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.
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.
this post is now on jalopnik with some edits and additions