NYTimes Spreads Misinformation About EVs — Let’s Clean Up The Mess

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In an article by Ivan Penn published this weekend, the New York Times has stretched the truth beyond breaking point to suggest that EVs cannot make the LA–Las Vegas–LA round trip without needing over 5 hours of charging. Let’s clean up their mess.

The NYTimes article, titled, “L.A. to Vegas and Back by Electric Car: 8 Hours Driving; 5 More Plugged In,” was written by Ivan Penn, who describes himself as “an energy correspondent” for the media outlet. To give him his due, Penn has in the past written positively about topics such as the California residential PV mandate, and has critiqued interests working to return California to dependence on gas power generation. The errors and general skeptical message that he broadcasts about EVs in the article appear to be somewhat based in ignorance, but there’s so much negativity and outright misinformation in there that it’s hard to believe it is ignorance alone that is at work here.

The basic claim is that the LA to Las Vegas (and back) round trip of 540 miles (870 km), undertaken in a Chevrolet Bolt, took 8 hours of driving and almost 5 and a half hours of charging. The implication is that this 5+ hours of charging on such a trip is an accurate representation of the road trip capabilities of not only the Bolt itself, but of any other EV available today.

The first obvious problem is in the choice of vehicle. The Bolt is built on 2016 non-Tesla technology and not nearly representative of the capabilities that current EVs offer, even EVs that aren’t Teslas. On road-trip ability, the Bolt is significantly behind equally affordable EVs such as the Hyundai Kona Electric and the Kia Niro EV, let alone being very far behind all of the Tesla Model 3 variants:

The other key error (deliberate or not) in the article is obvious when reading between the lines. Penn’s trip was planned and hosted by the EVgo charge network, and seems likely to have only used those charging stations. Additionally, the CCS DC charging stalls they used on the trip appear to all be limited to 50 kW. They did not, for example, make use of the new and fully compatible Electrify America high-power CCS DC chargers in Las Vegas itself. A normal EV user would certainly have taken advantage of these higher-powered chargers, now rolling out all over the US, which would have reduced the overall charging duration of the Bolt.

Furthermore, had the trip been undertaken in a Hyundai Kona Electric or Kia Niro EV, and likewise used the full gamut of available charging options, the overall charging duration would have been lower still. Not to mention the fact that making the trip in a Tesla would be much quicker — we’ll get to the trip profile of the Model 3 variants later.

I investigated what the trip profile would look like in a non-Tesla EV when taking advantage of all compatible charging networks, using A Better Route Planner (ABRP), and found much improved charging duration estimates, not only for the Kona and Niro, but for the Bolt also. I even plugged in some deliberately tough assumptions just to be conservative:

  • a slightly longer, downtown LA to downtown Las Vegas route (adding 7 miles to Penn’s roundtrip)
  • very hot 108°F temperatures throughout (the average daily maximum in the hottest month of the year in Baker CA., near the mid-point)
  • a headwind of 11 mph throughout, that by some twist of fate was present on both the outbound and return journeys!

I also assumed cruise speed was set for 75 mph (which may be over the speed limit on some stretches), with overall average driving speed, including slowing for some inevitable traffic and construction zones, of ~68 mph (8 hours driving to cover 547 miles). Here are the trip profile estimates that ABRP returned:

Click to zoom

Even with conservative assumptions, ABRP estimates that the Bolt should need 4 hours and 11 minutes of charging, not the almost 5 and a half hours that Penn reports. The Niro would need almost exactly 4 hours, and the Kona, being smaller and more efficient, 3 hours and 25 minutes.

Whatever vehicle you are riding in, with 8 solid hours of highway driving, most people are going to want at least one proper meal break, or more likely two (yes, normal humans tend to eat meals every 5–6 hours). And somewhere in the mix there’ll typically be another stretch and bathroom break also (more if traveling with kids). If we chalk up 40 minutes to the meal breaks and 15 for the shorter break, that’s over an hour and a half, any way you cut it. So the conclusion for Hyundai Kona Electric drivers is that — for those exceedingly rare 540 mile journeys between destinations — the “extra time” the EV charging requires is actually under 2 hours. In other words, what would be an almost 10 hour trip in pretty much any vehicle becomes an almost 12 hour trip in a (non-Tesla) EV. That’s a very different story to the one that the NYTimes article projects. (Editor’s note: Also consider for a moment how much time could be saved throughout the year if you are charging at home, work, or common destinations rather than having to take time out of your week to go to a gas station, pay for gas, hold the nozzle while it fuels up, and get back on the road. For many people, the time savings are well above 2 hours.)

Now, let’s look at how the Tesla Model 3 handles this journey. With the same conservative assumptions about the conditions, here are ABRP’s trip profile estimates:

Click to zoom

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Note that this is on version 2 (V2) Superchargers, whereas the now-rolling-out V3 Superchargers will improve the charging times further. The Tesla Model 3 Long Range requires 1 hour and 24 minutes of charging overall, in the conservative conditions I specified in ABRP. This is less time than the above pattern of 2 meal breaks plus 1 stretch break requires. Even the Model 3 Standard Range Plus requires just two hours and 17 minutes of charging — about 40 minutes over the default trip profile. For those interested, ABRP estimates that the Tesla Model S Long Range requires 1 hour and 12 minutes of charging on this trip.

So, we can conclude that the NYTimes article significantly exaggerates the charging time that a non-Tesla EV requires by at least 46% (“over 5 hours” vs. the Kona’s 3:25) in adverse conditions and — by omission — exaggerates the time a Tesla Model 3 requires by over 3.5× (“over 5 hours” vs. the Tesla Model 3 LR’s 1:24).

More inexcusably, the article obscures the point that such a 560 mile trip undertaken by normal humans would anyway require some meal and rest breaks, and thus take almost 10 hours, whatever vehicle you are in. And by (willfully?) ignoring the outstanding road-trip ability of all Teslas, they fail to communicate that there are already EVs available today that can make the trip in much the same pattern as any other vehicle.

How did they miss all of this? There have long been YouTube videos of Tesla owners making the LA to Las Vegas run on a single charge. And, yes, there are at least two Tesla Supercharger locations in Las Vegas itself (and plenty more on nearby highways), along with dozens of destination chargers at hotels and restaurants.

In exaggerating the charging times for what is anyway an exceedingly rare 560 mile point-to-point trip distance, the NYTimes spreads unwarranted doubt about the ability of EVs to be the right choice for a typical consumer. Judging by the tone of the overall article, it seems that this was the goal — to spread doubt and deliberate misinformation about EVs.

Here are some more examples of misinformation in the article:

  • A BMW i3 was charging at the rate of 10 miles per hour (implying this is an accurate representation of its DC charging capability).
  • EVs batteries should be kept between 30% and 80% SOC (implying “should always be kept in this range,” when that is not clearly the case).
  • The US currently has 24,000 pubic charging stations and 150,000 gas stations (conveniently omitting the tens of millions of regular US electrical outlets at home and work that can be used to charge any EV overnight or during the work day, providing far more range than the typical daily commute requires).
  • Implying that Tesla vehicles require 5 hours of Supercharging to recover useful range, unless they can access a V3 Supercharger (deliberate misrepresentation of the typical 20–30 minutes).

Penn does have a few accuracies, and some run-of-the-mill narrative, sprinkled amongst the misinformation, but only enough to lend a superficial veneer of legitimacy to the article. Nowhere does he have anything very positive to say about EVs.

I wouldn’t recommend visiting the original article itself — don’t reward the NYTimes with clicks for this appalling anti-EV FUD. In any case, there’s no comment section on there. If you want to give the NYTimes some constructive feedback, you could do so via Penn’s twitter feed where he has highlighted his article, or via the feed of his editor. I’m sure they will welcome it.

If you see any room for improvement in my analysis here, or have other thoughts, please jump in to the comments below.

Related Stories:

From Broder To The 2018 Tesla Short Seller Storm To Today — What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

The Billion-Dollar Tesla Hit Piece

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Dr. Maximilian Holland

Max is an anthropologist, social theorist and international political economist, trying to ask questions and encourage critical thinking. He has lived and worked in Europe and Asia, and is currently based in Barcelona. Find Max's book on social theory, follow Max on twitter @Dr_Maximilian and at MaximilianHolland.com, or contact him via LinkedIn.

Dr. Maximilian Holland has 422 posts and counting. See all posts by Dr. Maximilian Holland