Mathematics is an interesting subject. I remember my grade 11 math teacher, Mr. Rubenstein, demonstrating that an equilateral triangle, in fact, contained more than 60 internal degrees. At the conclusion of his discourse, he signed the blackboard QED, and left us shaking our heads.
This is how I felt after reading John Broder’s account of his recent trip up the eastern seaboard in a Tesla Model S. His story was published on February 10, 2013, detailing his odyssey in the middle of January. That would be winter. It’s cold. Damp. Chilly. All things that work against battery life. Battery life, that Mr. Broder seemed intent on defeating.
Remember the expression, 1+1=3? This is how estimated range works on an Electric Vehicle. Take the estimated range, and immediately discount it by 20%. This is your real, working range. Why 20%? Think about your conventional gasoline powered car. Do you run your vehicle until the tank is dry? Of course not. You keep about 20% on hand so you don’t run out of gas. If you want to undertake 500 kilometers of highway driving, your vehicle delivers fuel economy of 12 litres per 100/km while driving on said highway, and your tank holds 60 litres, you can go 500 kilometers on a tank of gas.
Along your drive, say you encounter road construction. Your average speed drops, and your fuel consumption rises. You won’t make it to 500 kilometers on that tank of gas. In the winter, fuel economy can drop by as much as 50% from increased air density slowing down the car, slush or wet conditions increasing drag, and thermal efficiency losses. Have a look at this Scientific American article for more detail. Do you blindly proceed? Of course not. Experience tells you to fill the vehicle with gas.
Any fool would, unless you’re a Washington based reporter bent on disregarding physics and common sense while driving a state of the art, technological marvel that requires a basic understanding of how the vehicle and the real world works.
I’d like to think Mr. Broder had some remote idea of what he was doing. Driving an EV is not like driving a vehicle with an internal combustion engine. Then again, when you look at what he was trying to do, he seemed to abandon all common sense and let the vehicle dictate what was possible.
I liken this to a total reliance on the published fuel economy figures for vehicles, which are really for comparison purposes and unfortunately have very little to do with real world driving.
Let’s take a look at some specifics. Mr. Broder set out from Washington, DC to Newark, Delaware. No problems on this leg of the journey. He charged the vehicle in Newark for 49 minutes after a 114 mile drive, then proceeded to New York City. The vehicle showed, after a trip of 133 miles, a range of 79 miles remaining. What did he do next? He set out for a Tesla Supercharger station that was 73 miles away in Milford, Conn.
My first question: if you had to drive 73 miles (New York to Milford), and you knew you only had 79 miles of fuel in your internal combustion-powered gasoline-engined vehicle, would you do it? Of course not; you’d stop for fuel. Mr. Broder didn’t, and barely squeaked into the charging station. Why didn’t he ‘fill up’ at the Tesla dealer’s Manhattan charging station? Instead, he whined to the Tesla support people when he had 79 miles of driving range on arrival in New York and was concerned he wouldn’t make it to Milford.
In Milford, he charged the vehicle to a range of 185 miles. He then embarked on a trip to Groton, Conn., a distance of 79 miles, and spent the night. He did not charge the car overnight. He said there were no charging facilities available. Temperatures were in the mid-teens Fahrenheit. Remember that batteries don’t like the cold. His range on arrival was 90 miles. He woke up to a range of 25 miles. He then drove to Norwich, Conn., a distance of 11 miles, and plugged the car in at a luncheonette to charge, presumably on a 110v circuit which could take hours to fully recharge.
I should mention that the last Supercharger station beyond Milford, Conn. is, well, there isn’t one. Milford is the last one, for now. So where was Mr. Broder going after Milford, with less than 79 miles of range when he pulled into Groton and decided not to charge the vehicle in any way, shape or form?
If he had charged the car overnight, he would have preserved some heat in the system and the batteries likely would have held their charge so he could have returned to Milford to fully charge the vehicle. What did he do instead? He drove the other way to Norwich.
He wanted to run out of power. That’s the only conclusion I can take from this article.
He didn’t charge the vehicle in New York when he had the chance.
He didn’t fully charge the vehicle in Milford when he had the chance.
He started out on a journey from Milford to Groton with virtually no margin for remaining power versus the distance driven for a return trip to Milford.
He didn’t once fully charge the vehicle. I suppose he never fully fills the tank of his own vehicle, either.
Mr. Broder wanted to fail. Why, is a mystery. He’s not commenting on the article.
But, Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla sure is. He’s called Mr. Broder’s article a fake. His Twitter account stated: “NYTimes article about Tesla range in cold is fake. Vehicle logs tell true story that he didn’t actually charge to max & took a long detour.”
I don’t think the article is fake. I think Mr. Broder is trying to be sensational (succeeding), demonstrating that he can’t do simple math (succeeded), and wanted to fail for some perverse reason to which only he is privy (succeeded).
Mr. Musk, if you’d like, I’d be happy to take your Tesla Model S and run it up the eastern seaboard. I’d take the opportunity to recharge it in New York, while enjoying a nice lunch at Friedman’s in the Chelsea Market. I’d stop in Milford, recharge the vehicle fully and head straight to Boston. And I wouldn’t break a sweat doing it.
Mr. Rubenstein, where are you now?