A Response to The New York Times: Stalled on the E.V. Highway

By · February 12, 2013

Peter, Model S, Snow

Peter Soukup, and fellow long-distance EV road trip participant Luba Roytburd, charging Peter's Tesla Model S at Black Bart's RV Park in Flagstaff, Ariz.

This article, which first appeared on ElectricRoadTrips.com, was written in response to The New York Times Feb. 8 article entitled, “Stalled Out on Tesla’s Electric Highway,” by energy reporter John Broder.

Mr. Broder,

My name is Peter, and I recently very successfully completed a very long, cross country trip from Portland, Or., to New Orleans, La., Atlanta, Ga., and finally New York City in my Model S. I am only a Tesla customer, and have no other affiliation with the company.

It was with great disappointment that I read your article today. It showed quite a number of missteps that could have been easily avoided—had Tesla done a better job teaching you about the car beforehand, and not repeatedly given you advice that was not only incorrect, but sometimes counterproductive. There is a learning curve to taking long road trips in an EV, especially in the cold, and it is a shame that Tesla did not better prepare you for this.

Your article includes a postmortem on your trip, but that seems like Tesla again dropped the ball on giving you valuable advice about how you could have made the trip an easy success. Almost all the mistakes I have outlined below would have eliminated your troubles. Simply correcting one of these mistakes would have saved your trip. Here is my own postmortem evaluation.

1 Fully Charged

You did not fully charge the car at the Superchargers in Delaware. The Model S has two charge settings, “Standard” and “Max Range.” A Max Range setting will charge up the batteries fully (to the 265 EPA range). It appears you only charged to “Standard” with a range of 242. This setting is on the charge screen. This would have given you about 25 miles extra when arriving at the Superchargers in Milford, Conn. It should also be noted that you were only 14 miles from the Superchargers in Milford when you ran the car below 0 and needed to be towed.

2 Charge When You Can

You should have been advised by Tesla to plug into something, anything, when stopped overnight in temperatures down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit in Groton. Even a simple standard lamp socket would have eliminated your issues on the second day, and you would have started the day with somewhere between 90-100 miles. I never had any issue finding, and being allowed to use, these on my trip. When charging for driving in the cold, charge whenever you get a chance, (i.e. when you stopped in NYC) even if it’s only for the hour that you are there.

By the way, the Saybrook Point Inn & Spa, 20 miles south of Groton where you stayed (and did not charge), would have been a pleasant place to stay and charge the Model S overnight.

3 Conditioning

The answer you got about “conditioning” the battery when cold is completely incorrect, and used up more of your mileage—in my estimate, about 20 miles of range. Simply driving it would have warmed the battery and raised the “available” mileage as you drove. There have been a number of times, when very cold in the mornings, that I arrived at my destination with more range than I started with. Had you not done this, it is very likely that you would have been able to drive directly to the Superchargers in Milford.

4Charge Longer

I know this sounds silly now, but you should have charged for longer any number of times. You left Norwich knowing that you did not have the rated miles to reach your destination, but you left anyway. Why anyone at Tesla “cleared” you to leave, and why you thought that heading out in the cold, without the rated mileage to get to your destination would have ended in any way other than poorly is beyond me.

You stated that you know driving in cold requires at least 10 percent more energy, then you should have known that when you left the Superchargers in Milford you had approximately 160 miles round trip. Add to this 10 percent loss for the cold and you need 176 miles of range. At 185 miles of range, you are just setting yourself up for issues making it back, even if you hadn’t stayed the night. Staying just an extra 15 minutes at the Superchargers in Milford would have added almost an extra 70 miles into your car, and eliminated all other issues in your trip even without plugging in that night, and with the cold weather.

5Respond to Climate

It doesn’t sound like anyone at Tesla informed you of the “range” climate mode setting on the cars settings page. This would have helped you more than simply turning down the temperature as you did. This along with seat heaters would have done more to keep you comfortable while not reducing your range nearly as much. At the point in your drive that you knew you had real issues, you simply should have turned it off, or stopped by an outlet or EV charger for 20 minutes.

6Down to Zero

Don’t run the car down to 0 miles. I don’t understand why anyone at Tesla gave you the impression that you should plan to run the car down to 0 miles left as part of your plan. This is the equivalent to Toyota letting you know that you can keep driving one of their gasoline cars further after you feel some hesitation from the engine running out of gas, “because there really is just a little more in there.” While it might be true, would you ever plan a trip that way?

7 Route Planning

When running low on charge, driving 11 miles in the wrong direction isn’t the smart move. It’s very unfortunate that you were sent 11 miles in the wrong direction to charge when running low. Since it’s the wrong direction, that’s 22 miles out of the way round-trip—which as it turns out is a greater distance than you where from the Superchargers when you were picked up by the flatbed tow truck (14 miles).

Better advice would have been to stop at somewhere like the Old Saybrook Inn which has an EV charger and was on your way, or any RV park many of which were on the way, any of which would, with that hour of charging you took, saved you from the tow truck.

Again, it’s a shame that a lack of knowledge and poor information turned your otherwise easily enjoyable trip into a nerve-racking drive and the need to be towed. I would like to extend you an offer to take another trip with me. We can take the same route, charge at the same locations, and I promise you won’t need your gloves inside the car.



New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.