Our plan to fly to Washington, D.C. on a recent Friday was thwarted by 40-knot wind gusts and a SIGMET for “severe turbulence.” The goal was to attend a 7:30 pm concert so we couldn’t simply wait out the weather. We didn’t see a way to have reasonably comfortable passengers and arrive at the hall before 8:00 pm.
The Google said that it would take 7 hours and 20 minutes to drive from our Boston suburb, so my friend picked me up in his Tesla X at 10:40 am. Not only would we make it to the concert on time, but we’d save the Earth in the process. Generations from now, this would be remembered as the moment that the oceans began to recede and the planet began to heal.
The car had not been been plugged in overnight so we had only about 100 miles of range at the beginning. The Tesla owner said that this wouldn’t make a lot of difference to our total time because the superchargers work much faster when the car is down to below 50 or 100 miles of range.
There are no supercharger stations at the rest stops on the Mass Pike, so we left the highway near Worcester to charge at the Auburn Mall. As we wandered among the half-derelict retail, my friend checked his app and found that the charge rate had slowed. When we got back out to the car we found that someone had pulled into the adjacent bay. “The charging points share a feed,” my friend said. “So you only get full power if there is nobody on either side.”
The Tesla software automatically calculates charging stops, but offers no interface to tweak the plan. If there is a supercharger you’d particularly like to visit, you might have to enter it yourself as the destination. The software is also unaware of how many people are at or going to be at a supercharging station so the software does not factor “charging congestion” when choosing a stop.
The next stop was a rest area on the Merritt Parkway. These have a Dunkin Donuts, a Subway, a convenience market, and a handful of interior chairs for scarfing down a Subway sandwich. They seem to have been designed with the idea that people would stop for 5 minutes to tank up the car, use the restroom, and perhaps purchase a coffee. With the Tesla, however, we were there for 40 minutes to bring the car up to 200 miles of range. This does not include our brief wait for planet-destroying cars that identify as planet-saving cars to back out of the Tesla charging spaces:
Traffic in the NY Metro area slowed to a crawl starting at 3 pm. Combined with two additional stops (NJ Turnpike and Chesapeake House on I-95 just over the border into Maryland), we arrived at the concert hall at 9:15 pm, roughly 10.5 hours after departure. The hotel was 2 miles away. We got there with 30 miles of range, but fortunately the parking lot had a $1.50/hour public charging point. This was adding range at the rate of 16 miles per hour (not too different from D.C. traffic!) and at a slightly higher cost than an efficient midsize sedan would consume in gasoline.
Starting with a full battery would have made the trip go faster, but given the charge level at which we started I don’t think we could have done the trip more efficiently. The car was plugged into a supercharger during every minute that we were stopped.
The entire trip was done in 55-60-degree temperatures. My friend says that the range for a given battery charge would have been substantially less in the winter, perhaps 30 percent less.
Traffic jams could occur at any time or any hour. Note the stopped traffic next to the new “American Dream” mall. Soon the American dream will be to have a transportation system as efficient as the one in Mumbai or Delhi?
How about comfort? The Tesla is significantly noisier at highway speeds than our Honda Odyssey, so it is more fatiguing to ride in. The Tesla also does not absorb bumps as well, but fortunately the roads were mostly in great shape.
As someone who loves a good road trip, I notice that the Tesla changes the character of a leisurely journey. In a gasoline-powered vehicle, favorite Connecticut stops are a NY-style deli, an aquarium store, Cabela’s for the taxidermed trophies, etc. Tesla keeps the Climate One Percenters tied to shopping malls and highway rest stops with their national fast food chains. There is no point putting a supercharger on a back road, in the parking lot of a local diner, or next to an obscure tourist attraction.
On the plus side, we did get to see what kind of souvenirs our best business minds can come up with for rest stops on I-95:
Maybe conversations at the superchargers could make up for the lack of local color? It would be like the Turkish Airlines San Francisco flight. Despite the fine weather, however, people did not stand around chatting near their beloved planet-saving vehicles. We did not actually meet any fellow Tesla believers.
(We did catch enough of the performance to make the trip worthwhile and also an after-party in which the conductor referred to “a coloratura soprano”. I gently remonstrated with him: “We don’t say that anymore. It is ‘soprano of coloratura’.”)