Life With 2013 Tesla Model S: Getting Supercharged In Winter

Tesla Supercharger fast-charging system for electric cars

Tesla Supercharger fast-charging system for electric cars

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As the brand-new owner of a 60-kWh Tesla Model S, I was eager to try out a Supercharger, the ultrafast 90-kilowatt DC fast-charging stations that Tesla is establishing along Interstate highways across the country.

Model S owners--and nobody else--will be able to plug in and grab up to 150 miles of extra range in 30 minutes, about the time it takes to empty their bladders and then eat a fast-food meal and/or check their mobile devices. Astonishingly, the Superchargers are free for Model S owners.

So far, Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] has installed five Superchargers in California and two along I-95 between Boston and Washington D.C.

Tesla claims it will have more than 100 Supercharger stations by 2015, enabling the Model S to make long cross-country trips just like a gasoline car.

For me, the nearest Supercharger is at the service area on I-95 in Milford, Connecticut, about 85 miles from my home in New York's Hudson Valley. Though my car's EPA range of 208 miles should manage the round trip without a recharge, I figured it would be fun to try out the Supercharger experience. 

And it would be my first long trip in the car, a chance to check the accuracy of the "rated range" readout--also called the Guess-O-Meter--that so commands the attention of any electric-car driver.

Hopefully, my fate would be better than that of reporter John Broder of The New York Times, whose Model S famously ended up on a flatbed truck, out of juice, when he attempted a trip to the Milford Supercharger after leaving his Model S unplugged on a very cold night.

Unlike Broder, I started with a full charge. He had unwittingly charged the car in "Standard" mode, which--in the name of long-term battery health--stops charging at  90 percent of battery capaacity.

For my trip, just to be sure, I set the charger on "Max Range", which takes the charge to the full 100 percent. As I pulled out of my driveway on a cool 40-degree morning, the "rated range" read 198  miles.

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

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Still new to the car, I drove conservatively, cruising at 60-65 mph on open stretches and accelerating gently on more congested two-lane roads.  Under those conditions, the  Tesla's "Guess-O-Meter" was spot on. After about two hours, I pulled into the northbound side of the Milford service area showing 116 miles of range remaining--82 miles less than what I started with.

So far, so good. But where the heck was the Supercharger?

The picture on the Tesla website shows what looks like a four-bay carport, conspicuously Tesla-logoed,  and flanked by a 15-foot-high sculpted phallic column of no obvious purpose. (A nod to the SpaceX Falcon 9, perhaps?) 

But I could see nothing like that anywhere around.

Eyes swiveling, I drove slowly past the parking area, past the gas pumps, past the restaurant pavilion, finally to the truck ghetto at the far end of the service area.

Tesla Supercharger obelisk

Tesla Supercharger obelisk

Enlarge Photo

No carport-cum-phallus.

And now, I realized, I was stuck.  Traffic flow through the service area is one-way only. There was no going back.

I parked the car and backtracked  on foot. After a few minutes of searching, I found the Supercharger station. No carport. No phallus. Just two adjacent spaces in the regular parking lot, each with a gas-pump-like charging station and a miniscule Tesla logo.

I can now understand why John Broder drove around in circles in the parking lot at Milford. Tesla CEO Elon Musk implied that he was trying to run down the battery on purpose; Broder said he just couldn't find the Supercharger. I can relate to that.

Luckily, both spaces were empty. But of course my car was now at the other end of the service area, marooned by "Do Not Enter" and "Wrong Way" signs.

If I wanted to charge up, my only legal recourse was to continue north on I-95, get off at the next exit, get back on I-95 southbound, drive to the next exit south, get off, get back on northbound, and return to the service area.


I looked around for cops, saw none, and drove the wrong way back past the gas pumps to the Supercharger, encountering no other cars during my nefarious 20-second dash.

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Comments (50)
  1. There's no need for a double u-turn, the northbound and southbound sides have superchargers.

  2. what I don't get, is why Tesla's charging stations are only for Tesla! Come on! Let's Move forward against Climate Change. Help all folks trying to go electra Tesla! - I admire what you are doing, but I don't admire the exclusive charging stations.

  3. The batteries in other cars would get fried if they hooked up to the super chargers. The voltage or amperage would be simply too much and you'd kill your Leaf or Volt's battery

    Down the road, if a similar car was built, I could see Tesla opening up the chargers to others (at a cost, I'm sure)

  4. batteries would not get "fried" because the supercharger cannot give more than the car asks for.

    why should Tesla foot the bill for every EV out there?

  5. @Nick,

    Also, it wouldn't "fry" anything since the super chargers don't even the same way. How fast a battery can charge usually correlates to how much current the charger can pump out.

    If Volt and Leaf's battery can crank out over 100KW, then they can handle the power that Superchargers produces... Also, Volt doesn't come with DC chargers..

  6. Fighting climate change is one think, but keeping company afloat, giving its product some special advantage against competition is totally different story! Why should Tesla build superchargers for Nissan or GM? :) I am sure they will licence their technology for other OEMs later, but only for fat license fee ;-)

  7. Well, I agree that T should not have to pay for its competitors customers to use their privately funded chargers but, on the other hand, if the G-ment is serious about EVs it really is time that they 'pony-up',as I believe you Americans say, and pay to install a decent fast-charging infrastructure and not leave it to private business. As I understand it, the National Interstate Highway System consists of about 50k miles of highway. The cost of installing 4-car fast chargers (using Tesla's system and costs*) at 50 mile intervals along it would be a mere $200 million.

    A drop in the ocean as far as the US economy is concerned.



  8. Just curious because I didn't see it mentioned: Did you pay the extra $2000 for the SuperCharging option for the 60-kWh model?

  9. I see it noted in the story now.

  10. Why didn't you look up the Supercharger location on Google Maps on your 17-inch touchscreen? It points directly to the charging spots, north and southbound.

  11. Did you get the dual-charger configuration with your car? That could also affect recharge rate.

  12. Dual Chargers have nothing to do with the superchargers. Dual chargers allow you to take advantage of other charging stations that are greater than 40amps. The superchargers actually bypass the internal chargers and provide direct DC to DC charging.

  13. This is the approach to Tesla's Milford superchargers:

    It's not hard, the navigation system should make sure that even the dimmest driver doesn't miss the mark.

    The appearance of the superchargers is well known by the fans since Brodergate and one might have known there is no huge obelisk present at this site.

    Maybe the point of this exercise was to give the Broder story more credibility but I'm not buying it.

  14. If you wanted to do 200+ mile trips routinely in this car, you should have purchased the 85kWh battery, not the 60kWh. That was your fault, not Tesla's. The EPA rated range for the 60kWh battery is around 220 miles. So... why are you complaining about it now? It would have cost you another $8k (since you paid $2k for supercharging in the 60kWh) for you to upgrade to the 85kWh battery if you had wanted to do the long distance trips more easily. Stop whining.

  15. Ridiculous. If Tesla wants to serve its customers well it should install a charge station every thirty miles, or better a swap-station that charges the battery fully allowing for a five minute switch and go

  16. At this point every 30 miles is probably excessively close but 200 miles apart is crazy and even 140 miles is not close enough.

  17. When the number of potential users increase, I'm sure that more stations could be laid out. Also, I really think Nissan should sponsor DC fast charging stations at rest stops too. They need to get the same end user enticements out there to allow for longer distance commuting with their leaf model.

  18. Perhaps we could have EV companies collaborate on a build-out of level 3 DC fast chargers with more powerful cars like the Model S using 2 chargers at the same time.

  19. Actually they should be as common as petrol stations (and I'm sure they will be one day). Then the range of your car becomes mere convenience, rather than necessity.

  20. never saw a rest area that did not have a turnaround...

    I think its great they have food there and although its apparently not up to everyone's standards (ahem...) its better than a few we have here. One QC is at a gas station with nothing but "7-11" type food and a taco truck if you are lucky enough to be there during their business hours.

    sounds like Tesla needs to put a "stop charge" button on their unit. the unplug delay is a bit "weird" and I see people possibly breaking stuff down the line

  21. Can someone please tell me how the claim that it will have more than 100 Supercharger stations by 2015, enabling the Model S to make long cross-country trips just like a gasoline car is going to work. If the car has a range of 220 miles and then has to spend 30 minutes or so charging before moving on, that will NOT be just like a gasoline car, or hybrid, or diesel.

  22. The thinking is, if you're not pushing it, you might take a stretch/food/bathroom break every four hours or so even in a gas powered car. Take those breaks when you're at a SuperCharger station, and add in the fact that hopefully you're starting each day of the trip with a full charge, and the overall trip time will not be very different in the Tesla. (As a bonus, you'd pay nothing for your fuel along the way.)

  23. When's the last time you actually drove across the country? Personally, I've driven ~halfway across three times in my life and the Model S would have added a half day at most to what was already a multi-day trip (assuming a full buildout of SuperChargers).

    A more typical long distance drive is less than 600 miles, and at most a Model S will take a couple of hours longer doing that trip because it needs to stop twice to recharge.

    Considering that for the rest of the year a Model S driver doesn't need to visit gas stations at all, while the ICE driver needs to go once every week or two, the Model S saves time overall, while being at least acceptable on a road trip of any length.

  24. Also, with each supercharge, you save about $40 gasoline (from going out of your wallet into the oil industry).

  25. "while the ICE driver needs to go once every week or two"

    I am NOT sure that is true with today's MPG. Typical driver drives less than 40 miles per day. That is about 200 miles per week. Typical ICE cars have a range of 350 miles to 400 miles. Hybrids can easily get 500 miles range and diesels are known to go farther... Prius is known to go for 600 miles between fillups... So, it is NOT all that extreme.

    Sure Tesla is more comparable to a luxury sedan instead of Prius, but the point is that BEV's biggest "threat" is actually high MPG hybrid...

  26. If 40 miles/day is an average per day, then you'd have to use 7 days per week, not 5, and that gives 280 miles/week (with up to 50% of drivers using more than that), or 560 miles over two weeks. So that wouldn't be all that wrong.

  27. It is actually 70% of the driver drive less than 40 miles per day...

  28. As good as the Tesla S is, it is still limiting at this point without the proper infrastructure to support it. We will see how much that changes by 2015 when the next generation Blue Star sedan comes out...

    I hope it all improves by then. In the mean time, an EV with a range extender still makes the most sense at this point.

  29. According to the latest from Tesla, Blue Star is more likely to become available in 2017.

  30. Well, Let us hope so. It is just in time for me to finish paying for my Volt with the 0% 72 month finance.

  31. Reading the travails of tesla owners, who paid top-dollar thrice the price of a regular gas guzzler, I can appreciate the service I get with better place. swap stations are 20-30 miles apart, 42 stations to serve a country that fits in the LA basin, charge points galore, each precisely controlled from BP HQ, Elon Musk has this across the road from his office, and doent use it. Riduculous. Did i say my EV cost a third of a Tesla?

  32. It costs a third of the price of a Tesla? Too bad it's only worth maybe a tenth the cost of a Tesla.

  33. @Yuval: Ah, but if I understand the Better Place service correctly, you don't own your batteries. Tesla owners do.

    There are pros & cons to that, but if their company goes under, at least they'll have driveable cars. I'd be curious to know: What provisions are there for Fluence ZE owners in Israel if Better Place goes out of business?

  34. Israel is the size of New Jersey. Many of us here in the USA drive farther distances than that daily. Just read a news story of 600,000 commuters drive 90 minutes each way and over 50 miles each way. And I think that is California alone. In New Jersey, some commutes are 30 miles to a train station and another hour or more on a train to NYC. Some people drive the full distance. My boss used to drive 72 miles each way for 15 years. Better place couldn't handle these distances.

  35. @ Yuval: If you want to astroturf the Better Place battery swapping concept here is some tips:

    -don't bash Tesla, it's the best way to make what you are standing for even more unpopular than it already is with EV fans
    -don't spout nonsense, it's great that your little Renault minus the battery costs only a third of the Model S, but that's for the same reason obviously that a Corolla would only cost a third of an A7 or an XF.
    -realise that people will spot the flaws in your logic. Even if BP had 42 stations operational (I think it's more like half that): for the cost of those stations Tesla could probably realise 400+ fast chargers. It's just a cheaper way to make a dense grid and Tesla is working on it.

  36. A battery switch station is essentially a robotic energy -storage facility. It can earn money from utilities for peak-shaving whether or not cars are making use of it.

  37. It could, in theory, but does it?

  38. There are more comments in this thread
  39. Why is the author focusing on "Rated" miles instead of "Projected" miles? Rated miles isn't even a guess-o-meter, its basically just the EPA range multiplied by the battery charge percentage.

    It's only accurate to the extent that your driving approximates the average power consumption used during the EPA test. In fairness, the EPA test is a decent generalization which means it's not a terrible number if you drive conservatively.

    But the "Projected" range is an actual guess by the car as to your range based on current conditions. It's the only actual guess-o-meter on the car, so it would be nice if you referred to that instead of rated range.

  40. > "accuracy of the "rated range" readout--also called the Guess-O-Meter"

    The article might leave some readers thinking that the "rated range" readout would be meant to be the expected range under given driving conditions. That is not the case. It shows range under (fixed) official EPA test conditions. So to speak, when the car is turned on in the garage, and doesn't know yet how fast you will drive, or about the future temperature outside.

    I also haven't heard the term "Guess-O-Meter"... except for the Leaf, which is different. In the Model S, that's more the "projected range", which can be displayed on the center console, for example based on the actual consumption during the last 30 miles of actual driving.

  41. Well, Guess-O-Meter is the same way on a gasoline car too. The range on the ICE car is an estimate as well. The only accurate part is how many gallon it has used and the tank size. But the same is true for BEVs. You know how many KWh you have used and what size of your battery is with a full charge...

  42. BTW, Tesla has already said that they add more Superchargers on the East coast, also to reduce the distance currently between the existing ones. (Those were just the first step.)

  43. "This fell far short of Tesla's claimed 150 miles in 30 minutes."

    Tesla does not make that claim for the 60 kwh cars. They say that starting with a near empty battery a Supercharger will fill the battery about half way in 30 minutes. For the 85 kwh cars that works out to about 150 miles which you frequently see mentioned. However it obviously works out to something less for the 60 kwh cars.

  44. I wish there was a button to vote down articles for wasted time...

  45. You could still go from DC to Boston in the Tesla just fine if you came down to mingle with the commoners at the L2 for an hour or two... Heck, we're still stuck here on 3.3 kWh charging, so you really have nothing to complain. So many chargers all over the place.

  46. I don't get the comments like this, "After trying out a Supercharger, I can see its potential. But Tesla needs to put the charging stations closer together."

    Like Tesla or anyother company hires dimwits that can't do basic math? Of course Tesla knows they need superchargers closer together. They've only had time and money enough 2 whole SCs on the whole East coast these reports have found a fundemental flaw? It doesn't work for many people right now, but let them get a few more up. Everyone seems so impatient. As far as finding the stations I watched 6 Tesla owners find those staions at night in a snow storm I believe. Yes, people clearly need to be on the look the first time, but really?

  47. Supercharges are an outlier condition. Not all tesla users would use them daily or even weekly. Most would do as usual, charge at home, drive their radius. I guess someone in Baltimore who gets a job in Wilmington, DE and wants to refill on the way home would make the Newark, DE supercharger a common stopping point. But adding an hour to your round trip seems a little much to your day. Commute distances like that are crazy stuff.

  48. I find your comment "I parked the car and backtracked on foot" interesting - especially considering you still had 116 miles of range remaining.

    Compare that with Mr Broder's approach of supposedly driving round and round in circles looking for the supercharger - when he had 0 miles of range remaining and the car was indicating it was on reserve power.

    In either situation, I would have done what you did. Park and go to ask someone (or find it myself).

  49. Thank you for a balanced, real-world review. I find that most people are polarized in this controversy: those who bash Tesla or Mr. Broder without fact-checking.

    Mr. Broder's review did the Model S a disservice because he didn't:
    1. read the manual
    2. use common sense and fully recharge
    3. use his correspondences with Tesla tech support to defend his circumstances

    However, Mr. Musk was also to blame for his:
    1. hasty accusations (the parking lot assumption)
    2. evasive responses (never mentioned the conversations between Mr. Broder and Tesla tech support)
    3. cherry-picking (concluding NYT admitted fault; it did not)

    I applaud Tesla as a pioneer, but Mr. Musk didn't handle this fiasco well.

  50. David, great report. When you used the supercharger, did it charge at 90kW or at a reduced 60kW to keep a 1C (1 hour rate) charge rate for your 60kWh pack? Any idea why the 40kWh Model S will not be fast charge capable?

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