number for a larger, heavier, more capacious, and faster luxury sport sedan.

The differences in the two Model S versions may be attributable to the 60-kWh version’s lighter weight and some differences in standard features.

Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] will begin delivering the 60-kWh Model S versions early next year.

The final and lowest-range version of the Model S, fitted with a 40-kWh lithium-ion battery, will be the last to enter production–by March, Tesla has said.

That version has not yet been rated by the EPA.

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By John Voelcker

Tesla Tunes Up Model S Warranty, Loaner Cars, Service Plan

2013 Tesla Model S before DC-to-Boston road trip, Feb 2013 [photo: Aaron Schildkraut]

2013 Tesla Model S before DC-to-Boston road trip, Feb 2013 [photo: Aaron Schildkraut]

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On Friday, Tesla held a media call to reveal another in the series of announcements touted in tweets by CEO Elon Musk.

This time, the news covered enhancements to the warranty and service experience on its Tesla Model S electric luxury sport sedan.

Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] is now delivering several hundred Model Ses each week and, Musk said, taking feedback from buyers to heart.

Its goal has always been to create “the world’s best service and warranty program” for any car on the market, he said, with the “overriding principle” being, “I want give people peace of mind” to ensure they have “the happiest possible transport experience.”

The revisions to Tesla’s service and warranty policies include three main points.

The $600-per-year service plan is now optional rather than mandatory.

This had been a source of considerable grumbling among Model S owners forced to pay $600 each year for a service plan on a car that, at least in theory, should need only wiper blades and tires replaced.

“We made a slight mistake,” said Musk in a rare admission, “in making the service fee mandatory.”

And, he revealed, unlike current automakers, his charge to the Tesla service department is “never to make a profit” from owners–just to break even.

That varies from today’s conventional model, in which new cars are sold at relatively little profit by dealerships, which makes the bulk of their profits through service work and the sale of used cars.

Musk even quoted what he termed an adage in the car business: “Sales sells the first car, but service sells all the subsequent ones.”

Any battery failure for any reason (within reason) is covered for the warranty term.

The goal here is not to require Model S buyers to read their owner manuals to understand how best to take care of their battery, Musk said.

“Any product that needs an owner’s manual to work is broken,” he said–a much-repeated Silicon Valley belief not always actually taken to heart by designers of consumer products.

And the company specifically included “user error” in its list of things that are now covered.

“This is to address electric-car concerns like, What if my battery dies?” said Musk.

'Revenge of the Electric Car' premiere: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk on red carpet

‘Revenge of the Electric Car’ premiere: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk on red carpet

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“We want to say, don’t worry about the battery, it’s going to be fine.”

Whether that includes leaving the car for long periods without plugging it in was not addressed on the company’s call, but a notorious “bricking” incident with a Tesla Roadster received much coverage a couple of years ago.

Coverage excludes deliberate damage–owners attacking their battery packs with sledgehammers are likely not covered–but it seems a smart move on Tesla’s part.

Loaner cars at Tesla Service Centers will be new top-of-the-line 85-kilowatt-hour Model S Performance versions.

And if owners decide they prefer the driving experience of the loaner to their own Model S, they can buy that car on the spot. Its price will be the new-car price minus 1 percent for each month it’s been in service plus $1 for each mile it’s covered.

Musk said that each service center will have two to 10 such cars, depending on its service volume. The fleet altogether would number about 100 cars.

These loaner cars will also be delivered to whatever destination the Model S owner specifies, by a valet service, and the company will pick up the car to be serviced wherever it’s located.

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By John Voelcker

Tesla Reveals European Pricing For Model S Electric Sedan

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

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Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] has announced European pricing for the Model S, set to go on sale there next year.

Speaking on the Tesla Blog, Tesla vice president George Blankenship revealed that the company is using a transparent approach to European pricing, making no more profit per car than it does in the U.S.

In the Netherlands, where Tesla is basing its European operations, a 60 kWh Model S kicks off at €72,600 ($96,000). 85 kWh models start at €83,150 ($110,000), and the Model S Performance starts at €97,550 ($129,000).

Signature models, arriving in the Spring, cost €101,400 ($134,000), and Signature Performance cars will be €110,950 ($147,000). All prices are before local incentives, and inclusive of purchase tax.

That purchase tax, plus a slight price increase to account for transport costs, import duties and other costs relevant to individual European countries (plus exchange rates) explains the large price difference between European and U.S. pricing. U.S. pricing starts at $67,400 for the 60 kWh model.

Blankenship also confirmed that the 40 kWh model won’t be available in Europe, at least initially–Tesla may choose to sell it in Europe at a later date.

Tesla will also offer deductions of €1,700 ($2,250) to buyers who already hold a Model S reservation in Europe, or plan to do so by the end of December. Buyers will need to finalize their order within four weeks of receiving their “Invitation to Configure” from Tesla.

Model S Signature models will start arriving by late Spring, and non-Signature car deliveries will start in Summer 2013.

Interested parties can head to their relevant European Tesla website.

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By Antony Ingram

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]

Enlarge Photo

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]

Enlarge Photo

(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

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