Edmunds Re-Tests Tesla Vehicles, Gets Better Results

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In a previous article, I covered some of the reasons that Tesla vehicles didn’t do as well in Edmunds‘ testing compared to EPA cycles. After getting some suggestions from Tesla itself, Edmunds decided to run its tests again, with improved results.

The First Round of Testing

Before we get to the details of the new testing, let’s review what happened last time real quickly so we can keep things in perspective.

Edmunds runs its own range test on electric vehicles because EPA testing can be pretty unrealistic for many drivers. In the past, most gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles didn’t quite get the MPG on the Monroney sticker, sometimes falling a little short, and sometimes falling way short. In some cases, this has led to lawsuits, and the EPA has revised its testing several times to try to make it a little more realistic.

Most of the unrealistic nature of EPA testing comes from a mixture of higher real-world freeway speeds and inefficient driving. EPA highway test cycles max out at around 60 MPH, while the actual average freeway speed in the U.S. is 65 MPH. On top of that, many drivers take off hard from intersections and then brake hard at the last second when they approach the next light. This all leads to wasted fuel in ICE vehicles and less range in EVs. Test drivers doing an EPA test know how to do a better job driving efficiently, which makes the EPA testing unachievable for the average moron in many cases.

Edmunds decided to see what EVs achieve driving like normal people do instead of following EPA test cycles. While there are rumors that the company only charged Tesla vehicles to 90%, that’s not actually the case. They charge every vehicle as much as the vehicle will let itself be charged, but make a note in the data when a manufacturer doesn’t recommend a full charge. Once charged up, they take a vehicle and drive it around on real freeways at real freeway speeds until the guess-o-meter reads zero miles.

How Edmunds’ testing compares to EPA results can vary, and by a lot. As you’d expect, many vehicles don’t do as well in Edmunds tests as they do in the EPA cycles (which, as I explained, use lower speeds and often careful drivers). Some actually beat it, though. For example, the Porsche Taycan did a lot better at high speeds than the EPA testing. This might be due to the second gear that the vehicle can use on the highway (which wouldn’t have helped it much in EPA testing).

Porsche Taycan. Photo by Kyle Field, CleanTechnica.

The Second Round of Testing

Tesla engineers didn’t like the results, because having none of the vehicles make the EPA range on the freeway while the competition did better isn’t a good look for the company. As I’ll get into more below, this really shouldn’t matter, but the public trusts the EPA more than they probably should. Tesla engineers gave Edmunds testers a number of tips, with the biggest issue being the “reserve” range that the vehicles still have when the range indicator says there are zero miles left. If Tesla’s vehicles got some credit for that 10–15 miles of extra range, the engineers argued, they’d be able to achieve the EPA numbers in Edmunds’ testing.

When they tested again, they did it on a track so that they could see how far a vehicle goes before it comes to a total stop. Obviously, this isn’t something you can do on a real freeway without taking a lot of risk. Once they got that number, they then took the cars to city streets to see how far they went beyond zero, and got varied results. This is because the amount of buffer left doesn’t necessarily always give you the same number of miles, because conditions differ.

The end result? Two of Tesla’s vehicles achieved their EPA numbers, one might reach the EPA range, and the others still definitely fell a little short. Here’s their video showing how they got the results, and what results they got.

Bottom Line: EPA Figures Don’t Matter

Instead of doing what many Tesla fans are doing on Twitter and Facebook (bashing Edmunds), I’m going to agree with what they said at the end of the video: we can’t really trust the government numbers.

My normal distrust of government officials aside (hey, even this law school professor says you should never talk to cops), there are important reasons that we shouldn’t trust EPA range and MPG numbers. Foremost, they’re unrealistic for real-world driving unless you’re hypermiling. If you like to set the cruise control at the speed limit plus five MPH (or more), and you like to have a little fun while driving, then you can forget about getting the EPA number. It’s just not going to happen unless you really want it and are willing to sacrifice fun, your time, and even safety to get there in most cases.

It’s not really a failure for Tesla’s vehicles when they don’t achieve the EPA number. It’s a failure of government. If the EPA was serious about giving customers realistic numbers, it would require manufacturers to record ranges at different speeds at various temperatures instead of having a convoluted test cycle that nobody is ever going to drive. If the Monroney sticker had this data in a table, people would know what to realistically expect on the highway. Going 55 on some awful urban freeway in a coastal state will give you much greater range than you’d achieve legally going 80 or 85 on a rural Texas highway or toll road.

Let’s be real. Nobody wants to send their kids to a school that teaches to the test. We want our kids in schools that teach for real-world performance on the job or in further schooling. What we should really be concerned with is what you can do with an EV in the real world, and not how good an EV is at gaming a government test. As many owners and industry followers know, Tesla’s vehicles do have excellent real-world performance, the best charging network in the U.S. by area covered, and decent durability.

Achieving the EPA numbers is like winning a popularity contest in a state hospital. Did you win? Yes! But you’re still not necessarily going anywhere.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1951 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba