On range anxiety

It’s always fun when people approach me to ask a few questions or make a comment about the car. Two of the most commonly asked questions are:

  1. What is the range on the single charge?
  2. How long does it take to charge the battery?

This usually ensures that it is not going to be a short conversation ;). Both of these questions are often referred to as “range anxiety” when driving or owning an EV (electric vehicle). I thought it would be good to answer these questions here and hopefully relieve folks of some of that tension.

The maximum range on my Model S is about 240 miles (75 kWh battery). There’s a number of factors that will affect the real driving range though. Driving speed and style, weather conditions (temperature, precipitation, wind) and topology of the terrain – they all play an important part. On a warm and sunny day (85 F / 29 C) with no headwind, a person cruising at around 65 mph on a relatively flat terrain while avoiding abrupt acceleration or deceleration will probably get very close to the rated mile. Possibly even better. Any deviation from these conditions will most likely have a negative impact on the range.
While Tesla does a great job maintaining an optimal temperature of the battery pack, low temperatures will quickly eat up a good portion of the range. I am yet to experience the winter conditions, but those who own a car for some time suggest numbers in the range of 20-30%. I find it a bit extreme, so I will reserve my judgment till I go through at least one winter season. Other weather related conditions such as wind or rain will have an impact, too.
Same goes with driving style: the more heavy-footed you are, the more impact you will notice on how many miles are remaining before you have to make a “pit stop” to charge (similarly to a gasoline fueled car where you would waste more fuel when driving more aggressively).
One thing that differentiates EV from ICE (internal combustion engine) car is regenerative braking. Most, if not all, EVs are equipped with this functionality and it really helps to extend the range. It takes a bit of practice to get used to at first, but quickly becomes a second nature. I always use it to my advantage and apply the mechanical brakes only as a final assist to bring the car to full stop or in emergencies. Where this feature shines the most is during long descents on a mountain roads. You hardly have to press the brake pedal (just ease on accelerator) and the car takes care of the rest. How efficient can it be? VERY. Here’s an example from our road trip where we traverse parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway between Tennessee and North Carolina:


Notice the big dip (in green)? It helped us to extend the range so much that on a 136-mile-long stretch of the road we have effectively consumed only about 70 miles of the battery’s range. Of course, this is an extreme example. Regardless, regenerative braking works and you should always use it to your advantage.

By the way, in case you were wondering, Tesla does a great job signaling the drivers behind you when regeneration takes place. One of the cool features is that you can observe it on the dash in front of you, as it will display the status of all vehicle’s lights (brakes included) on a miniature model of the car.

The last thing I want to mention regarding the available range is the available capacity. You don’t want to run your battery completely dry (just as you would not want your ICE car to go empty). Even if the car will let you drive all the way till it reads 0 (some people have already tried), it is generally not recommended for the sake of battery health and longevity. Others already covered the tips on how to maintain the battery at its optimum, so I won’t go into that here.

So, how long does it take to charge the car?

It simply depends on what type of charge you apply. Tesla is famous for its network of rapid chargers (called Superchargers). In United States they are conveniently placed along the major routes and allow worry-free travel across the country. Tesla is continuously expanding its Supercharger network (both in the US and abroad) which should help to make the range anxiety go away.
Back to the question though, typically you can get about 150 miles of range back within 30 minutes. The car’s built-in computer does a great job estimating the time it will take to charge in order to reach the next supercharger (taking into consideration pre-existing charge level and consumption to reach the next point) and it will propose how much time one has to spent at any given location.
When we first started using superchargers we would often stay longer (much longer) than needed, just in case. This proves to be a moot point, as the car’s brains will automatically start limiting the charging current in order to maintain battery’s efficiency, so you might spend another 30 minutes or more to gain the remaining 20% of the capacity. Eventually, we have learned to trust the computer more and be on our way rather than wasting time :).

The Superchargers work great on the road trips or any long distance commute. On a daily basis though, there’s plenty of other ways to get the car charged up. My typical daily commute ranges from 50 to 60 miles. I simply plug the car in the garage and go about the rest of my day. There are also plenty of public Level 1 and 2 charging stations available that can accommodate ANY electric vehicle, not just Tesla. Some of the most commonly found solutions would be:

  • NEMA 14-50 outlet (240V 50A) – it would restore about 24 miles per hour of charge in my car;
  • NEMA 14-30 outlet (240V 30A) – which provides about 17 miles per hour of charge, respectively.

In a worst case scenario I could easily plug my car to a common 110V 15A outlet to restore at least some of the range (it would be painstakingly slow @ about 3 miles of range per hour restored, but it would work!).

It is also worth mentioning that there is a number of useful mobile applications that help to find nearest charging outlet in case you end up in unfamiliar territory. Some of them are tied to commercial operators providing the charging infrastructure, some are maintained by community. Either way it is easy to find an outlet nowadays using any app.

The simple (and somewhat smart aleck-ish, I get it) answer to this question would be that… it doesn’t. Just plug your car at home when you’re done for the day and forget about it. It beats the 5 minutes of wait time at a gas station when refueling an ICE car, every time :P.

Why Tesla?

The beginning of my journey was not exactly unique. Someone at work has mentioned a startup company named after one of the genius minds of the 19th century, Nikola Tesla. I would have probably dismissed it quickly if not for one small detail. The Roadster, while based on Lotus Elise’s body design, was capable of travelling 200+ miles on a single charge while maintaining the performance (and looks!) of the respectful sport car. There was nothing like this on the market at that time, not even close. For a start, there were very few electric vehicles available at that time. They all had very limited range (60-80 miles at best) and somewhat hideous looking. Uninspiring at best, as if the potential buyer should be moved with pity when committing to a purchase, rather than being filled with joy and excitement. Needless to say, Tesla Roadster has gotten my attention albeit I knew that it was completely out of my league due to a price.

Enter 2012. By that time I was well aware of who Elon Musk is, as well as of his bold master plan. With official introduction of Model S as a premium sedan I was really hooked. Here comes a beautifully designed car that can travel up to 265 miles (85 kWh model) on a charge, loaded with state-of-the-art technology, offering comfort, performance and safety. Accolades and praises quickly followed: named Green Car of the Year in 2013 and Car of the Year by multiple magazines in the same year, top scored car by Consumer Reports, top safety rating, to be finally called Car of the Century in 2015 by Car and Driver magazine. The hype was on. It felt like not a single day has passed without news about Model S. Rightfully so, as the car truly deserved all the attention. It was still outside of my price range at that time, being often positioned as a rival of Mercedes Benz S Class or BMW 7 series. One can always dream, isn’t it?

Fast forward to 2016 – Model 3 has been officially announced, bearing an affordable price tag of 35 thousand dollars while maintaining the same impressive range of at least 200 miles per charge. Sign me up please! Sign up I did. Like many others, on the day of the official reveal I dutifully put down my 1000 dollars deposit. No risk involved, as it is fully refundable. Plus, I knew that realistically it will be at least couple of years before the car is really available for the masses and at least a year before the final production design is shown. No hurry. I do want to be a part of the mission set by Mr. Musk, so this was my way of saying that I am committed (just like 400,000 others).

How did I end up buying Model S then? There’s many angles to this story, but here are a few deciding factors that helped me to jump the fence. First of, I am a big car enthusiast and am always looking for what’s out there in terms of new design, innovation and technology that comes in the package. Being an IT guy and a geek, technology is as important for me as any other aspect when buying a new car. That’s why I always seem to favor the cars that are well equipped (tech package, upgraded sound etc.). The car is more than means of transportation for me. I like driving and I enjoy road trips with my family, so all the “extras” play a part when configuring the new car. When I compare the integrated 17″ screen in Model S to 15″ in Model 3 (somewhat awkwardly protruding from the center of the dash) I think Model S is a clear winner here for me. I am also not (yet) sold on the idea that Model 3 won’t have a dedicated instrument cluster or HUD in front of the driver, but I digress…
I also started looking for CPO (Certified Pre-Owned) cars available. Surprisingly, most of the well-equipped second-hand cars hold their value rather well. So much so that they either come close to equally well-equipped Model 3 (I know that I would not settle for just the base configuration) or come very close to a discounted showroom Model S with similar features. I was also debating whether I should stick with 1st generation Auto Pilot hardware or go for the 2nd one. Hmm…
You know, one should listen when they warn you that you should not step into a Tesla Showroom unless you are ready to buy a car. They are absolutely right! Jokes aside, by the time I was ready for a test drive the number crunching was complete and budget analysis done with. Plus, having been following Tesla company all this while I knew everything there was to know about the car by the time I visited the store. I just needed to experience the actual drive to make the final decision. With some input from my girls (my wife and daughter) we managed to pinpoint the exact car we were interested in and on June 30th of 2017 our family became the proud owners of Model S. 🙂

So, why this blog, one might ask? If you haven’t noticed by now, I am a huge supporter of Tesla’s mission to provide zero-emission vehicles that will help to curb the pollution and give the future generations a chance to live in habitable environment. Climate change is real, regardless if it is caused by human activity or natural cycles. We can continue wasting time debating this over and over again, or we can do something to minimize our impact. Elon Musk, in his own genius, helped to lay down foundations and despite all the criticism and no-saying is already proving that sustainable alternative to ICE (internal combustion engine) powered vehicle is possible. I am well aware that there’s a premium to be paid when you are an early adopter and pioneer, but I am blessed to be able to contribute and support this mission today. I hope to share my experience with others, so hopefully more people will realize that Electric Vehicle IS the future and one doesn’t have to be afraid of it.

Stay tuned…