Around the World in 80 Days, in a Tesla

By · June 29, 2012

Rafael de Mestre

Rafael de Mestre and his Tesla Roadster race around the world in 80 days, with a tip of the sombrero to Jules Verne and Elon Musk.

Rafael de Mestre started out with a simple idea: to become the first person to circumnavigate the earth in an electric vehicle. A Spanish-born German resident, Rafael would start and end his trip in Barcelona, Spain, sometime in 2013, passing through Europe, the United States, China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Romania, and then back through Europe to complete the journey. The idea was simple, but execution of the idea is not.

Things got even more complicated than expected when Rafael's lawyer approached him and shared the web site of a French team who had already started their round-the-world odyssey in February. Rafeael realized that when only one car is driving around the world, it's a drive. But when there's two cars, it's a race. And the race was on.

It began in April, when advisors told Rafael that it would take six months to plan for the trip, but he wanted to cut down the planning to only two weeks, meaning a May 1 departure. He'd be piloting his Tesla Roadster solo, while the French team has two drivers manning a Citroën C-Zero (its U.S. twin is the the Mitsubishi i, formerly the i-MiEV).

While in Spain, Rafael secured paperwork required for travel through Europe. When in Europe, he gathered all the paperwork needed to fly the car from Frankfurt to New York, and then to drive within the U.S. (passing through U.S. Customs, his Tesla was referred to as "luggage"). While in the U.S., plans were made to pass though China, Kazakhstan and back to Barcelona.

Around the World in 80 Days, in a Tesla

Around the World in 80 Days, in a Tesla

Rafael began the U.S. stage in New York, heading west on I-80 and passing through Omaha, Neb., Cheyenne, Wyo., Salt Lake City, Utah, then driving down the California coast to Los Angeles, where the Tesla boarded a commercial jet to Seoul, Korea. During the long drive across the country, he said he didn't listen to music or radio: "I preferred to listen to the car and to the road."

Charging stations were always easy to find in the U.S., at least in the form of an RV park. Some RV parks "got" the electric car and appreciated the technology, like the KOA Campground in Illinois who welcomed him like a family member, and offered a free charge. Rafael said others were not as interested in EV technology, telling him coldly, "That'll be $40 to charge."

When there's no EV charging station or RV park around, Rafael is prepared to improvise with a trunk full of charge adapters which fit between different plug styles. When one of his pre-assembled adapters doesn't work, he's prepared to make one that does.

“When only one car is driving around the world, it's a drive, but when there's two cars, it's a race.”

-- Rafael de Mestre


When Rafael landed in Asia on June 17, he was exactly 10 days behind the French team, but expects to quickly close the gap. He holds an advantage by driving the Tesla because it has a range of around 240 miles, while the C-Zero can only go about 75 miles before refilling its battery. But the C-Zero has an edge when it comes to charging its batteries. It can use Fast Charging technology, while the slightly-older Tesla can not.

If he expects to finish the round-the-world trip within the scheduled 80 days, he would have to average 400 kilometers a day for the duration of the trip. When asked if was going to visit the Great Wall of China, he said, "I don't have the time. This is a race, not a vacation."

Rafael's greatest challenge is likely to be Kazakhstan, where many of the villages and towns along his route have no electricity whatsoever. But that's all part of the EV game, locating the next charging station down the road. But he remains optimistic that he will become the first person to drive (or race) an electric vehicle around the world and into the record books.

Check out Rafael's progress or the French team's progress.

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