Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tesla Road Trip - debunking the New York Times


Late Friday night I came across a blog post saying that some Tesla Model S owners were going to attempt to recreate the now infamous DC to CT road trip in a Model S. By this point CNN had already completed the same journey and done a lot of the debunking, but you could still hear the chorus of naysayers: "not the same temperatures" "only one car" etc.

I then went on to the Tesla Owners Club forums and read through the twenty some pages of discussion pertaining to the road trip. 5 or 6 owners had enthusiastically signed up for the drive and had planned to meet at the Rockville, MD Tesla Motors service station (20 minutes from my house) the next morning.
I woke up the next morning, grabbed some cameras and drove to the service center. I arrived at 9 and saw the owners gathering and planning for the journey. It seemed that 2 more owners had committed overnight including some guys that drove their Model S 3 hours from Ocean City, MD at midnight and a guy that drove his Model S from Boston.




With all the cars charged or charging at the service center, the owners drank coffee, traded notes and stories about their cars, and of course expressed their disdain for John Broder and the New York Times. The term "Brodering" was coined: running out of power due to human error, or generally dropping the ball when dealing with electric cars. These owners were determined to not broder it up that day.


This is Peter Soukup and his home made charging device. Peter has driven his Tesla across the country several times. 

The device enables him to double the speed of in home charging. An engineer by trade, Peter was happy to show off his creation to the owners and the curious Tesla Service staff.

After arranging the cars in some classic internet meet-up poses, we headed out on the highway and began the journey. Seven cars left Rockville with two planning on only making the trip to the Delaware Supercharger station because of prior commitments that night. Four or five more Tesla Model S would meet the convoy in Delaware and continue on the journey. I managed to get a ride in one of the Delaware bound cars and enjoyed my first ride in an all-electric car.

Due to my filming the convoy leaving the parking lot and having to hustle to get in a car, we were briefly separated from the convoy. This was my first experience with the acceleration capabilities of the Model S. Needless to say we caught up to the group in no time and continued on in our impressive convoy. A single Model S is attention grabbing by itself; a convoy of seven is a spectacle.

Baltimore Tunnel
We made the trip north past Baltimore, and into Delaware. When we arrived at the supercharger station at the Delaware Welcome center, there were a few Model S filling up at the superchargers. Some guys from the owner's club and some Volkswagen engineers testing a Model S and the supercharger system. The VW employees unplugged and left us to plug in to the four supercharger stations.




Four cars plugged in while the rest parked nearby to wait their turn. (there was talk on the forum about staggering the start to avoid this situation but it was decided that the convoy would be more fun and more impressive. This Delaware welcome center is a frequent stop for Bolt bus and the many other DC-NY bus services. As the buses unloaded big crowds would gather to take pictures of the cars and to ask questions. One of the favorite party tricks among the owners is to show off the large storage space under the hood known as the "frunk". People are impressed because it is impressive. It is unlike any car they have seen before. Seeing 10 or 11 of them in one place is note worthy- they will tell their friends when they get home.

We headed inside to get lunch while the cars charged. The owners were able to monitor their charging on their Tesla iphone app and see the progress in "miles per hour" - how many miles of range the car is adding  per hour.

After around 45 minutes, one of the owners got a notification on his app that his car had stopped charging, but it had not completed the full "range" charge. Three of us went out to investigate. Indeed the car had stopped charging. It had arrived at the supercharger station with 130 miles left of range and had filled up 50 miles bringing it to a total of 180 miles of range or charge. All of the owners were filling up to the near max of around 275 miles. This car would not take any more even after trying to unplug and replug, resetting the computer, trying different superchargers. A call was placed to Tesla and after running through some basic suggestions that we had already tried they told him they were going to work on a solution and call him back. It is worth noting that George Blankenship, Vice President of Sales & Ownership Experience was monitoring the road trip and was in phone contact with one of the leaders of the trip earlier in the day.

During this time, three or four other Tesla Model S (it was hard to keep track of all of the cars. I realized that it would have been a good idea to number them with some kind of washable marker like a track day to keep track of everything) showed up at the supercharger just trying to "fill up". They were, of course, aware of the New York Times article but unaware of the attempt being made that day by the owners club. At one point I think there were 11-13 Model S in the parking lot near the supercharger.

After all of the cars had rotated through the supercharger spots, it was time for the convoy to depart. The owner of the car that had the charging problem was determined to continue on if he could get the problem fixed. He had more than enough range to get back home to DC but not to continue on with the trip to CT. The convoy departed and a short while later Tesla called back and told the owner that they had detected the problem and that they were working on a custom coded version of 4.3 (an unreleased firmware update) to allow him to continue on. Some 20 minutes later they pushed the update to the car and told him to try again. Somehow the update had locked the door to the plug connection and another call was placed. They saw the bug and pushed another version of the code to the car. This time it worked and the car was once again charging at the high rate of speed promised by the supercharger. There was nothing but appreciation for the customer service from the owner and excitement at being able to continue on the journey. The problem put him at about an hour delay - plenty of time to catch up to the convoy at the next supercharger station. It is worth noting that at no point was the car disabled or 'bricked'. It had 180 miles of charge and had no need for a flatbed. 

At this point we parted ways- myself and 3 others in one Model S heading back south to DC and the now fixed car getting ready to head north to CT.

On the way back we had a more sporting ride than the casual pace of the convoy. Without delving into specifics, let me simply say that this car is fast as f*** but in such a casual way. You want to be 10 car lengths up and 3 lanes over? done. No drama, no anxiety, just done. The only drama is on the super-futuristic digital instrument panel as the various power indicators flash and spin while two digits become three.

When I got home last night, the convoy was nearing Connecticut, and the car that had the problem was not far behind. He made it to the hotel with the others and this morning they departed - some to NY some to Boston and some back to MD. All of the updates and progress can be seen @TeslaRoadTrip

The participants in this journey freely admitted that there are small problems with the car and that they are early adopters. They are the kind of people that send error reports on their computer - happy to take a minute to send feedback to engineers and participate in the improvement of a product over time. The owner that had the problem in Delaware commented "you must be this tall to enter this ride"- implying you have to have a certain level of intelligence and common sense to own this car. If you are competent you can use this car without ending up on a flatbed. They are thankful to Tesla and Elon Musk for having the courage and vision to create this company and believe that Tesla is the only chance EV's have in America. They believe that Tesla is the only manufacturer committed to revolutionizing personal mobility, not just producing EV's and hybrids as a publicity stunt and to meet efficiency standards. They hold these beliefs strongly and they have seen this story before. They know that there are people who want to see this fail and they are willing to make a show of force to prove their point.


-Xander Walker
strassenversion.net

this post is now on jalopnik with some edits and additions
http://strassenversion.kinja.com/tesla-road-trip-debunking-the-new-york-times-247951069 

25 comments:

  1. Great article, Broder isn't going to like this..

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  2. Thanks, I came here from following the teslaroadtrip. Good write up and I hope you liked the journey with them.

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  3. Nice write up. Thank you.

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  4. Excellent fair and balanced account. As an early Tesla Roadster and Model S owner (first of each in British Columbia), I agree that one must still have just a DAB of patience to enjoy an EV at this stage, but only a DAB. And if you choose that road, you are SO richly rewarded. Ultimately, life is about people and not tech. I choose to hang with THESE people, not the naysayers who cannot envision innovation. Being a tech company founder myself, with plenty of stories of being told "it will never work", "no-one will ever buy it", I have great admiration and empathy for Elon Musk, George Blankenship, and the thousands of talented, committed, and enthusiastic employees of Tesla Motors, Inc.

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    1. I had the pleasure of meeting a red Tesla Model S on Highway 1 the other day in Vancouver. Simply put, one of the most beautiful cars on the road at night. Unbelievable presence.

      Wouldn't happen to be you, would it?

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  5. Wow, they created a custom firmware just for him? That's *service*!

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  6. Debilitating firmware problems described here don't provide specific evidence to explain Broder's problems, but certainly lend credence to the possibility that his car was misbehaving. The significance of the problem, the shoddiness of the fix, and the apparent side effect of the fix raise questions about whether the collection, analysis, and presentation of the car's data are trustworthy. And it's extremely concerning that a firmware "fix" can be pushed to a vehicle seemingly with no QA at all. I would like to know a lot more about the software engineering methods being used by Tesla.

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    1. First off, this wasn't a debilitating firmware problem as the care still functioned and had enough range for all but the longest trips.

      As a computer engineer, I can tell you this. Software is beta for a reason, and if they got an engineer to modify beta software on the spot, it's not surprising there was a minor bug. That's why the software hasn't been released, it hasn't made it through their QA process yet.

      Pushing beta software to a car is risky, so I suspect Tesla's VP had a hand in that.

      Delete
    2. Broyer - is that you again ... posting as "anonymous?" ;-)

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  7. Great blog. I've been following their progress on twitter. I wish I could afford a Model S, but am still quite happy with my Leaf.

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  8. I've been following the story since the New York Times first posted Broder's story. Mixed feelings about Musk's response; I genuinely think it was overly harsh in places. That said, I can see why he felt the need to hit back, given what seemed to be at the very least exaggerations in Broder's account. FWIW, as an outsider with no stake, that's my view.

    I guess what concerns me about Tesla's leaving aside that I'm a 12 hour round-trip from the nearest Tesla dealer, and perhaps 1000 mi from the nearest supercharging station... what happens to a Tesla when it is left without any external power for a week or two and the temperature is -10C?

    Is the battery pack effectively destroyed (or badly damaged)?

    Sure, you can scoff "Plug it in", but 15 years ago, where I live, we were without power for 10 days, during winter. That was hopefully a once in a hundred year event, but I'd rather not proceed on that assumption.

    I think if I lived in the west, or the south, and power came primarily from nuclear, hydro, or renewables, this would be a fantastic car to buy. I admire what Musk has done with SpaceX and with Tesla. I admire the enthusiasm of Tesla owners. The fact that after the 8-year warranty is up, you can buy a replacement battery pack for $8-$12k is very, very interesting.

    For me? Not where I live. At least not yet.

    Thanks for the post and pictures.

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  9. I just wanted to let you know, there are smaller fonts you could have used.

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    1. Yes and they could've used a light shade of gray!

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    2. I just pushed a firmware upgrade to your computer, use "Control +" to make the font as large as you want it.

      Delete
  10. Thank you for doing this. I'm not a Tesla owner but hopefully in the near future I will be. John Broder is a liar. His credibility is officially damaged and he's also hurt the NYT as well.

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  11. Those who rail against the possibility of an electrical mishap should be reminded of BMW and its runflat tires. When they released their 3 series some few years back there was a nationwide shortage of replacements. Need a new runflat due to a puncture? (And that's the BMW recommendation - replace after "running flat") Days to weeks of wait time. If you were in the boonies, good luck.

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    1. Oh yes... not to mention the price of tea in China.

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  12. I told my boss that I "Brodered" my smart phone and that's why I wasn't answering his emails.
    He had the IT guys check the logs to show that I had been sending emails and texts, but ignoring his, and he totally "ElonMusked" me. Man!
    Now I am "NewYorkTimes" (screwed)!

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  13. Even on this run, one car failed, and while it then went on to recover (albeit with some work and waste of time), it left a sense that the Teslas are not quite ready for the market. A 10% fail rate would be unacceptable for almost any other product

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    1. You're overstating, it did not fail it stopped at 80% charge, now if it only charged to 8% that would be a fail!

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  14. Please let me know when the Teslas (any model) make it from Tallahassee, Florida to Seattle, Washington. Your trip journals would be nice, too.

    Best regards,

    Sam Creecy

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    1. I don't know anybody that has taken that exact route, but here's the blog of somebody that came pretty close: http://electricroadtrips.com/trip-route/

      Of course, this was all without Superchargers. It sounds like Tesla plans a coast-to-coast route in the next few months. Of course, a lot of things they plan have delays, so we'll see.

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