What If I Drove to Montana in a Tesla

A top of the line Tesla Model S can, in theory, take you 335 miles on a single charge. In reality, you’ll probably be recharging twice that often, maybe more.

I’m as keen a convert to electric cars as anyone could ever be, when it comes to driving them locally around town, in situations where each day you’ll never exceed their built-in range limit.  What could be easier than simply plugging the car into an at-home charger each evening when you get home, and unplugging/driving off again the next morning.

With battery-electric cars now commonly exceeding 100 miles of ‘real’ range between charges, the Nissan Leaf offering 150 miles, the Chevy Bolt offering 240 miles, and high-end Tesla Model S cars going up to 335 miles (albeit at costs rapidly breaking through $100,000), clearly 99.9% of the time, while simply doing ‘normal’ daily driving, we’re never going to give a second thought to running out of charge during the day, and will never have to squeeze in a visit to a public charge facility.

This is the happy reality that most electric car owners enjoy.

Electric Cars Are Great Around Town, but What About on Longer Journeys?

But what about going on a road-trip, where you’re traveling a distance that is further than a full charge (or even further than two full charges)?

Tesla boast of their supercharger network, which they point out will add 50% to a car’s charge in 20 minutes.  That might seem slow rather than fast, but they say is more convenient than it seems, because you can productively use those 20 minutes, not just sit in the car waiting impatiently.  They suggest you go and grab a bite to eat, use the restroom, etc, while the car is charging.

There’s an element of truth in that, but also an element of obfuscation.

I compared the reality of my recent road trip between Seattle and Central Montana with what Tesla itself says would be the experience using one of their cars and their supercharger network.

This journey was about 760 miles each way, requiring me to stop for petrol twice in my gas-guzzling Landrover, which averaged 17 mpg, and with a 21 gallon tank, has about a 360 mile range.  To be specific, my first stop was at a gas station with a McDonalds attached, and I grabbed a couple of burgers and used the restroom (too much information?), meaning that the total time from when I pulled off the freeway to when I re-entered it was 19 minutes.  That sounds sort of like a 20 minute Tesla top-up, doesn’t it (but wait for further analysis on that).

The second time was a stop for gas and bathroom only, no food.  It took 9 minutes from leaving to rejoining the freeway.  So, in total, two breaks and 28 minutes added to the journey time, inclusive of everything. The actual time spent pumping petrol each time was about three minutes, the rest was getting on and off the freeway, getting my credit card authorized, and going inside to do things and buy things.

Even if the Landrover used less gas, or had a bigger tank, the ability to stop, stretch, and attend to basic bodily needs on what totaled almost 11 hours from start to stop, would have still been present and a limiting factor.  So, a bit like Tesla’s claim that stops will take about 20 minutes, no matter how long you actually spend filling the tank, I was averaging 14 minutes a stop.  That sounds perfectly fine – 14 minute stops by regular car, compared to 20 minute stops in a fancy Tesla.

Unsurprisingly, it was the same for me both ways, and indeed, I even stopped at one of the same places both ways.

Now for the Tesla and their 20 minute claim.  Sure, it has a 335 mile range if you do what they gently suggest you don’t normally do and fully charge rather than only charge up to about 90%.  And sure, you can dump a 50% charge into an ’empty’ Tesla in potentially 20 minutes.

But now for the fine print.

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