Remote Trip Planner Test

I recently took a long trip through Southern California and tested the features of the Tesla Trip planner in a very remote environment.  This particular excursion was not a simple long drive to a single destination estimating the amount of charge needed at each supercharger as I had focused on in my earlier testing of the trip planner with software 7.0.  On this road trip I drove to, through, and out of Death Valley National Park – one of the most remote (and beautiful) places on earth with an updated version of 7.1.  This post discusses both the current pitfalls with the trip planner software but also some advice for Tesla drivers in remote areas.

The software itself is helpful but the driver still needs to understand how the software works and not get too nervous with strange behavior.  The software has improved since my earlier test as the number of false warnings has decreased but many issues still remain.  I also discovered a new problem that I had not seen before, but likely was part of the earlier versions.

Always Roughly Plan Your Journey

On any road trip you need to plan to some extent your itinerary.  For people who don’t like rigid schedules, I would still recommend estimating distances and travel time for various options on a given day.  With gas stations ubiquitous, an ICE vehicle can travel without worrying about filing up, but with an electrical vehicle in remote locations — even with superchargers — some up front planning is recommended.

Tesla recently added some superchargers enabling driving to Death Valley.  A few owners had earlier ventured to Death Valley by using a charger at the RV park in the middle of the national park.  I was traveling during a busy season (where RV charging can be more challenging), and I also did not want to stay in the park during this visit.  I was going to depend upon the three supercharger stations in and around Death Valley:  Lone Pine, Inyokern and Beatty.  Also in and out of Death Valley National Park only has a few places where you might be able to charge in a true emergency such as in Panamint Springs.  But there are many long sections such as between Panamint Springs and Searless Valley where there are almost no buildings of any kind.

triangle

Superchargers Surrounding Death Valley and Distances Between Them

On a quick look at the map, one could think that charging will be no issue.  The maximum distance is 141 miles going through Searles Valley and Trona between the Beatty and Inyokern chargers.  Unfortunately most mapping software wants you to drive through Olancha.  The road through Searles Valley is more interesting, but currently there is a few miles of unpaved gravel road that is under repair.  I like using the supercharge.info map more than the Tesla version when planning as the Tesla map is in only in black and white.

The simple mileage numbers do not tell the whole story.  The next step is to look at the evtripplanner.com software numbers.

evtripplannerdv

EVtripplanner Estimates From Beatty, NV supercharger to Inyokern, CA supercharger

In some ways although the energy usage is accurate, the overall elevation number is a bit misleading.  Starting at Beatty at 3,300 feet, you drop into Death Valley at about 0, but then need to climb back up to Towne Pass near Panamint Springs which is another 5,000 feet in elevation.  The supercharger at Inyokern is at 2,434 feet.  Although you regenerate a lot of electricity on the downgrade, you can’t recover all of it.  Both algorithms in evtripplanner and Tesla’s software do consider the topography during the trip to estimate energy usage.

Watching Energy Use While Driving

You have done a lot of planning and now are actually on your trip.  There are several screens you can look at to see if you can make it to your destination safely.  But unfortunately Tesla still has not added waypoints, making planning in the car quite difficult.  I like to flip between four different indicators when I’m watching my energy consumption as I’m showing in the photo.

consumption.jpg

On the dash if you have the energy widget up it will tell you some useful summary information since the last time you charged.  Also you can dynamically watch your energy usage while driving.  I watch the orange / green power meter.  On a gross level, if you are in the green you know you are regenerating energy.  If the indicator is above 0, the color is orange.  When trying to save energy, the consumption should be between 20 and 40 kW in “normal” conditions.

I would really like this screen to be redesigned.  The Miles Per Hour indicator is very large and prominent with the numeric display.  Half the tachometer is used up to also indicate the speed of the vehicle with the blue line.  I never look at this and the only thing remotely interesting is the listing of how fast the car could technically go.  When trying to be cautious of the energy usage, the scale between 0 and 40kW is pretty small.  I would really like the entire gauge to be energy usage not half of it to allow me to monitor instantaneous energy usage on the dash itself.

I can also monitor energy usage on two screens on the touchscreen .  The consumption tab is the most interesting of the two tabs. Consumption lists average or instantaneous use over 5, 15 or 30 mile sections and at times can be too much information with too many options.

A graph also exists of the overall trip energy consumption as shown in the upper right.  This shows you how much energy the trip planner thinks you will use over the course of your trip marked with the grey line.  As you are driving and do not match its estimates, the route is shown in green.  I don’t use this screen much but it can be useful as it indicates the route’s topography changes.  A flat route is a simple line, a mountainous routes will show curves in the graph.

Visiting within the Park

Of course when visiting the park, you simply do not want to drive through it.  You want to stop and look around and hike a bit.  This requires more energy planning depending upon how far you want to go.  A drive from Beatty through Badwater, the lowest point in North America at -282 feet, and to Inyokern would be pushing a 85kW battery.

badwater

EVtripplanner Estimates Using a Waypoint of Badwater

The estimate is that is 207.7 miles and 56kWh under ideal conditions.  My battery has already degraded by 8%, so I actually have a 78kW battery.   In the summer, Death Valley is one of the hottest places on earth and filled with European tourists.  In the winter it can be extremely cold.  On this trip it was a very pleasant winter 80 degrees, but I would not feel comfortable driving all the way down to Badwater and expecting to arrive safely at the Inyokern supercharger.  I don’t know the actual weather or wind conditions when I will be driving and I don’t really want to drain my battery down to zero in such a remote location.

Record Wildflowers

My trip happened to coincide with a large wildflower bloom.  This last year we have finally gotten some rain in California, and there was actually a bad flood in Death Valley.  One result was a very large bloom of wildflowers in the far southeastern part of the park.  To get to the best wildflowers clearly required a return to the Beatty supercharger.  The photo does not give justice to the sublime beauty of the desert.

wildflowers

Wildflowers In Death Valley February 2016 Near Ashford Mills

Electrical Options

I did decide to ask various folks at Furnace Creek if I could charge my Tesla. The RV park was full.  I inquired at the Furnace Creek Ranch and they clearly stated only guests could charge.  The visitor center also had no options.  My last place to inquire was at the Timbisha Shoshone Indian Reservation within the park.

I have passed by this small reservation for many years wondering why they never offered any visitor services as they are in the middle of the park.  To my great surprise they finally opened up a small eatery.  I’m not sure what I am more passionate about saving the environment or social justice.  I very happily ate an Indian Taco for lunch made with that delicious fry bread along with some shaved ice.  I encouraged them to install an electric charging station as Tesla owners could top off while eating lunch.

shoshone

Delicious Fry Bread at the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe’s  Eatery in Death Valley

When I finished my excursion to the flower fields, the trip planner went a little crazy again.  Instead of heading directly back to Beatty, it wanted me to continue on south through the park and into Nevada on a longer course to the Beatty supercharger using a lot more energy and time (shown on the lower right).  The day earlier I had the same problem when driving into the park as the trip planner wanted me to go up and around the park (shown on the upper left).

avoidingthepark

Trip Planner Twice Wanted to Loop Around Death Valley National Park on Longer Routes

After driving in the correct direction to Beatty, the trip planner returned to the correct routing.  Over the last ten years or so as GPS devices have become popular, I have a recurrent thought that the current generation of people will begin to loose their sense of direction, or people with a weak sense of direction will learn to depend upon apps like Waze without really understanding where they are headed.   In remote areas with a Tesla, a driver needs to truly understand their route.

Lost Connection

When traveling from Bakersfield over to Lone Pine two days earlier, I drove on Highway 178 that was in a deep river valley with no buildings.  Many parts of this road had no internet connections, so the software weakness that I reported in my earlier report still exists.  The trip planner got completely confused and told me I was going to be out of energy before I arrived at the supercharger.

falsewarnings

False Warnings From Trip Planner When Cell Connection is Lost

Summary

Until Tesla’s trip planner adds waypoints, EVtripplanner is an essential tool before beginning a journey.  With 7.1, the software still issues false warnings and wrong directions.  Until EV charging stations are ubiquitous, drivers need to plan their trips ahead of time.

Dealing With a Leaky Tire

As my regular blog readers know, I have had a torrent of problems with my tires.  I have had problems with excessive tire wear (which I hope to report an update on soon), but also just more mundane problems.  My wheels have a fair amount of curb rash particularly the right rear tire due to the tire’s profile and the large size of the Model S.  But I have not scraped a curb in a long time and I don’t fret over a few scratches.

My more mundane problem with this right rear tire is that I had a nail in the tire earlier this year.  I had the nail torn out and a plug put into the tire by my local mechanic.  The tire worked fine for several thousand miles.  Then in a bit of a rush, I scraped the sidewall of the tire.  Then a thousand miles later, the plug began to have a slow leak.

The Model S TPMS system does a good job warning you when a tire is less than 30-32psi.  I consistently will get a warning when the tire is around that threshold.  On the Model S, the software does not tell you which tire is leaking.  Ironically the TPMS on the Roadster did tell you which tire leaked!

I have four tires of the same vintage with significant wear, so replacing one tire would definitely require replacing two tires.  Tires are not free and they also use resources in manufacturing and shipping.  So I decided to delay the replacement by pumping air in the tire.  I did not look at a second repair of the plug.  The first repair cost me $47.60.  I live in an expensive neighborhood with an extremely reliable mechanic.  I could likely find another shop that may be able to do a second patch for less money, but I decided to not investigate that option.

Instead for the last 5,000 miles, I have been simply pumping this tire with air every three days or so.  The tire leaks about 2-3 psi per day whether or not the car is driven.  So it is not that hard to top it off.  I have used three different methods:

Conventional Air Pump

Conventional Air Pump

The first method is to drive to a conventional gas station.  I only tried this method once as I was out and about when the tire pressure warning light indicated.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, many gas stations charge for air.  I found the process to be a hassle dealing with a charge based machine.  If the air was free, the process would be faster.

I find this picture quite amusing.  Not only are you buying air, which to me always feels ironic, you can use a pay phone to make a call at the same time.  And if you are feeling generous, you can donate some clothes or shoes.

 

Electric Air Pump

Electric Air Pump

The second method is to use an electric pump that works on the 12V plug in the Tesla.  I bought this kit online.  It is not the Tesla branded version but it is the same basic kit.  Using electricity it pumps air into your tire.  The process is not particularly fast and your car needs to be unlocked to connect to the plug.  I carry the pump with me in the car.

Standing Bicycle Pump

Standing Bicycle Pump

The third method is to use a standing bicycle pump.  This third method is my favorite method.  When I’m in the garage without my key, I can pump up the tire at the same rate as the electrical plug using this pump.  I also leave the pump near the car, and it helps to remind me to add some air. Most cyclists own one of these standing pumps and they cost under $50.  The standing pumps are much easier to use than the bicycle pump that you can carry on your bike.

With any of these three methods, it takes about five minutes to add about 8-10psi to a tire.  My car is going to Tesla soon and I’m likely going to buy at least two new tires.  Topping off the tire every few days is pretty painless but I think I’m ready to be pump free.

Battery Swap

Preface

For this article, my standard photo sharing uses on this website DO NOT APPLY.  These photos are under copyright by Tesla Owner and cannot be used elsewhere.  More details in the appendix.

Introduction

Recently many California Tesla owners and I were invited to participate in the battery swap. I could not resist trying it out.  I had a couple of upcoming plans in Southern California, and arranged a four day trip including a battery swap at the Harris Ranch Battery Swap Station in Coalinga, California off Interstate 5 (I-5).

Car Undergoing a Six Minute Battery Swap in Coalinga, CA

©Tesla Owner 2015 — Car Undergoing a Six Minute Battery Swap in Coalinga, CA

This blog post will describe in detail the logistics of the swap.  Then I provide some analysis of the viability of battery swap stations.

Scheduling a Swap

To schedule a swap, you call a Tesla employee who lives in Coalinga.  The swaps are available seven days a week from around 9am to 5pm.  He fits you into an available time slot.  When I called, the swap station was already quite booked for the next couple of weeks.  I managed to schedule a trip by driving down on a Friday and returning on a Monday.  No slots were available on the weekend and only two slots were available on that Monday.  The station appears to be quite busy for the foreseeable future.

Currently, the majority of people using the swap are folks driving on business.  They are probably traveling salesmen who need their car or our visiting a variety of locations.  Because for most business trips, traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles areas is better served by airplanes.

Although you need to make an appointment, the appointment time is not fixed in stone.  If you arrive one hour late, it is “no big deal”.  He does prefer you call in transit to let you know an approximate time of arrival.  Part of this courtesy call is that there are several people working underground to get the battery off and on.  If he knows when you are to arrive, they can be in position to make the swap faster.

Your travel plans need to be a true round trip.  Your need to return to the same location to pick up your battery.

The cost of the swap is $80 for both swaps.  The price is comparable to two tanks of gas for a large vehicle.  You will get the same type of battery that you already have on your car:  60, 70 or 85 kWh.  The battery I got during the swap was not a new battery but actually the same B vintage.  The battery will be fully range charged upon your arrival.

The Swap Itself

Valet Station at Tesla Battery Swap

©Tesla Owner 2015 — Valet Station at Tesla Battery Swap

The swap itself is very simple.  You arrive at the south end of the station, where a Tesla employee greets you.  He intentionally take the fob and hands it back to you at the end, because one customer accidentally drove off without his fob.  The valet then drives your car to the north end and into the swap station.  They close all the doors at this time.

There is a funky waiting room to the side with a couple of chairs and a LCD screen with four security camera like scenes.  You can’t see much of anything useful in this room.  They have a refrigerator with chilled plastic bottled water, but I’d prefer to see a chilled water dispenser to refill my reusable stainless steel and BPA free water bottles.

The better view is by watching it through the back door.  The door is a mixture of a clear material and a metal.  You can see the process much better by peering through the slats.  If they did not want you to watch this process, they could have easily installed a solid door.

All three of these spots are visible in the picture to the right.   The black valet station is in the foreground, the funky white waiting room immediately behind it, and the battery swap station with its see through slats.

Not a Completely Automatic Process

©Tesla Owner 2015 — Requires Humans

The car is driven on a floor that is removable.  Workers underneath unscrew the existing battery.  A mechanical machine moves the old battery out of the way and brings a new battery into position, and then it is screwed on by the workers.

Even by peering through the back door of the station, it is quite difficult to see much of anything going on inside as it is all taking place under the car.  I did see a few hands, so I know the process is not completely automated.

While this process is occurs, the valet cleans your windshield and front lights.

Swap Time

The swap itself took 6 minutes the first time, and 8 minutes the second time for an average of 7 minutes.  On the demonstration video back in 2013, the car was swapped in 1 1/2 minutes.   The second time they had a minor issue putting in my battery.  They seemed to need to pull it back and readjust it.  The 7 minute average time was from when I handed the valet the fob to when the car exited the swap station.

Using Someone Else’s Battery

Batteries wear down with more use.  So on this trip for 971 miles, my battery stayed in Coalinga.  An weak analogy exists between driving a rental car and driving on a swapped battery.  But other than range charging every time and driving a lot of miles it is hard to abuse a battery.  An extreme situation would be to arrange a battery swap and then drive the car around the country for 10,000 miles and then return a month or so later to get your own battery.

Trip Energy Report

The following information is primarily just amusing.  I drove from home, swapped the battery in Coalinga and did not charge till I reached the Mojave supercharger.  When you do a swap, the software does not know the battery has changed and reports the following information.

104kWh

Trip Energy Shows 104.4 kWh Since Last Charge

I had used 104.4kWh to get from home to the Mojave supercharger!  I would love to have a battery with more than 100kWh.

Swap Station Interest Level

At the 2015 Shareholder’s Meeting, Elon stated that there is not that much interest in battery swapping.

“We have, basically, the LA-to-San Francisco pack swap capability in place, and I believe all Model S owners in the California area have been invited at this point to try it out. And what we’re seeing is a very low take rate for the pack swap station. So we did an initial round of invitations, where we did basically, like, 200 invitations, and I think there were a total of four or five people that wanted to do that, and they all did it just once. So, like, okay, clearly it’s not very popular. And then we said, okay, let’s expand that invitation to all customers, but I would expect that all customers behave roughly like that initial sample group.”

This statement from Elon is a bit misleading.  First of all not that many people drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles routinely.  People that can afford a Model S are more likely to fly.  So if they only got a 2% result from their invitation, that would not be surprising given the demographics.  Secondly for those of us who are fond of driving, we are not that likely to do this drive regularly.  I have driven on I-5 now twice this year, and I know I will be doing it again next February but have no plans in between those two dates.  Leisurely drivers may also opt to drive on highway 101, which is more scenic.  So it does not surprise me at all that the swappers only swapped once.  If it is true that the Beta testers only swapped once but drive regularly up and down I-5, that fact would be much more convincing.  But the swap station appointment calendar is currently quite busy.

“It’s just, people don’t care about pack swap. The Superchargers are fast enough that if you’re driving from LA to San Francisco, and you start a trip at 9 AM, by the time you get to, say, noon, you want to stop, and you want to stretch your legs, hit the restroom, grab a bite to eat, grab a coffee, and be on your way, and by that time, the car is charged and ready to go, and it’s free. So, it’s like, why would you do the pack swap? It doesn’t make much sense.”

In general, I agree with this part of Elon’s statement.  But I can drive from San Francisco to LA on two range charges.  I can range charge at home, reach Coalinga, swap and make it to my destination in the north half of Los Angeles.  If I need to stop and do a range charge, my charging time is much closer to an hour.  I may want to grab a very fast bite and be out of there in fifteen minutes.  I don’t always want to eat or stretch my legs exactly the time I arrive at a supercharger, so more flexibility is nice.

I also tend to not drive on the obvious routes.  On this trip, I first went to the desert and drove from Coalinga towards Barstow, but I did need to stop in Mojave to charge for a few minutes before continuing.  According to EVtriplanner in hot conditions starting in Coalinga, the drive to Tejon Ranch, Mojave and Barstow superchargers would take 47.4, 63.7 and 87.1 kWh respectively. Ideally I would like to skip both Tejon Ranch and Mojave and make it all the way to Barstow.  I don’t really mind stopping and supercharging, but on very long drives it is really nice not to have to stop, or to shorten the charging time significantly.  I have previously driven directly to Mojave on a non-range charge but I drove a bit conservatively.  With a full range charge, I can drive worry free.

Returning back up north from Coalinga, if I do not have a range charge, I need to stop at the Gilroy supercharger.  I potentially may be able to make it home if I am very careful but I could definitely not stop by for an errand or two.  After using the swap I easily made it home about thirty minutes to an hour earlier because saving time charging.  I could have range charged for an hour in Coalinga, or I could have saved some time by charging both in Coalinga and in Gilroy.  But sometimes one simply does not want to negotiate getting on and off the freeway.  I felt my $80 was well spent for these two long driving days.

On the other hand if the swap station was not available, I would be content with supercharging for free.

Where Battery Swaps Make Sense

I think there are a few places where battery swaps make sense.  Here are the parameters:

  1. A long highway with nothing interesting to see, do or eat.
  2. The start point from home to the swap can be done on a range charge but challenging on a regular 90% charge.
  3. From the swap to the end point can be done on a range charge but challenging on a 90% charge.

So in California, I would envision the three following routes that could perhaps support a battery swap station:

  1. The existing Coalinga / Harris Ranch along I-5 between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
  2. Perhaps a station near Davis, CA serving skiers, boarders and other folks heading to Lake Tahoe or the Sierras for the weekend from the San Francisco area.   This location would be somewhere along I-80 before the split with 50 in order to serve both shores of the lake.
  3. Somewhere between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Swap Station Viability

The physical footprint of the swap station is larger than a supercharger station and has only one use.  The Coalinga swap station formerly had been a car wash.  There needs to be enough physical space to store enough batteries in order to have enough swaps.  This physical space has a more real cost than a supercharger in a standard parking spot in the United States.

I only interacted with the Tesla valet, and could not clearly see the other Tesla employees that were underground.  I know there were at least two and most likely three employees underground.  So to keep a swap station viable, there needs to be enough swaps per day to pay for a head count to run the swap station.

Appointments

The current scheme to use the swap requires appointments.  Although they are open 7 days a week, the 9am to 5pm schedule is a bit limiting.  When taking trips it is often difficult to plan the exact time frame when arriving at a destination.

I can easily envision the two additional routes mentioned above (Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas) being primarily used for weekend jaunts.  The timing for swaps would likely be Friday between 5 and 9 pm and Sunday between 4 and 8 pm. The current 9am to 5pm schedule would not really be very useful for true weekend get aways.

A true useful swap station would not be this restrictive.  Perhaps you are guaranteed a fast swap if you have an appointment, but if you do not, you may have to wait.  The Coalinga station will remain in operation through at least early 2016.

Conclusion

“We built the pack swap into the car because we weren’t sure if people would want to choose the pack swap or not. We thought people would prefer Supercharging, but we weren’t sure, so that’s why we built the pack swap capability in. And, you know, based on what we’re seeing here, it’s unlikely to be something that’s worth expanding in the future, unless something changes.”

I don’t think the battery swap stations need to be widespread.  When on a true leisurely vacation, one enjoys stopping and absorbing the local color.  But on routine drives, $80 is not a lot of money.  I remember many weekends driving up to go skiing, and saving those 30 minutes of charge time would have been great, and I could envision easily splitting the cost amongst everyone in the car instead of chipping in for gas money.

I can envision in the future if the economics work out well enough for Tesla, there will be say a dozen swap stations in the United States on heavily used corridors.  I do agree with Elon that there is not a large demand for swap stations in general because for most drives supercharger times are fast enough.

My final review is that I appreciated the swap station.  I don’t like I-5 and I just want to keep on driving.  The process worked smoothly but I did feel a bit restricted by the requirement of an appointment.  Unless the logistics of the swap station could financially support a non-appointment model, I don’t think swap stations will be very popular outside of a few locations.

Appendix

Rollup Doors with Visibility

©Tesla Owner 2015 — Rollup Doors with Visibility

When I arrived at the swap station, I asked if it was okay to take pictures.  I was informed that it was fine for personal use.  There is no signage restricting photos or any information to that effect in any of the correspondence on the swap.  I told the valet that I was a blogger, but that I do not make money on the blog.  So would that be a problem as this is a personal blog?  He did not clarify the statement but directed me to call Tesla media relations.

I wanted to give Tesla the fair opportunity to say no, so I called Tesla and asked for media relations.  They told me to send an email to a particular email address.  I described what I was going to do and introduced myself and asked permission to post photos of my battery swap.   I only received an automated reply.  One business day later but three actual days later, I again sent an email to Tesla saying I was going to publish the photos soon unless they had a problem with that and to please let me know.  Since I made my best effort to contact Tesla and have now waited over three business days, I decided it was okay to publish these photos but will not share them with other websites.

I am not particularly impressed with how Tesla handles these kinds of questions.  I should be able to get a response by phone or email within a few days.  And if they have any real concerns about people using these photos, they need to inform their own employees the exact policy.

Supercharger Abuse Notes

Elon Musk near the end of the Q&A section at the annual shareholder meeting accidentally created a bit of a PR challenge amongst current and future Model S owners.  The comment was as part of a response to a question on the battery swap program available near the Coalinga supercharger.

“So, free long distance forever is what the Superchargers are providing. There are few people who are like, quite aggressively using it for local Supercharging, and we also send them just a reminder note that it’s cool to do this occasionally but it’s meant to be a long distance thing.”  Elon Musk

Executives have always made confusing statements in front of people but now with video technology and the internet, these statements can cause more problems than before.

This small statement has lead to a ton of speculation on what Elon meant.  Few Model S owners are particularly worried that they will receive a note from Tesla, or that Tesla will begin to charge them for supercharging anytime soon.  The most interesting part of the discussion is what business model will happen down the road for more widespread EV adoption.

But here are a few of the many questions the confusing statement invited:

  1. What is supercharger etiquette?

Supercharging does have some etiquette guidelines.  The biggest error is leaving your car in a stall for a long time after the charging is complete.  Tesla’s web page states:

“How long can I park at a Supercharger?

We ask our customers to use courtesy while charging. Once your Model S has reached the range necessary to get to your next destination, please move your vehicle so other Model S owners can charge.”

With the Tesla app on the phone, you are notified when your car is charged.  In highly underused superchargers, at odd hours, or off-season, there is no rush to move your car.

2.  Exactly who are these supercharger abusers?

Busy Supercharger in San Juan Capistrano

Busy Supercharger in San Juan Capistrano

No one yet has come forward admitted to having received a note from Tesla.  The speculation mill has mentioned taxi drivers using a supercharger near the Amsterdam airport.  The other speculation is around a supercharger in Southern California.  The San Juan Capistrano supercharger is near the coast and has been very busy.

3.  Is supercharging only for long distance travel?

Superchargers were primarily built for long distance travel.

“Superchargers are used for long distance travel, conveniently located along the most popular routes in North America, Europe and Asia. “

4.  What about superchargers in more urban areas?

Yes, there are many superchargers in large urban areas such as Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area.  Tesla has also stated that they can be used for those without a garage or definitive parking space.

“..we’re putting Superchargers in cities, not just between cities. Amm, this is obviously important in places like, aaa…you know, Beijing, Shanghai, London, San Francisco, aaa…New York, aaa…where at times people may have a challenge with aaa…having a…a…a fixed parking space. I mean…so…so that’s maybe the wiring thing, it’s more like some of those people don’t have a definitive parking space. Amm, they might have street parking or something, you know.”  Elon Musk Q1 2014

There are also no definitive statements from Tesla that folks without garages cannot use superchargers for daily driving.  I myself have met 3 people who only supercharged for this reason.  One in a far flung ex-burb area in California and two in the San Francisco area.  None of these folks, myself or anyone else has heard that superchargers cannot be used for daily driving by any Tesla personnel before this statement by Elon.

5.  Can you save money by only supercharging?

Technically, you will save on your electricity bill.  But driving and sitting at a supercharger gets old fast and likely would pay less than a minimum wage; electricity is generally not that expensive, and much cheaper than an equivalent tank of gasoline.

6.  How much does it cost Tesla in energy for us to use their supercharger?

A reasonable average commercial flat rate for energy in California is $ 0.20 / kWh.  If a Model S is driven 100,000 miles at an average of 300 Wh / mile and only supercharged the cost to Tesla is $6,000.

100,000 miles * 300 Wh / mile * $0.2 / kWh * kWh / 1000 Wh  = $6,000

7.  What about other supercharger costs?

Tesla does not buy land for their superchargers.  They do however bring in the equipment and pay the construction and maintenance costs.

8.   Is Tesla tracking our every move?

Tesla can collect quite a lot of information about our traveling habits.  Their privacy policy does include this statement:

“Charging station information: We collect information regarding the charge rate and charging stations used by you (including outlets) in order to analyze which charging stations are being utilized, how long and efficient battery charges are, and where additional charging stations are needed.”

So yes, Tesla can know if you are charging at a residential location and at a local supercharger.

9.  Is supercharging using sustainable energy?

Rocklin Superchargers With Solar Panels

Rocklin Superchargers With Solar Panels

Elon did announce that superchargers will be charged with solar panels where possible; unfortunately the solar panel additions have been very slow and only a handful of locations have them.  Elon also stated at the 2015 shareholder meeting that all the extra electricity the superchargers use will be bought from renewables.

10.  Does frequent supercharging hurt the battery?

Supercharging in general does not hurt the battery.  But I have heard but cannot verify from multiple sources including within Tesla that very frequent or only supercharging does have a small amount of increased battery degradation.

11.  What about Vehicle To Grid Charging (V2G)?

The idea behind V2G is to use the battery’s charge to add capacity to the grid during peak usage hours.  Theoretically in the future, a Model S owner could go to the supercharger fill up the battery for free and sell the electricity back to their power company.  In a sense, using a Model S with V2G could operate like a Powerwall to play grid arbitrage.  V2G technology is not available yet.

12.  Will supercharging have a cost sometime down the line?

I feel it is quite possible that supercharging will have a cost sometime down the line for the 3rd or 4th generation of vehicles.  With the Model S, supercharging was an option for the 60 kW version and not available for the handful of 40 kW versions that were sold.

13.  Is supercharging sustainable with more cars on the road?

With Model S and the upcoming Model X at a high price point, the typical owner has significant resources and likely will not try to save pennies by abusing superchargers.

The next generation car is targeted to cost $35,000.  This car will be aimed at a different demographic that may consider it worth their time to save $10 for a fill up.  But more importantly many of these owners will likely live in apartments or condominiums without dedicated parking spaces.

Perhaps a different supercharging cost will occur for generation 3.  A lot of different charging models could take affect for a different class of vehicles.  Perhaps other car companies could use the superchargers and would be included in a new pricing model.

14.  Has Tesla changed their message?

There has been some heated discussion if Tesla has changed their message.  The message that superchargers are free forever has now subtly been changed to free for long distance travel.  Exactly what their message is today is not completely clear.

15.  So exactly what is supercharger abuse?

No one exactly knows the answer to this question.  A handful of people do use supercharging regularly even though they have a way to charge at home.  Perhaps Tesla considers these folks “abusers” ?

Fortunately just a handful of Tesla owners feel it is their right to supercharge whenever and wherever they please.  One colorful blogger wants to use a close to home supercharger near his home in order to get back at his electric company by charging at the supercharger tied to the same electric company.  In every group of people, there will always exist a few who will try to maximize their advantages in a given system without much consideration for others.

Summary

The real question goes beyond the Model S, Model X, generation 3 and Tesla:

How do we facilitate wide EV adoption amongst drivers who do not have a dedicated place to park their car?

Perhaps Tesla’s statement should for the supercharger should be something like:

Charging at home is very convenient, inexpensive, and easy.  Superchargers are free forever for road trips.  If you have problems charing regularly at home or work, feel free to charge at a convenient supercharger,  but please be considerate of other drivers.

Range Anxiety

Elon Musk had a press conference today to discuss upcoming firmware improvements in version 6.2 and beyond.

Firmware 6.2:

  1. New Range Assurance Application that is always running in the background.  The car is always monitoring where it is in relationships to the superchargers and warns you if you may run out of electricity.  This monitoring takes into account current weather conditions and terrain.  You have to “opt-out” twice before running out of range.
  2. Built in trip planner that considers best route for your trip along with best charging opportunities.  The trip planner also figures out how long you need to charge at the location and lets you know on your smartphone that it is time to go.
  3. The supercharger status is also on a network.  The car is constantly communicating with this network.
  4. Automatic safety braking
  5. Side to side collision and blind spot warning
  6. Improvements in radio reception
  7. Valet mode similar to the Roadster
  8. Nuanced accelerator and brake improvements

Firmware 7

  1. New user interface
  2. Auto steering features

Other updates:

Model X is coming out this summer, and the first real auto-drive features will be available in six months.  Over the next twelve months all of Europe and the US (except for Northern Alaska) will be covered with superchargers. In 2015, Tesla will be deploying more superchargers in the world than the sum of all superchargers to date.

These new features are quite nice, and will be very helpful for those less technologically savvy.  I have to admit I have never had any range anxiety while traveling.  I am looking forward to having the whole continental US completely covered with superchargers.  I hope that means I can take a trip through the lonely deserts of southern Nevada and Arizona without depending upon charging at a campground.  For a true dream roadtrip, I would like a battery pack and a comfortable car that is still fun to drive that had a useful real world range of about 400 miles requiring just one charge per day.

Gas or Mileage Tax?

Drivers frequently complain about the condition of the roads.  In California as in most of the US, a lot of the maintenance is paid for with revenues from a tax on gasoline.  In the last ten years, the amount of gasoline sold in the state has dropped by around 1.5 billion gallons, and the corresponding tax revenue has dropped by around $2 billion dollars.  During this period the state population has grown.

There are several causes for this decline:

  1. As gas prices have risen, people are choosing to drive ICE cars with better MPG.
  2. In certain areas within California, more people are commuting by public transportation or corporate shuttle busses.
  3. Electric cars are driven on these roads but do not pay any gas tax.

State officials are now considering substituting the gas tax with a fee for each mile motorists drive.

Reporting miles driven within a given state brings up a number of issues.  With today’s technology, the government could track your cars movements through GPS.  But with very valid concerns, many people would not want their every move reported to a government agency.  I recommend Glenn Greenwald’s book “No Place to Hide:  Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State” if you want to learn more about the current level of surveillance. Without GPS tracking, collecting accurate mileage data within one state would be somewhat challenging.  I don’t routinely have any idea how many miles I drive within California in any given year.

California has always lead the way on environmental issues.  We have an easy to obtain $2,500 state tax credit on the purchase of an electric car.  Also, we have special stickers to drive in the car pool lane without any passengers.  So encouraging folks to buy electric cars and high mileage vehicles has been great for our air quality and helping reduce green house gases.  California wants to continue to encourage not discourage these vehicles.

California has more than 100,000 electric cars out of the 23 million cars on the road, which is less than 1% of the cars currently registered.  In 2013, 3% of the new car sales in California were electric.

Perhaps there are other methods to maintain enough funds for road maintenance. The gas tax could be increased.  In my immediate neighborhood, a lot of the road maintenance is paid for by new construction and remodeling.  I live in an area where homes are routinely torn down and others are extensively remodeled.  The justification of this tax is that all these heavy trucks used during the construction process deteriorate the local roads.  The taxes from these construction projects provide a significant amount of money into the local coffers and the roads are subsequently in good condition.

California officials do not expect any short term change to the taxation methods.

Off The Grid

I spent several days of my cross country and back journey off the grid — as in off the supercharger route.  I had no real interest in doing the exact same route up the eastern seaboard.  I wanted to visit a friend in Nashville and see a few other places along the way.

Planning this journey took a considerable amount of time.  The goal is to be charging the car at night or during the day while visiting somewhere.  In the end I came up with the following itinerary from Savannah, GA:

Macon, GA:

My first stop would be Macon, Georgia.  The forum had reported that the unofficially opened supercharger in Macon was working.  Plugshare.com indicated a slower charger up the street in case this supercharger was not available.  Various other drivers had reported successfully charging there so I was not particularly concerned.  The charger is located behind the visitor center.  I walked over to the Harriet Tubman museum while the car charged.

Atlanta, GA

Between Macon and Atlanta was a distance of only 101 miles.  I visited the Martin Luther King Historical Site and another museum.  For charging I decided to try to charge overnight at the Tesla Service Center in Marietta, Georgia.  I had called ahead of time to ask about charging and  was told the chargers were outside the building.  I am glad I arrived during business hours as the outside chargers were all busy when I arrived.

The folks at this service center were very friendly and offered to drop me off at my hotel.  I chose the Hampton Inn that was about 1/4 mile away from the service center so that I could walk if necessary.  They also picked me up in the morning to take me to my car.

Many service centers have chargers only inside the facility.  I will always plan to arrive during business hours.

Birmingham, AL

I had two choices to drive north from Atlanta.  I initially planned to drive through Chattanooga, Tennessee.  I had found a hotel on a site that listed it as having charging facilities.  When I called this independent hotel, they informed me they did not have charging facilities.  I also contacted a couple of private Tesla owners on Plugshare.com.

Birmingham Alabama

Birmingham Alabama

In the end, I decided to go to Birmingham instead which is around 150 miles away.  I was interested in the Civil Rights Museum and found a Chargepoint charger located nearby.  I could easily charge while visiting the city and sleeping at a nearby hotel.  The charge took about 8 hours and was free as was the parking at the McWane science center.  I enjoyed my visit to the museum and the art museum.  The charging facility was not in the best of neighborhoods, so I did not return to the car in the evening but I saved hotel parking charges.

Nashville, TN

Reverse Plug

Reverse Plug

The next stop was my friend’s house near Nashville Tennessee about 105 miles away.  They have a plug very similar to one of the Tesla plugs available for sale.  But upon careful examination the plugs did not match exactly!  After an unsuccessful trip to Home Depot for a simple adaptor, we drove to a Blink charging station nearby.

It was already 8pm and the charger said it would be complete in over 17 hours.  We continued searching on various apps and driving around to a non-existent public utility plug to discover that all charging stations in the immediate area were the same Blink network.  A nearby nudist colony had a charging facility.

I decided to leave the Tesla at the Blink station.  Luckily the charge did not take a full 17 hours and was more on the order of 15 so I managed to leave for my next destination by mid day the next day.

Paducah, KY

My next off the grid stop was a campground in Paducah, Kentucky about 180 miles away from my friends house.  Plugshare.com indicated that there was an EV friendly campground there.  I had wanted to try charging overnight and sleeping in the back of the Tesla.  While charging, you cannot run the climate control.

The owners were quite friendly and only charge $10 for an EV whether or not you stay at the facility (price may change for an overnight stay).  They have had four Teslas charge there.  A motel is about 1/8 of a mile away along with a place where you can buy food.  Some of their stations were compatible with my adaptors but several were not.

Waking Up in a RV Park

Waking Up in a RV Park

I set up my Tesla for sleeping and found the car nice and quiet despite the freeway being within a reasonable distance.  The RV park was much quieter than a regular campground since almost everyone was within their RV.

The two difficulties I had with sleeping in the RV park was that it was so well lit it interfered with sleeping.  The second challenge was the slope of the Tesla with the rear seats down.  I bought for the trip a very thick sleeping pad but also needed two other supports in the seam between the seats to be comfortable.

St. Louis, MO

Another 188 miles to my final stop was St. Louis Missouri where I found a hotel that had charging in their garage.  I needed to call ahead and reserve the spot.  The charge worked nicely as I did not arrive there till late afternoon and was easily finished by the morning.  The garage has a valet who insisted he knew how to drive a Tesla.  But I had to ask him “Do you know how to unplug one?”

My backup plan was to go to the Tesla St. Louis service center but in the end this was fortunately not necessary.

Lessons Learned:

Going off the grid takes a lot of careful planning and interferes with wanderlust.  Waiting for a charge during the day is quite tedious, so in essence I consider myself limited to a driving distance of around 200 miles a day.

The websites that are available to plan are not ideal.  None offer the ability to search for charging facilities just at hotels for example.  Plugshare.com is the most useful website and their related recargo is the most useful app in general.  The Allstays app is nice for the RV parks as you can filter by available amps.  I also liked that the app allows you to dial the RV park directly to double check on both availability and EV friendliness.