Published on February 18th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan


1 Thing I’ve Learned From The Tesla–NYTimes Firestorm

February 18th, 2013 by  

This article has been reposted from EVObsession.

We’ve written several articles on the Tesla–NYTimes (or Tesla–John Broder) story. But way beyond the specifics of that actual story, several electric vehicle topics keep coming up in other bloggers’ or reporters’ articles about the story, and in comments on the bottom of all those articles. Unfortunately, perceptions regarding several of these topics are often a bit off. Here’s one of the biggest things I learned from this whole Tesla–NYTimes firestorm:

People Don’t Understand How They Drive

97 percentOne of the only articles I read and actually found useful about the Tesla–NYTimes debacle was one by Martin LaMonica on OnEarth. He pulled out a stat that I think is very important — “Nearly all — 97 percent — of the driving trips that Americans take are less than 50 miles, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.”

Why is this stat so important? Because there’s a great misconception about how much range an electric car needs to have. The test drive on which John Broder was taking the Tesla Model S was a very long test drive, a drive that almost no one makes on a regular basis… if ever. 450 miles is far longer than the 50 or less that we drive 97% of the time.

Now, jumping off of that stat above, look at the range of these pure electric vehicles:

Yep, 11 pure-electric vehicles have a range greater than 97% of our trips. Obviously, this means that, for most of us, pure-electric vehicles have adequate range for our daily, weekly, and even monthly needs. It is not a compromise to go electric.

Yet, many, many commenters, and even reporters and bloggers who supposedly have an “expert” opinion on the matter, don’t realize this.

Yes, some people do take longer trips on a regular basis (but that’s a tiny percentage of our population). Yes, some people like to take long road trips (rather than flying, taking the train, or taking a coach/bus) when they go on vacation. But even for those people, there are extended range (or plug-in hybrid) electric vehicles that will give you the range of an inefficient gasmobile when needed but will run on electricity the majority of the time. Check out these plug-in hybrid electric vehicles:

In summary, there are a ton of electric vehicles one could buy and drive for all of their regular purposes. There are plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that can fit the needs of those who regularly drive longer distances, or who have absurdly long drives to work and nowhere to charge there (but seriously, not many of you have a 25-mile trip to work).

For the rest of us, if you want to take a long trip in a car once a year or so, there are things called rental cars (a lot of people use them for this purpose anyway in order to keep their car in better shape), or you can see if a friend or family member wants to swap cars for a bit and maybe even accept an extra gift for the extra miles you’re going to put on their 4-wheeler.

Common sense? I think so. Unfortunately, it isn’t yet as common as it should be. Help spread the word!

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • Pieter Siegers

    The article that Martin wrote and this one yours makes a very good point, so eventually guys like Broder are just digging their own grave.

    I don’t mind, just let them do what they want and we’ll have a good laugh once in a while.

    And we’ll be laughing even harder when they pay their ever more expensive gasoline bill at ever growing distance because most gas stations will rapidly have become charger stations…! 🙂

    • Agreed. & have the feeling Broder’s piece and the whole controversy around it ended up being a net positive for Tesla.

  • Assuming the person is working 5 days a week 50 weeks a year that’s 250 trips. So using that 97% figure we see the average person makes about 7 trips a year that are likely to need charging away from home or work.

    Now lets talk about the average Southern Californian. We routinely make trips from San Diego to Orange County to Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. It’s insane. A typical family day can rack up hundreds of miles. So much so an EV must have charging stations that should be no more than 20 miles apart. And all charging stations should be clearly marked in the navigation console so you know how far and when these charging times would optimally fit your schedule.

    I’m sure we’ll probably have these charging stations, here in Southern California, every 20 miles or less soon. I’m guessing in the first five years. And they will certainly be needed!

    • Bob_Wallace

      It looks like the I-5 electric highway is up and running. You can drive from Mexico to Canada using fast charging stations every 25 to 50 miles along the way.

      “At the end of 2012, when the combined projects are complete, the West Coast will have the nation’s longest and most robust charging network with thousands of Level 2 charging pedestals and more than 100 DC fast chargers.”

      There are other systems being built. One is along I-95 in the Northeast. There’s another in Texas.

      I’m pretty sure that the nav systems in EVs know where the charging stations are. There are web sites which show thousands of places to charge.

      EVs aren’t yet long distance cars.

      The first Model Ts would not drive up steep hills in forward, you had to back up. And you had to start them with a crank. And they didn’t have windshield wipers, electric lights or roll up windows.

      The first personal computers stored data on cassette tapes and displayed in only black and white.

      Stuff evolves.

      • Thanks for the info. I checked out the three phone apps for pin pointing chargers. There are a lot of charging stations. However when you drill down looking for fast chargers or ones made for Tesla things get bleak. It’s only a matter of time though.

    • Yeah, I realize there are some regions (especially yours) where a ridiculously painful commute is the norm. Clearly, better range and/or more (and faster) charging stations will be key, or simply greater market penetration of extended PHEVs.

      • In one or two of the Tesla videos I’ve seen garages where the cars drive in and the battery packs are exchanged. Musk has mentioned these stations do it in less than 60 seconds. (Or some awesomely short period of time but I’m pretty sure it was 60 seconds.) Please keep your eyes out for more information on this. Somehow or other it will become an option soon.

        • That’s Better Place. (Unless you’re talking about such stations for Tesla owners.)

        • Bob_Wallace

          Better Place can do an automated swap in about five minutes. It’s a ‘pull through’ process. No need to exit the car.

          If batteries can’t get much better (I believe they will get a lot better) then swapping could be a way to make EVs into long distance vehicles.

          Design them to hold an extra battery pack. When you get to the highway rent a battery. Drive it until you need another and pull in for a quick swap.

          100 miles and pause, 100 miles and pause, etc. It might add a half hour to a full day of driving.

          Not ideal, but if you were taking one of these trips 3-4 times a year and saving a bundle the rest of the time….

    • Bob_Wallace

      ” A typical family day can rack up hundreds of miles.”

      A little over the top?

      These days it’s hard to drive a lot of miles per day on SoCal highways. Easy to spend a lot of time getting almost nowhere….

  • Otis hits the nail on the head. I’m a hybrid driver and have looked into the Volt and the Leaf, so I’m by no means predisposed to be anti-EV. But the issue is “range” in a broader sense than “how many miles can I go on a charge?” It’s also “what will happen when I’m running low on charge?” With ICE vehicles, there’s usually a gas station nearby where it takes five minutes to a full tank. With an EV, the there may very well not be a charging station within range and, if there is, a “quick charge” may be a half-hour.

    • Yep, good points. I think this is why the Volt has ended up selling much better than the Leaf. But, surely, it’s a combination of factors, with this just being one.

  • sean

    now all we need is the price to come down to something reasonable without subsidies.

    Watch this space when governments realise that they are going to loose fuel tax.

    • prices are coming down considerably:

      but yes, the second issue is a bigger one. there’s already a transportation funding crisis.

      • Otis11

        Yeah, unfortunately many people simply do not know how little they actually drive in a given day, and until the charging system is built out, those with medium-to-long commutes are in an awkward position… but hopefully that won’t last long.

        That’s the other great reason for PHEVs – people get then, and then realize just how little they actually use the gasoline engine. Hopefully they’ll remember that when they trade it in for something new.

        Btw – Transportation funding crisis. I’ll have something on that in a bit.

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