Tesla Model 3 production starts tomorrow, unless there was some kind of dramatic surprise since Monday. It seems that tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people who have never before had an electric car have a reservation for a Model 3. They have a bit of planning to do.
I can tell you that even after covering electric cars professionally for years, there are certain things about electric cars that you just learn much better from experience. How to charge, where to charge, what kind of charging cards you need (or not), how the range changes on the highways vs quiet residential streets, how to handle when a charging station you were planning to use is down, how your family and friends will respond to the new tech, how hard it is going back to a gasmobile after driving electric for a few days — those are just some of the topics that might turn out a little bit different from how you imagined.
Kyle Field and I seem to be on the same satellite signal. He mentioned in his great 4th of July article that people about to jump into the e-mobility future should first go on a test drive, go on an extended test drive if possible, or even rent an electric car (via Turo, for example). We can provide various words of advice to people getting ready for a Model 3 or some other electric car, but there is tremendous variation that’s tied to individual circumstances and location. Additionally, there is just nothing that replaces the wonderful experience of electric driving. It is a good encouragement to make the jump.
As good as the situation is, though, a major shift in your method of transportation will come with some surprises. Below are just a few examples of the kind of barriers that can pop up. I think it’s good to try to discover and troubleshoot such issues before you make a complete switch and have to do so on the fly or in a tight situation.
◊ You may need to get an account, RFID card, and/or app to use charging stations in your area — whether from ChargePoint, EVgo, Fastned, PlugSurfing, GreenWay, or Galactico (the network I mostly use in Poland). Even if charging stations are free to use, you may need a card to use them. I went to a big shopping center the first weekend I had a Nissan LEAF here in Poland. This location, which is on the outskirts of the city, has some of the newest charging stations in the city (pictured in the photo with the LEAF above). The information desk in the mall is supposed to have RFID cards, but it didn’t. I spent about an hour working through different staff and offices and nobody could ever find the cards. I was prepared to get back home without charging, but it’s the kind of thing that can happen to anyone and you probably want to work through the challenge when it’s convenient to do so, not when you are in a rush or low on charge. (Note: The description of this station on PlugShare says to get the RFID card from the information desk in the mall. It wasn’t clear before going there that the staff would have no idea where these cards are, and may not even have them.)
◊ We have a charging station right down the street from our home at a shopping center that we regularly walk to anyway (pictured on the right), but it’s in a gated delivery area of the shopping center parking lot. It seems that it should be easy to get in there at any hour, but I’ve found that there are times when security personnel are not around and it takes a long time to get in. Again, it’s better to discover such things while you have time to explore and not when you and your family are reliant on a semi-quick charge.
◊ I charged our Tesla at that same shopping center for a few hours the other day. I charged up to 100% because I was preparing for a long-distance trip the next morning and we don’t have a home charging port. However, at the end of the charging session, my Mennekes Type 2 charging cord was locked into the station. I could get it out of the car, but not out of the station port. I called the charging network service number and the support person said it would take 3 hours for a technician to get there. It was alright for me to walk home, get some work done, and come back, but it wasn’t super convenient. I talked to one of my Tesla Shuttle business partners who has had a Nissan LEAF for several years (the LEAF mentioned above, which I borrowed from him one weekend) and his hypothesis was that some components of the charging station got a bit hot from charging for 3 hours at ~22 kW and the charging port locked until they cooled down. After ~30 minutes, the charging port was still locked (and said “Awaria,” which means “Out of Order”), but when I came back after going home for ~1 hour, it was unlocked and I could take the cord out again.
◊ Getting ICE’d (blocked by gasoline cars) is a thing. There are thousands of charging stations across the US and thousands across Europe. Planning virtually, you can look at charging stations on PlugShare and ChargeHub to get a sense of where you can charge your car locally, but actually using the stations a bit will show you if they are often ICE’d (or locked or out of order), which can end up changing your general charging plans. My mom drives a Nissan LEAF in Southwest Florida and has found that some stations are routinely blocked and the parking police don’t even care! She can’t count on those specific stations and basically expects they will be blocked, but she has found which ones in the area are often free.
Renting an electric car for a few days or a week could also rope in other electric car buyers. With an open approach about exploring the possibility, you might have a family member, friend, or coworker who would be up for exploring along with you. Perhaps you could ask them for help evaluating the test experience, basically inviting them to consider the idea as well. Opening mental doors slightly in such a way can end up making the difference between a purchase or not.
Of course, you can also rent a Tesla to take to the boonies or on some other difficult trip to see if e-mobility really works for you. My experience this past week from doing that was, “Yes, yes it does — and I can’t imagine going back now!” I am now hoping I never have to rent another gas car again!
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