Tesla Motors is building a SuperCharging network that enables long
distance driving with an all-electric Tesla Model S. This week the
project reached an important milestone-there are now enough stations in
place to allow all-American road trips from coast to coast by using
these stations to charge your car along the way.
To celebrate this milestone, three members of the Minnesota Plug-in Vehicle Owners’ Circle are going to drive from the Twin Cities to Los Angeles and then along the coast to San Francisco, culminating in a visit to the Tesla Motors factory in Freemont, CA. Lee Bakewell, Jukka Kukkonen and Pavel Zhuravlev left the Twin Cities on Monday February 3rd to head to the open road. It turned out that the weather stayed bitterly cold for the first part of the trip putting the Tesla Model S and the crew to a real test.
We started to plan for this trip in the middle of January, when Lee Bakewell got the idea. At that point the chain of SuperChargers was still missing some links between the Twin Cities and Los Angeles, but we figured we could use RV parks and/or public level 2 stations to get us through parts of the trip. We kept following the updates on the official Tesla SuperCharger map and it was exciting to see how fast the stations were coming online. When we started the trip, all the SuperChargers on our route were installed and open so we didn’t have to use any other charging stations during our trip.
Day 1, Monday, February 3rd: Click the pictures to see more photos.
Time to go. Lee and Pavel showed up at my place around 7:30 and KSTP 5 TV reporter and a cameraman arrived soon after that. We had plugged-in Lee’s Model S to my charging station so we headed to my alley where they interviewed us about the trip. Lee also gave them a quick walk around the car and then a short test drive. They were amazed by the car and the whole concept. You can watch the shorter web version of the story by visiting http://kstp.com/news/stories/S3309189.shtml?cat=1
Due to extended discussions with the TV crew we started our trip 8:30, about half an hour later than planned, but that’s the price of the fame, I guess. It was pretty cold, only 2 degrees, when we left Saint Paul, but otherwise the weather was nice. Sun was shining and the roads were mainly dry. Lee took the first driving shift and we spent some time figuring out how the Tesla Model S displays the energy information and range. The most straight forward measurement is the “Rated range” that is shown in the instrument panel. This displays the remaining range using the EPA rated energy consumption figures. This is useful for comparing different situations, because it works like State of Charge (SOC) reading. The weakness of this figure is that it does not take into account the conditions (speed, temperature, heating power, etc. ) which play a big role in a winter road trip like we are doing. When you drive the car 75mph in snowy conditions in near zero temperature for longer distances the EPA rating number is pretty useless. Fortunately Tesla provides the projected range number in the center display, which is based on actual energy consumption. This is the figure you want to be aware of in a trip like this and we found it very useful. I will show both the rated miles and SOC % in my actual data sheet below.
Pavel drove from Albert Lea, MN to Mitchell, SD. Between Worthington, MN and Mitchell, SD we saw an example of “aerodynamically less than ideal” transportation setup. People travelling with a “colorful van” had two mattresses tied on the roof. The only challenge with this setup was that the front of the mattresses was not tied down so the top mattress had “stood up 4 his rights” and was not improving the aerodynamics at all. See the picture of this psychedelic van below.
When we stopped in Mitchell, SD we went to County Fair Food Stores. They have a nice deli area and Justin, who works there, noticed Lee’s Tesla cap so he stopped by to chat with us. He told us that the Tesla team charged there just a couple of days ago and we talked about how big of an impact this “electric highway” could have on their town. He took a picture of us and Lee’s Model S and said that he will post it to their Facebook page. Check them out when you stop in Mitchell. Really nice grocery store and deli very close to the SuperChargers.
I drove from Mitchell to Murdo. Mostly flat and straight road. It started snowing about half way through. Fluffy, light stuff that didn’t really stay on the road, but it was flying around affecting the visibility. We drove a bit slower in the later part of the leg and that was good since when we arrived a Murdo with just 19 miles left. The system actually gave us a warning message: “Battery low: There will be significantly less energy available from your battery if it gets colder. We recommend charging now.” OK, this was fine with us, because we had just pulled into a Supercharger station. At this point it was snowing more and we had about 1.5 inches of white stuff on the ground.
We parked by the first station and plugged in. Nothing.
We moved to the second station and plugged in. Nothing.At this point we got a bit concerned but decided to still try the third station. Lee plugged the cord in, the light turned blue, a couple of seconds passed and the light started blinking green. Success.
Based on our very limited testing it looks like the cord and outlet connection can be a bit finicky in cold and snowy conditions. I’m sure we will get to test it again tomorrow, because the weather forecast is forecasting more snow.
It was dark and snowing, nice winter weather and we walked to the nearest restaurant for a nice dinner. We let the car take its time to charge to full and had a nice meal. I reserved a hotel for us in Rapid City and before we continued our trip we let the car fully heat up while it was still plugged in. Our waitress warned us that some of the descents on our way to Grand Rapids get a bit slippery when it snows, especially past Wall, so we decided to take it easy. Fortunately the snow tapered off a bit and the driving conditions turned out quite nice.
We reached Rapid city at 11PM. Good day altogether. We pushed the limits a bit with the combination of the speed and weather and took our time at the charging stations. Let’s see how much snow the nature will blow to our way tomorrow and how well the dreaded Cheyenne, WY to Silverthrone, CO leg will go. See more photos by clicking any of the photos.
Day 2, Tuesday, February 4: Click the pictures to see more photos.
This is so much fun. How often you get to do something new like this and every mile that you travel takes you closer to a warmer climate? I have to say that both of these aspects are really appealing, but the further you get, the more you start to dream of the California weather.
When we planned this trip, I was kind of assuming that the Minnesota and South Dakota would be cold. But after you start heading south the temperature would start to get gradually warmer. So far that has not happened. We are taking the Model S through a real test here. Our driving conditions are pretty much as challenging as they get in such a route bar the snowstorm and the Tesla Model S has performed really well. As drivers we naturally have to adjust to the conditions, but fortunately we are not trying to break any records.
This morning we woke up at the hotel in Rapid City, SD. Weather was almost exactly the same as last night with the temperature around 0 degrees Fahrenheit in light snow. Interesting thing was that it stayed pretty much the same throughout the day. After breakfast, we stopped at the SuperCharger to top off the battery and headed south.
Our first stop was Mount Rushmore. We just wanted to see what that area looked like in the wintertime and get a quick picture to prove that we drove through there. All roads were pretty icy and the road going by Mount Rushmore was very hilly, you could almost call it mountainous. Driving through the Mount Rushmore area very slowly on these steep, slippery roads and keeping the cabin temperature high for this long and slow drive caused our projected range number to slide below our trip distance which caused us to re-evaluate the situation. Fortunately, when we got on a better road, increased our speed to 55mph, and turned the heat down to 64F, the projected range number started to climb. Soon we were back in the safe zone. Truthfully the rated range number in the instrument panel was showing OK battery charge levels the whole time so it wasn’t that big of an issue. After a while we cranked the heat back up and got into Lusk without any problems.
We charged the car back up to the full rated range (of 265 miles) in Lusk, WY and had a nice lunch at the local restaurant. I read my email and learned that the an ABC station in San Francisco had picked up the KSTP-TV story http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/video?id=9418526#&cmp=twi-kgo-video-9418526 . They used the original KSTP story which was better than the version that KSTP posted on their site.
After the car was fully charged and cabin preheated toward the end of the charge cycle, we continued towards Cheyenne, WY. Wind was blowing snow on the road and the cloud cover was all around us so we really didn’t have a chance to enjoy any Wyoming scenery., But I figure that just leaves something to see for the next time we drive through this area.
We drove most of the day at 55 mph slowing for towns and slippery descents so our average speed was pretty low. Waking up and leaving later didn’t help either in making a good distance today, but we are just enjoying the trip because, thankfully, all three of us are able to be flexible with our schedule.
In Cheyenne, WY we hit the jackpot. After plugging the car into the SuperCharger we spotted it: Chipotle! I was saved. I liked eating in small restaurants along the way, but I need my Chipotle fix at least once a week and now I got it. One happy traveler.
Another positive surprise was that soon after we had sat down to eat we saw that another Tesla parked by the SuperChargers and plugged-in. Since we had not seen another one after leaving the Twin Cites, we had just been talking about when we would see our first Tesla. We figured it would likely be at one of these SuperChargers. Pavel and Lee had guessed California and I guessed Colorado. I claim victory on this one, although I didn’t get it totally right either. Pavel and I went to talk with the owner, Kevin, who lives in Cheyenne, but was originally from Como Park, St Paul. Minnesotans are great wherever they end up. Kevin joined us in Chipotle and gave us valuable tips for our upcoming leg. We were next taking the most challenging part of our trip: Cheyenne, WY to Silverthorne, CO. This was the longest of all the legs and also included the many steed ascents from Denver to Silverthorne. Kevin said that as long as you have over 100 miles of rated range as you passed Denver you should be fine. If you are below that, he suggested stopping at Beau Jo’s Pizza in Idaho Springs to use their Level 2 charger and enjoy the pizza. We thanked Kevin for all the good information and began our trip towards Silverthorne.
The car was again charged to 100% and the cabin was pre-heated. Pavel set the cabin heat to 65 degrees and the cruise control to 53mph and off we went. The first part was easy driving but we soon learned that the roads were really slippery. As we were approaching Denver we saw a three car crash accident scene and soon after that, another car in the ditch, but Pavel’s energy-efficient driving style took us safely through the Denver area. We passed Denver with the instrument panel showing 140 rated miles so it appeared we were doing just fine. The highway continued to be very slippery so Pavel slowed to 45mph in some descents and ascents. He was also careful with regenerative braking to keep things under control. We reached Silverthorne with 40 miles to spare so no problem. I’m expecting easy cruising from here to California. Click the photos to see more pictures.
Day 3, Wednesday, February 5: Click the pictures to see more photos.
What a great day! We got up again a bit later than planned, but that’s fine. Last night when we arrived at Silverthorne, CO, we stopped at the SuperChargers before going to our hotel and charged the battery to 175 miles. This morning everything was pretty cold so we decided to go and see how the SuperCharger works with a very cold battery. We had heard that the charging rate is low before the battery heats up a bit and that is exactly what happened. Charging rates started at 59 miles/hour and the Supercharger increased the rate slowly. When we left the charger about half an hour later the charging rate was around 100miles/hour.
Weather turned out really nice when we started driving. Sun came out and the temperature started moving up. The drive from Silverthorne, CO to Glenwood Springs, CO offered us really breathtaking scenery. The highway that wound through the valleys and snowy mountains framed us all the way to Glenwood Springs. All the ski lifts and fresh snow on the hillsides beckoned us to park the car for the rest of the day and go skiing. But the calling of warmer climates trumped that urge so we pressed on.
When we got to Glenwood Springs, we still had 121 miles rated range left in the battery so we made a quick stop. We took just enough time to visit the bathroom, take a couple of photos, enjoy the awesome scenery and off went. I drove from Glenwood Springs to Grand Junction, CO and what a drive it was. The sun was shining, the temperature was above 20 degrees the road was dry, and the scenery was grand. We were driving through the winding canyons by the Colorado river with a best car ever built. This was a driver’s dream.
At Grand Junction, we ate a quick lunch and found that the car was actually charged before we were ready to go. With the temperature hovering around 30 degrees and plenty of charge for our next leg, we let Pavel loose. After the cold weather, slippery roads and long distances between SuperChargers, we were happy to be travelling fast through the grassy Utah high desert enjoying our trip to the max. We arrived at Moab, UT with 59 miles of rated range left. Lee and Pavel decided to wash the car and we found a good car wash close to the SuperCharger corral. After a quick 25 minute charge we were on the road again.
Moab was very beautiful with red rock formations and mountain scenery. This continued almost all the way to the Blanding, Utah, where we stopped to charge next. The SuperChargers were located by the local information center but it was closed when we got there. But, luckily, the restrooms were open and there was an awesome small burger place across the street. We had dinner there and the food was just great. When we left Blanding the sun had already set so I can’t say much about the scenery between Blanding, UT and Farmington, NM. We did learn, however, that you don’t have to worry about being tired when you hit New Mexico. Roads are in so poor condition that they will keep you awake.We arrived safely in Farmington and stayed at the Marriott right by the SuperChargers. Looking forward to what kind of adventures (and temperatures) tomorrow will provide.
Day 4, Thursday, February 6: Click the pictures to see more photos.
This morning was really easy since we stayed at the Marriott right by the SuperChargers. We had let the car charge itself to 180 rated range miles that evening and in the morning Lee just added a bit more charge. He also preheated the interior while still plugged in, as we had been doing all along. When we signed out we told the staff that we stayed at this hotel because of the SuperChargers and they were excited to hear that. One receptionist actually followed us out to take pictures of us loading the car by the main door.
The drive from Farmington, NM to Gallup, NM was uneventful. The desert scenery was pretty but didn’t compare to yesterday’s views in Colorado and Utah. The Gallup SuperChargers are located in the parking lot of the Hampton Inn where we noticed its sign read: “Welcome Tesla, Free WiFi & Hot Breakfast.” Pretty cool. Noting that not many Tesla owners have ventured through this “electric highway” yet (we saw only one prior to crossing into California), we had been chatting a lot about how busy these places will be in the future. If you look at our charging photos, we have parallel or angle-parked our car at many of these stations because it was a bit easier to plug the charging cord, stiffened by the cold weather, into the port. But soon you won’t be able to do that anymore. Many of these stations will be pretty busy during the summer time, we reasoned, and the businesses nearby will see an increase in business because of that.
I drove from Gallup, NM to Holbrook, AZ and then to Flagstaff, AZ. I seemed to have good luck with these driving turns. Weather was really nice, as was the road, and I wouldn’t complain about the scenery either. We were driving now on the old Route 66, quintessential American open road, and this is what the Tesla Model S was built for. Quiet, smooth ride combined with a sporty, powerful drivetrain and a roomy interior. Perfection.
Yesterday and today we made much shorter charging stops such that most of the time, the car was actually ready way before the crew was. We have been eating, sightseeing or just chatting when one of us would glance at the Tesla smart phone app and notices that we could have left already 10-15 minutes ago already. In cold temperatures the charging times get long, especially when you prepare for a longer leg, but in the summer when most (read sane) people do these longer road trips, the charging times are around 20-40 minutes.
When we were about 20 miles out of Flagstaff, we saw an LED sign saying: “Winter driving conditions. Drive with care.” We were laughing pretty hard, thinking we had finally reached the sunny Southwest, but after 10 miles it started snowing. It looked like the snow was just following us, but after thinking about it a little bit more we decided to take full credit for ending the California drought by bringing the precipitation with us. It kept snowing all time we were in Flagstaff and about half way to Kingman, AZ. When we got closer to Kingman it started raining pretty heavily and that just added corroboration to our theory. We were the “rain makers.”
At the stop in Kingman, we almost got ICE’d. For those of you not familiar with PEV lingo, being “ICE’d” means that an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle parks to the charging station stall blocking the station. When we arrived at the Kingman Superchargers, which had been installed in Carl’s Jr. burger joint parking lot, we found that some cowboy was trying to make a record by parallel parking his truck and horse trailer combination in front of the stations, blocking five of the six stations. Fortunately we were still able to squeeze into the sixth station and get the charging going.
After the car was fully charged we continued towards Barstow, CA. We had decided to drive a bit longer into the evening to bring ourselves under the warm California sun plus so we could go for a nice run tomorrow morning outside. But this last leg from Gallup to Barstow was over 200 miles so we started a bit slower and got some unbelievable range numbers, over 500 miles of projected range (downhill helped us a bit). Since we didn’t need that long of a range we let the amps flow a bit more freely to the big, 3-phase motor, enjoyed the ride and finished the trip with 38 rated miles range left. Tomorrow: California.
Day 5, Friday, February 7: Click the pictures to see more photos.
We are here. This morning Pavel and I went for a run. There was a nice hill just by the hotel so we ran 2 miles uphill and 2 miles back down. Going up, I was able to run in a T-shirt, but coming down the stiff headwind required a long sleeve shirt. It was still much better than in Minnesota. It sure felt good and we earned our breakfast.
After the breakfast Lee and Pavel went to wash the car and try out their new car drying equipment that they had purchased when we stopped in Flagstaff. When we were ready to leave we saw fellow Tesla owner, Holger, outside. He was coming back from Las Vegas and stopped in Barstow for a quick charge before heading back to Las Vegas. We chatted a while and when he heard that we were planning to stop at the Hawthorne, CA (in Los Angeles) SuperChargers, he said that he would send an email to his friend, Tesla Motors Chief Designer Franz von Holzhausen. The Hawthorne SuperChargers are just outside of the Tesla Design Center, where Mr. von Holzhausen works so we could potentially meet with him briefly. We thanked Holger, took some photos together by our cars and headed to Los Angeles. Holger stayed by the stations to charge a bit longer.
Pavel drove, I took photos and Lee took a little nap in the back seat. Weather was beautiful and we were enjoying the scenery. We were true to our fashion, i.e. babying the car and driving pretty slow because we just were in no hurry to get anywhere particularly. About half way to LA, Holger caught up with us. As he overtook us, he took some awesome photos of us in a car driving to LA, which he then sent to us. Thanks Holger. Good to meet you and very cool photos.
We arrived in LA with plenty of range left. Pavel’s wife, Sasha, had flown to LA on Thursday and was staying with her friends Anna and Apok. They cooked us a nice Armenian lunch and it sure tasted great after all the fast food we had eaten during the trip. Thanks Sasha, Anna and Apok. We stayed the afternoon at their but then it started to get pretty late so we continued our trip towards Hawthorn Superchargers. Traffic was not too awfully bad considering that we were in LA. The car pool lanes helped a lot. Because we got to Hawthorne after 6PM, we had already given up on the idea that we would meet Mr. von Holzhausen. Hawthorne is the site where Elon Musk and his team first unveiled the SuperChargers and it has a really cool setup which even sports a solar panel canopy. You can see it featured in the Tesla SuperCharger page www.teslamotors.com/supercharger .We did notice that there was a really cool looking blue (not a stock color) P85 charging in next stall, but didn’t think too much about it since we were just amazed about the coolness factor of this site and the fact that we were actually finally there.
But this was not all. Next I noticed a man getting out of the blue Model S to unplug the cord and recognized him as Franz von Holzhausen. I went to introduce myself to him and told him how we had met Holger earlier in the day. He said that he had actually received an email from his friend and heard about our road trip. We chatted a while about our trip and took a couple of pictures. He wished us good luck for the rest of the trip, our scheduled factory tour, and drove away.
What a day: Arriving at the California coast, seeing the mother-of-all SuperCharging sites and meeting the man behind the Model S design. This is hard to beat.
Tomorrow: Taking a scenic drive from LA to San Francisco.
Day 6, Saturday, February 8: Click the pictures to see more photos.
It was great to wake up in Los Angeles and go for a run outside. We got going pretty early this morning because we wanted to have plenty of time to enjoy the scenic drive to San Francisco. The weather was a bit cloudy but the sun broke through the clouds just when we got to the coast. What beautiful scenery!
At the Buellton SuperChargers we met fellow Model S owners June and Mark. They were heading to San Francisco and told us that their son works for Tesla. They had put a deposit down on their Model S three years ago. Mark said that one of the most important factors that got him waiting patiently for his Model S was the experiences of former sports car owners he knew. He had spoken with many Porsche, BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi owners who were just all excited about the Model S after test driving one.
For most of our drive from Buellton to Atascadero it was raining. This was of course a bit disappointing for tourists like us because we could not enjoy the warm rays of sun, but I have to say that I was mostly happy to see the rain. The soil here is so bone dry that any moisture is most welcome. Hopefully this rainy trend will continue after we leave.
At the next SuperChargers in Atascadero we met a couple who was travelling with two friendly dogs. See the photo gallery for a photo of the cute dogs in the back of a Model S. Since the rain drizzle continued and the visibility was low, we decided to skip the Coast Road Highway 1 to San Francisco and to take instead the shorter Highway 101. I’m sure that normally this is a beautiful route, but with the drought conditions it was mostly pretty sad scenery.
We actually skipped the Gilroy SuperChargers, because we had charged long in Atascadero. Next stop for us was Fremont Plant SuperChargers. It was really cool to see the big Tesla sign on the side of the factory, and when we got to the SuperChargers we learned that the Tesla Fremont Store & Delivery Center was open. We were like kids in a candy store. They had a rolling Model S chassis on display so we were all over that and we spent rest of the time going through all the Tesla merchandise. I have to admit that I did spend my share on Tesla gear. We are looking forward to getting back here on Monday for a factory tour.
This night our crew parted ways for the weekend. Lee, Pavel and Sasha stayed near San Francisco and Lee drove me to my wife’s Aunt Liz and her husband Brian’s place in Napa.
Tomorrow might be a slow news day, but I will for sure write a report about our visit to the Fremont plant on Monday.
Days 7 and 8, Sunday, February 8 and Monday, February 9 Click the pictures to see more photos. (Thanks Sasha for the Monday photos) .
Sunday was a really rainy day. I enjoyed a lazy day with my relatives and the rest of the crew toured some wineries in Napa Valley. It rained pretty much the whole day so the northern part of California got a decent soaking this weekend. In the afternoon, Aunt Liz gave me a tour of the school where she teaches-it was really amazing. Among many energy efficient solutions they have a 1 Mega Watt Solar PV system and even some of the windows had PV cells. You can learn more about its green building features by visiting www.usgbc-rec.org/leed-project-1 .
Monday was our big day at the Tesla Factory. We arrived early and purchased a couple more items from the store before starting the tour. Essentially all car manufacturers ban photography in their assembly plants, and Tesla is no exception. As a result, I unfortunately don’t have any photos from our tour. Instead, you can watch this great video of Tesla Model S manufacturing that gives you an excellent overview of the process www.youtube.com/embed/8_lfxPI5ObM .
GM started building vehicles in the Fremont factory in the 1960s and the plant was closed in 1982. In 1984 it was reopened as a GM and Toyota joint venture under the NUMMI name. Toyota introduced completely new production practices to American car manufacturing in this factory. NPR’s This American Life made a great hour long radio documentary about this process and it is well worth your time to listen to it. www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/403/nummi .
In 2009, GM and Toyota announced that they would not continue the joint venture, and later that year Toyota announced that production at the NUMMI plant would end in November 2009. In 2010, Tesla Motors acquired major parts of the former NUMMI site from Toyota with 42 million dollars and renamed it Tesla Factory. It is estimated that Tesla got the plant for just pennies on the dollar because big car manufacturers were going through hard times and needed to streamline their production by moving the assembly lines closer to Midwest suppliers.
Our tour guide, Nick, took us first to the stamping area where big presses form the aluminum planks for the body panels. While we were there the line was making trunk lid parts. We also saw a good example of the continuous quality control there. Every piece coming out of the line was inspected by three individuals before it was moved to a temporary storage area to wait for subassembly.
The factory has 160 robots that were not part of the old production lines, but were installed by Tesla for Model S production. Some of the biggest presses were also not originally from the NUMMI plant but purchased from Detroit area car manufacturing facilities when they downsized their production. But not all the work is done by robots-in fact, the Tesla Factory employs over 3000 people.
The manufacturing and assembly areas are very clean and painted with light colors. Nick told us that some of this is modeled on the space industry (Space X) and it helps with lighting and makes the quality control easier.
Since the battery is quite heavy, weighing around 1000 pounds, Tesla’s design team worked hard to design a lean and light body for the Model S. This led to about 97 % of the Model S body being made of aluminum. The largest steel part in the whole body is the reinforcement in the B-pillar that helps to distribute side impact forces around the body structure in case of an accident.
The painted body is taken through the final assembly line on smart carts that follow magnetic strips installed on the factory floor. When the cars have gone through a final visual and systems test, the drive train performance is confirmed on a dynamometer and by a test drive on a track. Every car also goes through a “rain chamber” where it will be soaked by a misty shower while an employee inside the car makes sure that there aren’t any leaks. I couldn’t confirm this, but I would assume that they use a fluorescent agent in the water and the employee uses an ultraviolet light to detect the leaks. This process is commonly used in the auto industry.
Many of the cars that we saw at the end of the assembly line were heading to Europe. You could tell it from the different license plate holders in front. These vehicles will be partly disassembled before shipping and then reassembled at the Tilburg assembly plant in the Netherlands.
What we didn’t see was the battery, drive train or the control electronics assembly lines. Tesla does most of this work in-house and considers these technologies their core competence so they are understandably not shown to the public.
At the end of the tour, we also saw a Roadster that had been in a couple of movies, a Model S prototype, and the beta production unit. The early Model S prototype was just a hollow shell, but surprisingly similar to the final production vehicle. This just underlined how thoroughly thought through the design was even before they revealed the first prototype.
Nick told us that Elon Musk used to have a desk in the middle of the factory floor, but he had recently relocated his office elsewhere in the facility. On top of the Model S prototype was the Motor Trend Car of the Year award statue that the Model S earned in 2013. Nick pointed out that this award statue broke in transit and it was welded back together. Motor Trend sent a new award statue that arrived in one piece and is now on display in Elon Musk’s office. Because of this, Tesla employees tend to joke that Motor Trend actually gave two awards to Tesla for the Model S.
After the tour, we got back to the Store and Delivery Center and Pavel got an idea that we should test drive the top of the line Model S 85 Performance Plus. He asked if we could, and soon we were sitting in one with a Tesla product specialist. Pavel drove a couple of miles around the neighborhood, and since we had just driven almost 3000 miles with a base 85 we were well-tuned to notice the differences between these two models. The Performance has the same battery and motor, but also has an upgraded controller providing more power and over 30% higher torque. The Plus package provides upgraded suspension. Our judgment: If driving performance is on top of your priority list, you might want to consider these options. The Performance Plus was noticeably quicker, especially when starting from a standstill, and the suspension provided great cornering performance without feeling hard. I was sitting in the back and noticed that the controller made a different kind of whining noise in full acceleration. It sounded a bit like a meowing cat in the trunk. So when you really want to push the Performance model, just make the kitty cat sing.
It was time for me to fly back to Minnesota, and I had the pleasure of driving to the airport when Lee, Pavel and Sasha dropped me off there. Pavel and Sasha will stay a couple more days in California and then fly back too, but Lee will enjoy the trip fully by visiting friends and relatives and driving back with his wife later this month.
I think it is appropriate to end this blog by thanking Tesla Motors for making this all possible. I have been waiting (and working) for this era since 1998. That’s when I first saw a Think electric car in the Ford Finland headquarters where I worked as an Area Manager. I remember very clearly that right after seeing the car I walked to our HR director’s office and let her know that if we were going to do something with that car in Finland, I wanted to be part of it. Unfortunately, that never happened, but I found my own ways of promoting plug-in vehicles. I’m really happy to see how Tesla has taken a leadership role in ushering in the electric car era. It is time to bring efficiency and excitement to driving-and Tesla is doing just that.
I would like to thank our crew captain, Lee, for coming up with the idea for the trip, providing the wheels and inviting me to join the crew. It was my honor to be part of the “Rain Makers” team and hope that we can do something similar in the future. Thank you, Pavel, for providing exhilarating rides and good company. I look forward to working with you on some of the ideas we talked about during this trip.
Thanks also to all of those who hosted us during our trip, and those who followed our blog and got in contact with us through the website or through social media.
Thanks also to my wife Susie, who kept things on track at home while I was on this great adventure. And to my children Sonja and Henri-I hope that you know that I do all this for your future, and for the future of the next generations.
Let’s start with the obvious: The Tesla Model S provides riveting performance and enjoyable passenger comfort. Combine this with huge luggage space and you have a great road trip machine. I didn’t ever find myself asking the dreaded question: “Are we there yet?”
The big center touch screen display and the user interface work really well. They provide an easy to use and flexible way to control everything, and the big screen navigation system is priceless. Overall, we liked the controls and found only minor development suggestions for future models (e.g. mini jack input, inside temperature display, 120 V outlet.).
Charging stop frequency every couple of hours works well. Like Lee says: “This car and I are a perfect match. She wants to have a break pretty much around the same time as I do.”
There is adequate SuperCharger coverage to make this kind of a road trip through the “electric highway” even in bitterly cold winter weather, but you have to charge the battery to full and the driver has to be mindful of the temperatures and speed during the longest legs on the frozen tundra in South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado. Cheyenne, WY to Silverthorne, CO is a good example of this, but we expect this to improve over time when more SuperChargers are installed along this and other roads.
Charging stops didn’t bother us, as a matter of fact the experience was quite the opposite. It was a good time to have a meal, grab a cup of coffee, do some shopping or check email and research and book hotels. In most cases, the car was charged before the crew was ready to continue.
SuperChargers form a nice gathering place for Tesla owners. We met many great people at the SuperChargers and had interesting conversations. Everyone is so busy nowadays that we rarely reach out and talk to new people, but Tesla SuperChargers provide a new venue for making connections. In the past, Nokia used the slogan “Connecting people”, and I think that it would work well for the Tesla SuperChargers, too.
I’m expecting these road trips to be very popular among Tesla Model S owners next summer and that will change things a little. Warmer temperatures will allow drivers to skip some stations, but you can also expect to see more drivers charging their cars at the stations. Since the power is shared among the stations, this will make charging times longer, and if it is really busy you might even have to wait for your turn.
We started this trip with an idea of wanting to experience what it is like to drive the Tesla Model S from Minnesota to California. Colder than expected winter weather slowed us down a bit, but also gave us an opportunity to collect great real life data and experiences that can hopefully help other plug-in vehicle owners. Since our crew already had solid experience with plug-in vehicles, we didn’t find anything really surprising, but instead this trip just confirmed that we are entering the era of electric vehicles. Tesla is showing the way, but others are following. Both Nissan and GM are rumored to be working on pure electric models providing over 150 EPA miles of range. This increase in range will let us use the pure electric vehicles for longer distance driving in addition to commuting, where they have already proven to be most efficient.
Data and analysis:
Quick data analysis:
Total distance : 2893 miles
Total energy consumed: 1044 kWh
Average energy consumption: 361 Wh/mile
Energy cost: $0
Total driving time: 50 hours
Total charging time: 15 hours
Average distance between SuperChargers: 126 miles
Average temperature: 30 F
Average driving time between chargers: 2 hours 18 minutes
Average charging time: 55 minutes
For the same trip 25 MPG ICE vehicle, in comparison, would have used 3899kWh of energy (gasoline), with average energy consumption of 1348Wh/mile and it would have cost $382. (assuming $3.30/gallon)
When looking at these numbers, remember that we were just taking a leisurely road trip. We often charged too much, which considerably lengthens the charging times, and we also drove slower on many legs than we could have. The fastest strategy would be to deplete the battery as low as possible when coming to the SuperCharger and then charge it only as high as needed to make it to the next station. When you look at our data, we arrived at stations still having on average 70 miles of rated range left, and we charged the battery on average to over 230 miles of rated range. We would have been much faster if our average arrival range would have been 20 miles and we would have charged only to 180 miles of range on average, but that would have meant less buffer capacity and required more planning. This will be easier in the future when the navigation system will take into account the elevation changes, the temperature and the speed on your route and recommend adequate charging level for each stop. I haven’t heard any information about this from Tesla yet, but don’t be surprised if they provide this functionality on their navigation systems sometime soon.
Here is our driving and charging data. This is real world road trip data with some imperfections. We have taken extra breaks, charged too long, driven too slow/fast etc. so don't make too far reaching conclusions.