Tesla: “The Most Impractical Car”

It’s been just over a year since we purchased our 85kWh Tesla Model S. We’ve put a bit over 17,000 miles on it. We used some 6950 kWh (at 11 cents a kWh = $764) to cover those miles, and have paid PG&E (our electricity provider) approximately $850 (the discrepancy is likely due to electric use not related to moving the car). In this time period, we’ve used this car as we have other cars, except that we haven’t yet driven to Los Angeles, nor to Tahoe, from where we live in the east SF Bay Area.

Once, we drove this car 80 miles to Santa Cruz, spent the weekend driving around there, and returned, without needing to charge the car, and had 50 miles of range left when we got home – a total of about 200 miles driven.

A few months ago, I drove this car 140 uphill miles to Nevada City, and on the way back, I had my first and only episode of “range-anxiety”. It was self-inflicted (you can read more about it here) but has significantly reduced any worry about running out of juice; there are many Superchargers and slower charging stations available and the worse case scenario would be to get yourself towed to one of those. The take away for me was that the car doesn’t just stop when it hits “zero range”.

This car truly has been as useful as any other sedan, while outperforming anything I’ve ever owned, including a 300HP internal combustion convertible I still drive — it’s also really fun to drive! Yes, it doesn’t have as many seats as an SUV, nor does it have a tow hitch for my bike carrier or to tow something from the equipment rental store (like a wood chipper), but then, neither do most luxury cars nor does my convertible.

So what that it can’t go to LA without needing to be charged twice each way (once, if you try hard and can charge it again as soon as you hit the limits of LA) – how often do we drive to LA? I think we’ve done that trip once since we’ve had kids some umpteen years ago.

That brings me to why I am writing this. In a recent discussion, a friend who lives in the Midwest, overheard mention of the name Tesla and immediately muttered, “Tesla, the most impractical car”. I quickly said, “We have one and it has been quite practical for us”. I explained how we put at least 50 miles on the car each weekday , and plug it in each night, right at our home, and we never have to visit a gas station. “What exactly is impractical?”, I asked. “Electric cars are inefficient, there are not not enough charging stations, and they can’t store anywhere near the amount of stored energy a traditional car does”. I did’t quite understand his point, but changed the subject. If a car can meet your needs, without forcing discomfort, and at a lower operating cost, is it still “impractical”?

Any new technology will have hurdles associated with it. Surely, when the first gas-powered cars began traveling roads meant for horses and horse-pulled-carriages, there were detractors who wondered where one would fuel them, or how anyone could put up with the incessant noise. With time, those issues have faded away. In my opinion, the Tesla Model S is way ahead by having already resolved some of the “new technology hurdles” (it already has a 250 mile range), and with more time, we’ll see more charging stations, improvements in battery capacity, and lowered associated costs and environmental impact of creating those batteries.

Why would you need more stored energy when the car can outperform any other car doing the things we need it to do? If I needed an explosion, maybe gas would be a better choice, but seriously, unless you’re doing a 200 miles drive, each way, everyday, I’d say that you don’t need as much “stored energy” as a traditional car. As it is, I know of a number of Tesla owners who do a 100-140 mile commute each day, without compromise (round-trip, with plenty of charge left over for use later in the day). Some even enjoy a free charge while they are at work.

As for charging stations, there are plenty sprinkled around shopping areas and parking garages, but notable are the Tesla Superchargers, where you can get 170 miles of range added in just 30 minutes, for free! That’s a charge rate of over 300amps at 370volts! The number of Tesla Superchargers are growing at an astounding rate. By 2015, you can drive across the country, without much compromise of your direct route (right now you have to drive from the SF Bay area to Barstow and through Las Vegas to then go up to Salt Lake City). Here is an interactive map of current and future Supercharger stations. Keep in mind, at least for now, it’s free to charge your car at these stations so your trip across the US would effectively (ignoring tolls) be free, vs. approximately $500 for a traditional, but fuel efficient car. (By the way, the Tesla doesn’t need motor oil or transmission fluid, and brake wear is reduced due to regenerative braking.)

Today

Today

2015

2015

Honestly, I have more range-anxiety with my convertible gasoline car as I tend to put off going to the gas station until the EMPTY light comes on. At that point, I figure I have about 30 miles of range, but it’s variable. At least with the Tesla, it gets charged every night, and it is rare that we need to drive it far enough that “driving on fumes” is a worry. And don’t forget, you literally can charge anywhere where you find a power outlet (and have permission). It’s slow to charge at a regular 110v/15amp outlet, and a little faster at a 240v/30amp outlet – the ones that clothes dryers are usually plugged into. At our home we have a Tesla High Power charger that charges at 240v/80amps, which equates to about 58miles per hour of charge (we typically need just an hour or so per night ~ $3).

And here’s one other thought: as soon as we have solar panels on our house, we won’t be paying PG&E that $850 ($1600? once we have a second electric car), and will likely be getting paid for the extra electricity we generate!

Now back to my friend’s comment; if you’ve never driven a Tesla, you should. If you think that Tesla can’t possibly have the experience of Detroit and they’re building toys or impractical cars, you need to rethink that notion. (The best thing that Tesla could do is to give detractors a Tesla to drive for a weekend. But why would they? They’re selling them as fast as they make them.) This car may not be the perfect combination of a commute car + family daily errands car + long-haul vacation car. Two out of three isn’t bad, and with the savings you can just rent a car, a larger one with room for all your suitcases and camping gear, for that rare trip to LA or the Grand Canyon.

“Try it… you’ll like it.” Just don’t press the accelerator down too hard – for a sedan it has an unexpected race-car-worthy acceleration.

To preempt those who will point out the monetary and environmental costs of creating electricity, batteries or photovoltaic cells, I say: please go study the cost of wars and armed forces needed to secure and maintain access to oil fields, the cost of transporting oil across oceans, the cost of oil spills, the environmental cost of car emissions, and the many other recurring costs that impact each refuel of your car. After manufacture, electric vehicles could literally be powered by the sun or the wind, independent of fossil fuels.
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~ by mz on August 7, 2014.

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