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Life With Tesla Model S East-Coast Road Trip: Freeze In Slow Lane, Or Languish At Nissan Dealers?


2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

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After reading George Parrott's article yesterday about his effortless 1,200-mile West Coast road trip along  Tesla's Supercharger Highway, I have only one thing to say.

"George, you lucky bastard."

You see, I too recently made a 1,200-mile journey in my Tesla Model S. And it wasn't quite so effortless.

That's because I live in a barren and forbidding land called the Great Northeast Supercharger Desert.

While Tesla's free DC quick-charging locations seem to be sprouting like weeds throughout California, Texas, and Florida, we parched Nor'easters continue to wander in a vast charging wasteland that essentially contains only two Supercharger stops, in Milford, Connecticut, and Newark, Delaware.

(A third Supercharger, in Darien, Connecticut., is so close to Milford that for all practical purposes, it is redundant.)

ALSO READ: Road Trips In A Tesla Model S Electric Car: Lessons Learned

Tesla Motors Supercharger network in Summer 2013 - map as of Sep 10, 2013

Tesla Motors Supercharger network in Summer 2013 - map as of Sep 10, 2013

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Again and again, we've been titillated by promises that our long drought would soon be over. Last spring, Supercharger maps on the Tesla website  promised three additional sites in the Northeast by Summer 2013. Then seven more by Fall.

There's now snow outside my window. And of those 10 Superchargers promised by Fall, only one is a reality today: the redundant Darien station.

For all practical purposes, the Northeast has not gotten a single useful new Supercharger for a full year.

Long trips impossible

As a result, long trips in my 60-kWh Model S (which has an official EPA range of 208 miles) were virtually impossible. On many occasions, I've had to leave the Model S at home and take my Chevy Volt on trips to visit friends in upstate New York, Cape Cod, and Baltimore.

After almost a year of ownership, I had yet to take the Model S on a trip of more than 168 miles one way.

But when two good friends moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina--550 miles away from my home in New York's Hudson Valley--my frustration only grew.

The Newark Supercharger, 175 miles from my house, lay along the route to Chapel Hill--but the remaining leg from Newark to Robert and Sarah's house was 380 miles. Out of the question.

Tesla Road Trip from MD to CT, Feb 2013 - Tesla Model S cars at Delaware SuperCharger location

Tesla Road Trip from MD to CT, Feb 2013 - Tesla Model S cars at Delaware SuperCharger location

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New Supercharger

Then, in early November, Tesla opened a new Supercharger in Glen Allen, Virginia, just outside of Richmond. It is roughly halfway between Newark and Chapel Hill.

A quick Google Maps session revealed that, using the Newark and Glen Allen Superchargers, I could make it to Chapel Hill in three legs of 175, 205, and 183 miles, all within my car's official EPA range. Hallelujah!

But, as we all know, your EPA range may vary. And the two leading range-killers--fast driving and cold weather--would both come into play on this trip.

HOT: How Did A Small Illinois Town End Up With 300 Plug-In Cars?

According to the range calculator on the Tesla website, driving 65 mph at 50 degrees, with the heat on, I could expect a range of 178 miles. At 32 degrees, the projected range would be 167 miles. At the higher 70- to 75-mph speeds that I prefer, range would be even lower.

Maddeningly, each of the three legs to my friends' house was just barely beyond my practical range.

What kind of sadists does Tesla employ to select these Supercharger sites? Or is this a not-so-subtle incentive to buy an 85-kWh model rather than my 60-kWh car?

2011 Nissan Leaf at dealership after software upgrade, May 2011, photo by George Parrott

2011 Nissan Leaf at dealership after software upgrade, May 2011, photo by George Parrott

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The Nissan solution

Determined to outwit the sadists, I hit upon a solution. Well, it's a solution if you're really, really determined to make the trip in a Model S.

If I were a normal, sane person, I would have simply driven the Volt, as I'd done on other trips. But I took on this trip as a personal challenge.

My solution was to stop at Nissan dealers along the route and, using their Level 2 charging stations for Leaf electric cars,  pick up an extra 20 miles or so. That would be enough to get me to the next Supercharger.

Sure, it would add three hours to the trip each way. But I'd get to arrive at my friend's house in the Model S rather than the more pedestrian Volt.

I found three Nissan dealers along the route, one per leg. After a phone call, each agreed to let me hook up the Tesla to one of their Leaf chargers for as long as I needed, at no cost.

Okay. I had a plan.


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