Cars Tesla Supercharger network test by Consumer Reports

Published on August 6th, 2013 | by Tina Casey


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

August 6th, 2013 by  

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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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • MorinMoss

    The article mentions a “5-min quick charge” but I think Elon was referring to the recently demoed battery swap.
    If my math is right, you need a 576 kW charger for an 5-min, 80% charge for a 60 kWh battery ( from near-empty ). If you have an 85 kWh battery, then the charger has to output 816 kW.

  • Soccerslider

    I have traditional ICE cars and an EV in my house. The EV is the family’s “goto” car for errands and day trips. I wouldn’t give up all my ICE cars because sometimes I want to go cross country where charging an EV would just be too difficult. If my family only had one car, I’d want an ICE for the added flexibility, even though it is going to cost a lot more per mile than an EV. With an EV and an ICE, I get the best of both.

    • Bob_Wallace

      That makes sense considering today’s range limited EVs and lack of sufficient rapid charging stations. But EVs will evolve and more chargers will be installed.

      Back when people started driving cars one still needed horses to pull hay wagons.

      • Bibbler


    • CaptD

      I believe that most 2 car families that do not have two commuters, will soon only have one EV and then simply rent an ICE vehicle when they want to go on a road trip, either that or plan their trip around taking rented battery packs. The insurance and deprecation savings alone would pay for a large number of rentals, so the family might even come out way ahead! Many homeowners with large PV installations might even opt for a larger number of battery packs to help store the energy they produce which also could then be used as needed for increasing their driving range. Having 12VDC storage batteries would make using all the marine and RV appliances a no-brainer; expect to see both 110AV and 12DC circuitry in new and or remodeled homes to take advantage of as much solar supplied energy as possible!

  • Marion Meads

    Many things in life, especially the interesting ones, are unplanned and unscheduled, and we call it freedom. Tesla forces you to plan your trips if it is more than 50% of the battery range, to give you wiggle room without range anxiety. I would feel like a prisoner bounded to a short chain and can’t do much for unplanned events of the day, practically a slave of my route and schedule.

    • Dave Brave

      If we are talking about being a prisoner bounded on a short chain, how about the chain of an addiction to foreign oil. Or being a prisoner to polluted air to breath.

      I’d much rather take 10 minutes to plan my trip in an Tesla then spend the amount of time, money and effort we as a nation spend on dealing with the shortfalls of gasoline dependency.

      • Marion Meads

        Then an unexpected call for a great deal happened… And you can’t make it on time for lack of range.

        • CaptD


          Use PayPal and the internet and save the trip…

    • ericpruss

      No one is breaking down your door and shoving the keys to a Model S in your hand, lady. The point of the article is that RIGHT now, with only 16 Superchargers currently deployed across the country (there were only 5 about a month ago) means that for the time being, for longer trips at least, you have to use your brain. You do indeed have many other choices in cars out there.

      • Marion Meads

        Then an unexpected call for a potential great deal… And you can’t make it on time for lack of range, regardless of planning.

        • ericpruss

          As I said, there are many other choices in cars available. Tesla has one model. Most of the other have a dozen or more. If it helps, here is a list of some brands to get you started: GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda. If you need a longer list, let me know.

    • Bibbler

      Obviously we wouldn’t want you to be “forced” into a life of slavery or have Elon Musk take away your “freedom” by subjecting you to the Tesla Model S.

      Please (for your own health) avoid all EV’s at all costs and beware of the evil Mr. Musk and his products which threatens your personal health and freedom”..

      • Marion Meads

        FYI, I support EV, I am just pointing out its limitations, and I know the truth hurts, a lot. So I can understand the reaction.

        • Bibbler

          You’re not pointing out limitations, you’re creating them by spewing nutty scenarios and trying to make them fit into your personal belief that the Model S is impractical.

          Bottom line is

          a. the vehicle is just fine as is for 95% of the population’s needs, the majority getting along just fine with charging at home.

          b. the supercharger network is expanding everyday creating more and more direct routes to distant locations. This is happening rapidly, and everyday your concern with “range anxiety” becomes more and more moot.

          c. Battery swapping will be a reality in just a few months.

          And lastly, if you just can’t find a way to get to some remote location (that you’ve created in your head) and that you absolutely have to get to – – – – – – –

          take your other car with it’s ICE on this mythical trip into the abyss.

      • ericpruss


    • Marion Meads

      Excellent responses folks, it shows the fanatical sides of things rather than practicality. It shows limited thinking and lack of creativity, being blind to just EV as the only solution.

      The point that I am driving at is that the pure EV’s even those of Tesla are still not the answer to free us from oil addiction.

      There are excellent technologies out there right now such as the GM-Volt where it encourages you to max out EV miles without any range anxiety, and without any constraints. And with the way the current owners of more than 30,000 GM-Volts, they are utilizing more than 75% of their total mileage in pure wall-powered EV. The remaining 25% is far less than the amount of foreign oil that we import, which means that there is no foreign oil addiction for us anymore if we use this technology. No range anxiety, and no foreign oil. In fact, it can be projected that we an use carbon neutral biofuel to supply the occasional long trips.

      For now, while the current infrastructure of super chargers are not as ubiquitous as gas stations, while ordinary household sockets are ubiquitous, lugging around a heavy battery pack is not that efficient either. There is a perfect balance between the battery range and a flex fuel range extender. Better yet, the flex fuel range extender should be easily detachable and easily attached when needed.

      Pure EV’s would still not give you enough freedom to go anywhere there is a road from point A to point B. You have to face it, and that is the undeniable truth.

      • ericpruss

        “Pure EV’s would still not give you enough freedom to go anywhere there is a road from point A to point B. You have to face it, and that is the undeniable truth.”

        Your “freedom” is not in any way restricted by ANY of today’s EVs, despite their limited range and limited potential to recharge on the fly. My point is you have other options. Go exercise your “freedom” with one of the hundreds of other models of cars available. No one is stopping you from exercising your much vaunted “freedom,” lady. I could dare say that no one here nor much likely anywhere else gives a flying rats turd what you do, so long as you don’t troll about with trumped up, made up scenarios to elicit your clear distaste for EVs in 2013. So, you don’t like them. Fine. We all get that. Go away then. It’s okay. No one minds if you prefer a gasmobile. Have fun at it and enjoy the high cost of the fuel. It’s your money. Spend it wherever you want.

        As the article above is about the East Coast portion of the Tesla Supercharging network, at this time (early August 2013), if you want to get about in THAT portion of the country, SPECIFICALLY in a Tesla Model S, AND go beyond the range of the Tesla’s battery pack, you must USE YOUR BRAIN and plan accordingly. That’s all the article is really saying. it is NOT in ANY way, saying you can get in the Model S – TODAY, in August 2013, in say, Albany, and drive your ass to San Diego.

        No, right now, that is not possible. By next Spring it will be, however, but AT THAT TIME, it will require you you to take a fairly specific route and thus PLAN ACCORDINGLY.

        However, if you bought a Tesla Model S and wanted freedom to go ANYWHERE in the US and 98% of the populated bits of Canada, you will have to wait until the end of 2015, according to Tesla’s Supercharger deployment plan, which they are, so far, right on track with.

        But, just for giggles. Can YOU even afford a $70,000+ car? Honestly, I can’t. So, the Tesla Model S is not an option for me. However, Tesla has a car in the mid $35k price range on their roadmap for the 2018 model year. $35 is affordable and right at the time I would likely be in the market for a new car.

        I follow Tesla news to see that plans are progressing according to plan. I follow EV news in general to see how the progress is with them. Right now, anyone who is buying an EV KNOWS FULL WELL they are buying a car in the early adopter phase and thus limits are currently applicable. That’s life. Most people who own an EV today can afford them as a second, third, sometimes as a fourth car in their stable. It’s an investment in the technology and the future.

        If you or anyone else doesn’t want to take that leap at this point in time, then don’t. It’s okay, EVs are selling better than Hybrids were at this same exact stage of deployment and Hybrids are widely available today. Arguably the best Hybrid available over all, a plug-in no less, is marketed (I strongly consider it wrongly so) as an EV – The Chevy Volt. It’s price just dropped $5,000, putting it at $35k. This new pricing is showing GMs commitment to the car – This despite their supposed losing money on each on as they clearly over-engineered the bugger and are relying on far too expensive custom batteries, but that’s not your concern. It’s GMs and they clearly are not too concerned as it is in no way a CARB compliance car and sales are doing quite well, and sure to increase with the new lower price.

        Really, it sounds like the Volt is the perfect “EV” answer for idiots who can’t find the positive in progress that just hasen’t met their needs yet or perhaps threatens their stock in big oil or just likes to be the negative nanny and finds the need to spin up some trumped up, moronic scenarios to make their stupid point.

        However, as Leaf’s are selling just as well (some months better than the Volt), it seems pretty clear that plenty of people are happily accepting of the limitations you profess. Their “freedom” is in no way limited. They can buy (or might already have) another car to go longer distances. They can hire a car to go longer distances too. Perhaps they just don’t want to drive long distances. Perhaps they would rather fly (I don’t endorse that, but it’s their choice and I am not trying to limit their freedom.

        Me, personally, I would even opt for America’s truly pathetic and antiquated national rail system and take Amtrak for longer trips so I can sit by a window and look outside instead of at hundreds of miles of pavement!

        See, lady, your “freedom” is in no way limited. You have plenty of choices. If the Tesla Model S does not meet you needs, Elon Musk is not sending over goons to twist your arm and drag you to the Tesla store and forcing you to buy one. You can buy a Chevy Volt. You can buy a Prius. You can buy a Ford C-Max. You can buy a Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. You can buy a beat up 1952 Chevy, for all anyone likely actually cars what YOU choose to drive.

        Go exercise your freedom and leave us to enjoy watching the future unfold.

        • ericpruss

          By the way, Volt owners – I was in NO way trying to call you idiots. If you got that impression I SINCERELY apologize TO YOU – I was calling Marion an idiot, because she is a whingy troll who clearly has a chip on her shoulder regarding EVs and trying to show that HER “freedom” is not limited if she chooses an “EV” (which is not an EV really) in the Chevy Volt, just as tens of thousands of happy Volt owners have.

          Again, Volt owners, if I accidentally insulted you, PLEASE accept my apologies and if you see some guy with hair down to his ass and a silvery beard tipping his hat to you in your Volt one day, know that may be me and that I am in my own way, saluting you for doing your part to help wean the world off the tit of big oil!

      • nick

        I’m sure you wouldn’t have given up your horse either as there was always some grass or animal feed to ‘fill er up’ at the turn of the century too when traveling.

        Rent a car for those trips or get a volt and stop whining if you like evs- for majority of people the current evs work (which will improve thanks to tesla’s push). You must not be employed since you apparently take so many of these long distance non planned trips, must be nice

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