So far, the New York-to-Florida electric-car road trip in my 2013 Tesla Model S is progressing pretty much according to plan.
That's not to say I haven't learned a few things in traveling via the newly-completed network of Tesla Supercharger DC quick-charging stations.
One of them would be that cold weather really does cut the range of electric cars--to the point where even with my new 85-kWh battery pack, I just squeaked into one Supercharger station with a handful of miles left.
But let's start at the beginning ....
DAY 1: Hudson Valley, New York, to Newark, Delaware
I left at 3 pm, after a brunch to meet my teen-age daughter's new boyfriend. (Very important occasion.) Shooting to make the Supercharger in Newark, Delaware, shortly after dark. It's about 175 miles from my home in New York's Hudson Valley.
Tesla Supercharger fast-charging system for electric carsEnlarge Photo
The temperature at departure is 16 degrees. I charge to 90 percent in the morning; the plan is to top off the last 10 percent just before departure. This warms the battery a bit and reduces the huge initial energy suck from a stone-cold start.
I get impatient, however, with the very slow charge rate when the battery is nearly full,and drive off with about 95 percent, with the rated range showing 251 miles. Should be more than enough, even driving fast in the cold.
The topping-off process proves only partially effective; the "Battery Heating" indicator still comes on after a few minutes, and the regen braking is limited initially--as it normally is in cold weather. Just not as much.
Energy consumption is ferocious for the first 20 or 30 miles, hitting more than 600 Wh per mile--about double the normal consumption. The first 20 miles of driving eat up 40 miles of rated range; I'm already down to 210.
At 30 miles, on New Jersey Route 17, I give a friendly wave as I pass Ramsey Nissan, who back in November kindly let me use their Level 2 charging station the last time I drove to Newark. That was when I had a 60-kWh battery; I've since upgraded to an 85-kWh pack. This trip will be the first real range test for the new battery.
I cruise at my normal 70-75 mph, with the heat set at 72 degrees. As I drive, I keep careful track of how the range display compares with the actual miles driven. I'm shocked to find that, even after everything is fully warmed up and energy consumption has stabilized at about 370 kWh/mi, for every 10 miles of indicated range lost, I'm only driving about 7 actual miles.
Tesla Motors - Model S lithium-ion battery pack
Tesla Motors - Model S lithium-ion battery packEnlarge Photo
After 60 actual miles--with 115 left to go--I'm showing a rated range of 150 miles remaining. But discount those miles by 30 percent, and the actual range remaining is....105 miles. Holy Moses. At this rate, I may not make it.
I slow to 65 mph and turn the heat down to 65 degrees. By this time, the outside temperature has climbed to about 25 degrees. With all these factors, the rated-range discrepancy is now running at only about 10 percent, suggesting an actual range remaining of 135 miles. Phew.
By constantly calibrating the two numbers--rated and actual range--I'm gradually able to increase the speed and cabin temperature slightly as I get closer to Newark. I pull in with 18 miles of indicated range remaining, triggering a low-battery warning and a cutback the available maximum power.
While I'm plugging in, a local Tesla rep drives up with a potential customer in tow on a demo drive. When I mention I'm heading for Florida, he says he's not aware of anyone doing that yet.
The tire-kicker quizzes me about the Supercharging. When I tell him the electricity is free, he is totally dumbfounded. (My bet is the guy will buy the car.)
I have a quick fast-food dinner at the Newark service area food court while the car charges, then drive to a nearby motel with 217 miles of range indicated. My plan is to return the next morning to repeat the topping-off process.
After today's sobering dose of reality--cold weather is truly more of a range-killer than I had expected--I'm going to need every kilowatt-hour tomorrow morning. The next leg, to the Supercharger in Glen Allen, Virginia, is 199 miles.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to technical glitches, our author wasn't able to take photos during his second day on the road. But as many readers will already know, the picture above is the car he's using, along with his dog--who seems to photo-bomb most of Noland's photos...]
DAY 2: Newark, Delaware, to Santee, South Carolina
NEWARK, DE, to GLEN ALLEN, VA
After topping off during breakfast, I depart with a 99-percent-full battery. (That last 1 percent would have been agonizingly slow.) Temperature is 26 degrees.