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Consumer Reports Gets The Goods On Tesla Model S And East Coast Supercharger Network

Consumer Reports’ Eric Evarts took the Tesla Model S electric vehicle out on a long-distance spin along the East Coast Supercharger network last week, and the verdict is in: “the Tesla Model S is unlike other electric cars.” As for what that means, exactly, if you’ve been following the buzz over this high end EV the first thing that comes to mind is performance on the road. However, as Evarts reveals, the car’s extra-long battery range and free access to a quick charge are also key elements in the driving experience, and to get the most out of those you have to be a savvy driver.

Short Distance Vs Long-Distance EV Driving

We’ve been noting for some time now that the number of conventional public EV charging stations in the US has been skyrocketing, and the result is that driving a vehicle with a short battery range has become a no-brainer.

For example, a recent data survey by Ford of its PHEV (plug-in hybrid EV) owners showed that as a group, the drivers quickly learned how to use more miles in EV mode, indicating that they found it easy plan their routes around battery range and charging availability.

Because the Supercharger network currently has a limited number of stations, planning a long trip in a Tesla Model S involves a much more complicated learning curve, even though the car’s battery has a far larger capacity than typical EVs (or PHEVs, for that matter).

The Consumer Reports road test added another layer of complexity, because Evarts had set an arrival deadline of 2:00 p.m. in Washington, D.C. That meant that he had to factor in charging time in addition to charging station availability.

Trip Planning On The Supercharger Network

The key takeaway from this road test is that long distance EV driving requires drivers to be more aware of their habits and preferences, in addition to being aware of the car’s battery range, so let’s take a look at how Evarts factored that in.

For this trip, from a starting point north of New York City, the distance was  about 285 miles to Washington, the Tesla Model S used in the test was showing a range of 235 miles, and a Supercharger station was available in Delaware, 192 miles away.

That seemed to leave plenty of range to get to the Delaware station. However, due to his prior EV experience on short hauls, Evarts felt that the 192-mile trip did not leave enough wiggle room to avoid range anxiety. Let’s not jump to conclusions about his driving habits, but when Evarts says stuff like “keeping up with traffic” while driving through New Jersey then you know the battery is going to drain faster than it would on cruise control.

Evarts also took marked highway speeds, hilly terrain and running the air conditioner into account, to arrive at an extra 20 percent of battery range needed for the trip, which would put it at the equivalent of 230 miles.

Rather than take a chance on the five-mile window, Evarts took a somewhat inconvenient detour to use a Supercharger much closer to his starting point. He topped off the charge while getting 23 miles closer to the Delaware Supercharger, which left him with plenty of leeway. The result was an uneventful trip and no range anxiety.

A different driver with different habits might have planned the trip another way, but at the very least Evarts demonstrated that the East Coast Supercharger network is more than ready for a thoughtful driver.

For a look at what happens when a less thoughtful driver tests the same Supercharger network, you can refer to the notorious New York Times review of the Tesla Model S last winter, in which the reporter’s lack of preparation for a long trip ended, predictably, with a call for roadside assistance.

Earlier this summer, Tesla Motor Company CEO Elon Musk announced that the Supercharger network would expand across the US and Canada by 2014, and the company also envisions a five-minute quick charge in the foreseeable future, so who knows, in a few years Model S drivers probably won’t even need to think all that hard.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.


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