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Published on March 28th, 2016 | by Kyle Field


Charging In Public: Tesla vs Other EVs

March 28th, 2016 by  

Electric vehicles (EVs) are still a relatively new technology on roads around the world, but the gears are shifting extremely quickly. For those in the industry with a finger on the pulse of the EV market, it is beyond obvious that the momentum is building. The adoption and growth of EVs are being driven by several key trends that are reaching critical mass:

  1. EVs are zero-emission vehicles which comprise a huge piece of the plan to combat human-caused climate change (driving on sunshine, zero emissions).
  2. EVs provide a superior driving experience.
  3. EVs are safer than gasmobiles hands down. While this doesn’t apply to all EVs on the road today, the Tesla Model S and X prove upgrading to an electric drivetrain enables a step-change improvement in safety design.
  4. EVs further enable autonomous driving, which promises to bring even more improvements in passenger safety.
  5. EVs are cheaper to own and operate than similar vehicles.
  6. They are quiet! Driving becomes less stressful and an overall more enjoyable experience.
  7. In addition, there are quite a few other hidden benefits of EVs…

With the increase in adoption of EVs, one key piece of the support infrastructure that is being built out to support them is the public charging network. One key subset of public charging that is required to enable long-distance EV roadtrips is “superfast charging” — also known as Level 4 charging. I’m defining this as charging rates of 150 kW or greater per the following:

  1. Level 1 — Home charging @ 110v delivering ~1.1 kw speeds.
  2. Level 2 — Typical Level 2 chargers utilize the J1772 or Mennekes adapters for public and private chargers delivering up to 7.2 kw speeds, with most being 6.6 kw.
  3. Level 3 — Also known as “DC fast charging,” these CHAdeMO or SAE Combo chargers deliver charging speeds up to 50 kW in 30 minute sessions and have been designed to fill up current-gen EVs capable of “fast charging” in a relatively short amount of time.
  4. Level 4 — This new charging tier is defined by the Tesla Superchargers which offer consistent speeds up to 135 kW today with a near-term goal of 150 kW speeds.

With all of these charging speeds, connectors, and locations, how do the different formats compare? Having cut my teeth with EVs on a Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive, it was very clearly handicapped when utilized for long-distance driving… basically, anything over 70 miles. My wife’s family lives just under the maximum range of our B-Class from our house, so we really put the range to the test.


Our B-Class Electric Drive Taking Advantage of Free Charging in Ojai, CA

It’s not just getting there… but charging at the destination, trying to go out to dinner when we get there, going on a hike the next day… things just get complicated quickly. We live in Southern California, which by most maps, sports dense coverage of public EV chargers. The flip side of that is that we are also home to 40+% of the country’s EVs.

With Level 2 charging speeds requiring 4–5 hours to refill the 40 kWh battery of the B-Class, we quickly became constrained with where we travelled, when we were able to go out, which destinations we could hit, and the like. This resulted in most of our out-of-town trips (which we take once or twice each month) happening in our Toyota Prius. It was a great car but still burned gas, which I took issue with.

Stepping up our game, I boldly went where not many dare to go — trading in the Prius for a second range-limited EV – the Nissan Leaf… but this time, made sure that our second EV supported fast charging. My thinking was that the addition of Level 3 “fast charging” would allow us sufficient flexibility to get down to the city, drop in for a quick fast charge, and have enough juice to get around.

The reality was, unfortunately, not as glamorous as the visions I had dancing around in my head. We were able to get to where we wanted to go, fast charge, and get around town, but the sprinkling of DC fast chargers — with most being located at Nissan dealerships — made for the same frustration when looking for chargers. Nissan frequently ICEs fast-charging spots — as defined by the spot being blocked by an internal combustion vehicle. Other dealerships have fast-charging spots that are only accessible during business hours. And the story goes on….

While the DC fast charging network continues to grow, the Leaf simply didn’t meet our needs as our primary vehicle, specifically when being used for long-distance trips. Adding insult to injury, most DC fast charging stations bill $10 per session, which is more expensive per mile for fuel than the Prius was.


Nissan Leaf (not mine) Fast Charging for Free in Oxnard, CA

Which brings me to the current chapter of my public charging experience — the Tesla Model S. After making basically a straight trade from the Prius to the Leaf, upgrading to the Tesla was not a popular decision in my household, but the promise of true long-range capability, a robust, free “Supercharging” network rolled up in a much more spacious luxury vehicle.

After a few months of ownership and quite a few trips down to the city, does the promise of the Model S pan out? Is the blue-sky promise of Tesla in sync with the reality of ownership? The answer is, hands down, YES. We typically supercharge the night before or the day of travel just to top off the battery and head down to the city without having to worry about how much charge we have. I have confirmed that the navigation constantly monitors my battery state, destination, altitude, and distance, and accurately guides me either to my destination or the supercharger that I need to stop at.

Most trips, we don’t even need to charge en route. On top of this, we can take advantage of conventional Level 2 charging to get a little extra juice if it’s convenient, free, or needed. The Tesla has truly transformed our primary car EV experience from one where we were indeed nervous about range, distance, getting a charging spot, or making it to our destination into an experience of calm, relaxing, tech-enabled driving.

My only gripe with the car… at all… is the price. I’m cheap, I admit it… and the Model S was a stretch for our budget, but one I’m glad we made. It single-handedly enabled our transition to a completely gasoline-free family and, for that, I’m thankful. It took the stress of driving an EV to the city and made it beautiful.

For these reasons, I’m absolutely thrilled about the Model 3… every piece of it, because with the Model 3 comes the promise of the Tesla experience that I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy for hundreds of thousands of additional drivers each year, and for half the price. Yes, I’m concerned about congestion at Supercharging stations, but that’s a relatively small hurdle can be jumped when we get there.


A Handful of Teslas Enjoying a Sunny SoCal Supercharging Session

All Images credit Kyle Field

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About the Author

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. TSLA investor. Tesla referral link: http://ts.la/kyle623

  • Quote : “Tesla Superchargers which offer consistent speeds up to 135 kW today”

    The current maximums I have read about or seen are superchargers that can provide 135kW split over two cars, or maximum 120kW to a single car. That 120kW is the maximum a single Tesla can consume, and only when the battery is at less than half charged capacity, beyond that it tapers down to 90kW and then slowly dropping to 40kW as you get up near the top of the battery capacity.

  • Kyle, thank you for being an EV family, leading by example, and chronicling your experiences in CT. I appreciate your efforts, and stories.

  • dperreno

    I take issue with points #3 and #5 at the beginning of your article.
    For #3, you reference one EV, the Tesla model S, which is a $70k – $100k+ vehicle to buy and we don’t even know how much it actually costs to build, just that Tesla has thus far failed to turn a profit. My point being, you can make any car really, really safe if you throw enough money at it, so I think that generalizing Tesla’s safety performance to all EVs is not a fair or reasonable assumption at this time – the jury is still out.
    For #5, the cost side of the ownership equation, I would take issue with that as well.
    – Looking at EVs vs. equivalent sized/powered IC engine vehicle, the EV will always cost more to purchase due to the cost of the battery pack. If you were to add equivalent range to that comparison, then you would find that there are exactly zero EVs that offer an equivalent range. The Tesla is closest with approximately 75% of the range on a nice day (only 50% if it is at or below freezing).
    – Depreciation: EVs have lousey resale values, no doubt partially driven by low gas prices. Nonetheless, high depreciation increases the cost of ownership.
    – Operating cost (cost of gas vs. cost of electricity) seem to be about the same when gas prices are below $2.00/gallon, which they have been for the past 6 months or so in most of the country. As gas prices rise, and assuming electric rates remain the same, then the EV will cost less per mile for fuel.
    – Maintenance costs: I would agree with you that the EV powertrain is much less complex than an internal combustion engine and automatic transmission, and should be more reliable and require less maintenance, so a win for the EV.
    Taken in total, it’s unlikely that the reduced cost of maintenance currently outweighs the higher initial cost and depreciation of owning an EV. As costs come down, gas prices rise, and market acceptance improves, the cost equation will likely flip, but we aren’t there yet.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Tesla makes a profit on the cars it builds. Tesla has one of the highest gross profit margins of any car company, over 20%. I think only Porsche has a higher GPM.

      We know how much it costs Tesla to build their cars. It’s in their public financial statements.

      Tesla, the company, has not yet shown a profit. Like any other rapidly growing company Tesla is spending money to grow. That’s how business works.

      EVs will not always cost more than ICEVs. Battery prices are falling rapidly, so rapidly that we expect purchase price parity (EVs cost the same-model ICEVs) around 2020. EVs should continue to drop in price and end up cheaper to purchase than gasmobiles.

      There’s no need for more than 200 to 250 mile range for almost all drivers. With a 200 mile range and access to rapid chargers you can make an all day (500 mile) drive and arrive shortly after someone driving a gasmobile. And with a lot more money in your pocket.

      EVs have poor resale value now. That is unlikely to be the case once more people understand the low cost of driving an EV.

      Gas will not stay cheap.

      • dperreno

        Do not confuse gross margin with profit, they are not the same. Variable Margin is revenue less cost of materials, labor, and overhead. Profit takes into account all of the investment, both the capital investment (machinery, tools, etc.) and the research, engineering, design, and testing required to produce those vehicles. Tesla does not make a fully accounted profit on their cars, at least not yet. And they will not have until their cumulative profits and losses turn positive. So I stand by my statement.

        As to your other points, all valid, but irrelevant to what the author wrote. The author stated “EVs are cheaper to own and operate than similar vehicles.” Not “EVs are (sometime in the future) going to be cheaper to own and operate than somewhat similar vehicles. I took exception to his blanket assertion, which not true at present. Range anxiety is very real and will remain an obstacle until charging facilities become as common as gas stations and recharging times approach refueling times. Once those two criteria are met, then I agree that most people would probably be ok with a 200-300 mile range. But that is still less than what they have now.

        BTW, I own a PHEV (Ford Fusion Energi) and I am a big fan of EVs and the technology, I have an MSME and an MBA and I work for Ford in Product Development Finance, so I know how to read a 10K and how to evaluate automotive vehicle line profits and cost of ownership. I also understand technology.

        I just think the author went too far with a couple of his statements.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I fully understand the difference between GPM and overall company profit. I spelled that out for you in my comment.

          R&D, tooling, etc. are not part of GPM for any car company. GPM is the cost that went into producing the car.

          Much of Tesla’s R&D is not model specific. A good deal goes into the Gigafactory which has nothing to do with manufacturing the Models S and X.

          You might wish to read a more detailed analysis of Tesla’s profits from the cars it manufacturers.


          “EVs are cheaper to own and operate than similar vehicles.”

          That statement is correct. Take any EV and a similar model ICEV and do a lifetime costs analysis. Or use Edmunds cost of ownership app.


          You might wish to check with Tesla owners. I’ve never heard of any Tesla owners experiencing range anxiety.

          A low range EV in an area with no fast charge options? Sure. And I had extreme range anxiety when I discovered that there are no gas stations between Salt Lake City and Wendover, Nevada well after I had passed the last SLC gas station.

          There is no reason for charge times to reach that of filling times. Over 90% of all charging takes place when EVs are parked.

          On a long trip (500 miles) an EV driver will need to charge for 30 minutes two times if driving a Tesla. Someone driving an ICEV will need to refill (10 minutes), eat a meal (30 minutes), stop for a pee break (10 minutes.

          One hour vs. 50 minutes. The Tesla driver will spend about $75 less for charging/fuel.

          The ICEV driver will spend 10 to 12 hours a year filling their gas tank.

        • I considered the Ford products when looking or an EV 3 years ago and was completely underwhelmed. Went with a Smart ED and eventually last year a Tesla. Ford lost my business for being slow to market with no innovation. Outsourcing your Focus EV drivetrain to Magna was a fail in my book. You may wish Tesla isn’t taking the air out of the room you breath in, but this statement makes me LAUGH OUT LOUD!!

          Quote :”you can make any car really, really safe if you throw enough money at it”

          FFS, Ford has thrown billions of $ down the toilet on stupid products and is basically propped up by sales of the F150 and a few others. Ford employees should ask more of their company, and they should be able to compete with Tesla, but they aren’t and that is sad.

          Enjoy driving a Ford with half a trunk (other half has a battery in it) that accelerates slower than my Smart ED from a stop light in the city (0-50km/h) and still burns gas 90% of the time. That doesn’t match the statement ” big fan of EVs “…

          • Farfolomew

            Easy now, the Ford Hybrids are almost as good as Toyota’s, and they’re reviewed better usually as well. Next to Toyota’s, aren’t they the second most popular hybrids out there? That said, Ford hasn’t really done much of anything with them since 2012 when they released new C-MAXs and Fusions. And the Focus EV is a joke to be sure.

  • BradMueller

    Out of necessity more electric generating facilities will need to be built,(Gas coal, nuclear, dams, wind, solar). Until then the price of electricity will go up.

    • Carl Raymond S

      Why build polluting plants when the clean options of solar and wind are cheaper?
      The great thing about big battery cars is that they don’t care what time of day they are charged.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Wind is already lowering the cost of electricity in Texas. Once solar is present in larger amounts will also lower electricity cost as it does in Germany.

      We are very unlikely to build any more coal plants. We seem to have stopped.

      Nuclear would increase the cost of electricity.

      • BradMueller

        Wind is inefficient and costly in it’s own right once subsidies are omitted. Nuclear may be expensive now, but the cost comes down with quatity. Nuclear doean’t have to be stored when the sun doeasn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.

        • Bob_Wallace


          Yes, larger plants are generally less expensive per MWh but that still does not make nuclear affordable.

          New nuclear in western Europe and the US runs from 13c/kWh (Vogtle) to 15c/kWh (Hinkley Point) to 19c/kWh (North Anna).

          Nuclear has to be stored when demand drops. That’s why the US, Japan and other countries build a lot of pump-up hydro storage during the period when they were building reactors.

          Let’s play a little money game. Let’s look at the cost of an all wind/solar grid vs. the cost of nuclear.

          40% wind (4c/kWh) + 40% solar (6c/kWh) + 20% stored wind/solar (5c + 16c for storage) = 8.3c/kWh.

          Nuclear is about twice the cost of a wind/solar/storage grid. Actually, even more. 15c does not include the storage to time-shift late night nuclear to high demand time and it does not include the cost of backup generation for nuclear when the plant is offline.

          Oh, all those nuclear prices are subsidized. The wind and solar prices I gave are without subsidies.

          • neroden

            In addition to the *government-guaranteed electricity price* which is so high (the government promises to subsidize it if the wholesale price is lower than that — which it is already), Hinkley Point C is being giving large cash subsidies… *and* despite all these wads of cash, the attempt to construct it is widely expected to drive EDF bankrupt *anyway*.

        • Epicurus

          Where do you get your information?

          It’s hopeless arguing with Bob. He has all the numbers. For real.

          • Bob_Wallace

            No, do argue with Bob. Bring facts. Someone else’s facts may be better than the info I have and I do not hesitate to update my files and opinions.

            If we’re arguing then we both might be a bit right and a bit wrong. Hopefully we’re both open minded enough to walk away with evolved opinions because we’ve taken on the facts presented.

    • eveee

      Not really. Power plants are underutilized at night, demand often being half of the daytime peak. Studies have shown that a large part of the US car fleet cold be replaced by EVs without ever building any new power plants.

      • Bob_Wallace

        “The existing electricity infrastructure as a national resource has sufficient available capacity to fuel 84% of the nation’s cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs (198 million) or 73% of the light duty fleet (about 217 million vehicles) for a daily drive of 33 miles on average.”


        • Epicurus

          Bob, the breadth of your knowledge is truly impressive.

          How do you keep it all at your fingertips?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Google Drive.

            If I research a question then I’ll usually make a Goo Document or Sheet and paste in what I’ve found. If I stumble across something interesting I’ll add it to the page.

            For commonly asked questions I’ll write a “Copy and Paste” answer section on the page.

            I also save images. I have a folder arrangement on Google Drive that starts with “Energy” and then breaks down into a system of folders where I store pictures. There is, for example a folder called “Country Specific” in which there are folders for several countries (US, UK, Germany, Spain, …) and in those folders I will have other folders (wind, solar, etc.). It’s fairly easy to find what I’m after.

            My memory is not that great. But I work around my shortcomings by only having to know where to look for what I have already looked up.

          • Epicurus

            Thanks. I need to do that.

  • Andy

    I live in the UK, and have recently bought a Peugeot Ion, which is a relatively small EV, though it has good head and leg room to accommodate my 6’2″. I use a 2.4 KW charger at home, which is more than adequate for all my local driving, and I just plug in the car when ever I park at home. For longer distances, we are very fortunate, in the UK, that Ecotricity, a social enterprise, providing 100% renewable home energy supplies, and investing 65% of its income in creating new renewable energy resources, provides a network of fast chargers on the motorways, (like interstate highways in the US), so, I can go to most places I want to go, provided I plan out all the charging stops beforehand. It is nice to know I am driving on 100% renewable energy too. There is another social enterprise, Zero-net, from another renewable energy provider, which will supply any business having car parking, with a free level-2 Menenkes charger, where Menenkes is now the EU standard for public EV chargers in Europe. These provide a welcome top-up charge at the destinations, if home charging is not available. It is also great to have a standard, as just carrying one lead with one standard Menenkes connector that fits every charger makes life simple.

    I would like a Tesla, but could not consider meeting the cost, and even a Nissan Leaf was more expensive than I would like. The Leaf is undoubtedly better than the Ion, but it won on price. One thing that will definitely accelerate EV take-up is that there is now a used-car market. Many people, like myself, who wanted, but could not afford, a new EV, can now easily buy a used one. I think the time will come soon, when people will have difficulty selling their old ICE cars.

  • CMCNestT .

    Cheap but bought Prius,B Class, and LEAF. And endured their depreciation,or their capital cost down payments for the lease.

    It would have been cheaper to just buy the Tesla from the get go.

    So many times being cheap cost more money.

    • Yes, that’s something my wife dealt with, she got a Mercedes SUV at the same time I got my Smart ED, and then she traded up for a Tesla and said “why didn’t we just get a Tesla instead of the Mercedes two years ago”.

  • Charlotte Omoto

    I’m glad that you mention the cost as your gripe with the Model S. The perception is that the 1% buy the Model S, but as surveys show, many including me had Prius before the Tesla and cost was a significant negative.

    • Our Tesla is easily the most expensive car we’ve ever owned, but I don’t fault the price, it’s worth it! My other car is a Smart ED, so we’re not rich, but made choices that meet our life goals.

  • neroden

    Um, you need a category for “Level 2.5”, which is to say, 9.6 kW (what I have in my garage) to 19.2 kW (which Sun Country Highway has put in large parts of Canada).

    Teslas are the only cars which can charge at these speeds, because the other manufacturers are being dumb.

    I personally feel that nothing slower than 9.6 kW is worth putting in. My garage outlet cost about $500 to install, so it’s ridiculous to install something slower.

    9.6 kw == 240 V 40 amp continuous / 50 amp breaker
    19.2 kw == 240 V 80 amp continuous / 100 amp breaker

    • Mike Dill

      I agree that if you are adding a circuit going for anything less than 240V/50A is just setting yourself up for replacing it in the future. While the current car may not need the capacity, having it there may make sense in the long run.

  • Foersom

    Another article about EV charging, that is good.

    For Tesla the article mentions a future upgrade to 150 kW, but no reference is given.

    However for the CCS there is no mention of the CharIn spec with the coming next level
    150 kW charging and the goal of 350 kW. CharIn CCS is what going to drive the next level in charging. All the major EV car industry of Germany and US are members of CharIn.

    Never the less I have a feeling that later this week CleanTechnica will start to write about CharIn.

  • TedKidd

    Nicely written Kyle!

    • Kyle Field

      Thank you sir!

  • yolkregion

    Just a quick plug for the ultra-cheap/budget-conscious among us. There are some advantages to a limited-range car like the Smart ED that I drive. It handles my 20km x 2 daily commute just fine. I’ve been lucky that I can do about 90% of daily commute charging at work. That car also handles most local errands as well as a dozen or so regular weekend destinations (hiking spots, visiting children, etc). It does all this while sipping 1.4kw while charging from 120-volt outlets. (I rarely need or have the opportunity to plugin to L2 chargers).

    Sure it would be nice to quadruple the range and have the luxury of fast charging. But as a second car, the Smart has been absolutely reliable and is a joy to drive. No regrets!

    • TedKidd

      After 3 months of Smart ownership, and almost no miles I sold my Sportwagen. The Smart has been my only car since June 2015.

      The car IS a blast to drive! But the crappy 3.3 charger, combined with crappy range, is getting tiresome.

  • Volks W

    European contries are better equiped when it comes to high power. Higher 230v voltage means low current, smaller wires, less heat losses.

    • sault

      But we have to be super paranoid around electricity! Just look at the appallingly high rate of electrocutions in Europe compared to the U.S. of A!

      • JeffJL


        • sault


    • Bob_Wallace

      That’s true, but not a huge advantage. Most US drivers can easily use 120vac charging. The Nissan Leaf recharges at 5 mph from a 120vac outlet. Fifty miles or more overnight for most drivers and not that many people have daily drive of over 50 miles.

      For those who do need to charge more it costs, on average, $250 to add a 240vac outlet. If you drive enough to actually need a 240vac outlet then you’ll pay that cost off in a couple of months with fuel savings.

      • Dragon

        Indeed. I’ve been using 120v 12A exclusively at home. I installed a 240V 32A outlet for a kitchen stove just in case and can reach it through a window but have never needed it.

        I don’t drive daily but from what I’ve read few find home chargers over 6.6kw necessary. With Tesla you can usually stop at a convenient supercharger en route if you leave home with less than ideal charge.

        • Kyle Field

          I’m right on the border. Most weeks, we don’t need more than the wall charger but I still end up at the supercharger every two weeks or so. I’m planning to put a 240v/50a outlet in but have to go through a length home service upgrade first which is going to be $5-10k 🙁

          • Carl Raymond S

            I would like to publicly thank whichever clever Australian decided that all wall outlets would be 240 volt. An edge at last in the technology stakes.

          • neroden

            While you’re doing the home service upgrade, I advise preparing to switch any fossil fuel appliances to electric (dryer, oven, heating… whatever you’ve got that’s still fossil-fuel based). You may not want to do so immediately but the electrical upgrade is definitely the correct time to prepare the wiring rotues.

  • JanVyt

    In Europe, Level 2 (IEC terms Mode 2) public chargers deliver often 22 KW and as a rule 11 KW through Mennekes charger.
    In the Netherlands all private houses are connected to public net though 3 phase connected with usually 32 Amperes minimum. That allows you to have 11KW private charging point and use it almost always, but certainly at night, to its full capacity. In many-other european countries private house are connectd in a similar way.

    • BigWu

      A Tesla S with dual chargers can suck down 20 kW (~66 miles of charge per hour) in the USA. The Tesla wall charger combines two 220/240 50A circuits to deliver the power to the car.

      In the USA, house mains typically supply two voltages: 110/120 for wall sockets and 220/240 for water heaters and large appliances such as air conditioning.

      Total house mains power varies, typically from 44 kW up to 96 kW (240V at 400A ).

      • Kyle Field

        True…the Tesla with dual chargers essentially leverages 2 X level 2 chargers. A “normal” Tesla L2 charger is 10 kw. There they go again…breaking all the rules 😀

        • JanVyt

          Kyle, my point was that IEC Mode 2 is defined to be able to deliver more than 7,2 KW (as you write) and in real the public rarging station indeed are able to deliver much more than that. It does not have to do anything with Tesla “breaking rules”.
          As far as I can judge, no rules are broken: MS only allows to use the IEC defined capabilities.

          • Kyle Field

            I was just joking about that because they broke the “Levels” that I set by always maximizing tech. I love that they do it and still stand by my leveling because in general, it fits. There are always exceptions 🙂

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